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DRIVING

Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

Planning a leisurely summer break in Italy but baulk at the cost of booking a rental car for more than a couple of weeks? This guide's for you.

Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees.
Alternatives are available for those wanting to explore Italy while avoiding hefty car rental fees. Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

Question: I am planning on spending around two months in Italy this summer, and I am wondering what my best options are regarding hiring a car. Standard car hire daily rates would be cost prohibitive, so I’m wondering whether something like short term car leasing would be an option?

If you’re going to Italy on holiday and want to expand your horizons beyond Rome, Venice and Florence, rental cars can be an easy and convenient way to get around.

But if you’re planning on devoting your whole summer to exploring Italy, renting a vehicle for the duration of your stay can indeed quickly become expensive – and constant worrying about small scratches and scrapes can suck the joy out of the experience.

Here are a few alternatives if you want to maximise your time in the country while avoiding paying a small fortune in car rental fees.

Car buy-back lease schemes

A car buy-back lease programme is one in which you technically (but don’t really) ‘buy’ a car with the guarantee that a rental company will buy it back from you when you’ve finished using it.

The programme is most widespread in France (as it’s French car manufacturers who offer the service through a French government tourism incentive scheme), but it’s also available in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.

The advantages of this set-up are that you get a brand new car (usually with built-in GPS at no extra cost), you don’t have to pay VAT, you get zero-deductible insurance as part of the package, and you can add additional drivers free of charge – all of which can amount to some significant savings, especially if you’re staying for more than a few weeks.

READ ALSO: Can second-home owners get an Italian residence permit?

You can also freely travel to eastern European countries like Hungary, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina on a leased car, an option that isn’t normally available with rental companies without a hefty surcharge.

To take advantage of the scheme, you need to reside outside the European Union and be at least 18 years old. You can lease a car for anywhere between 21 days and five and a half months.

The three main companies that offer the service in Italy are represented by Auto Europe. You can book online through their website at the links below for:

You will need to pick the car up and drop it off in either Milan or Rome, as these are the only two locations available in Italy.

Bear in mind that as a leased car is manufactured from scratch, you will need to make your order several weeks in advance.

Combine train travel with occasional short-term rental

Italy’s public transport services can be patchy depending on whereabouts in the country you are, but its long-distance fast trains are typically frequent and reliable.

If you’re planning a multi-week holiday that will incorporate a mix of city-based and countryside/ mountain/ coastal stays, consider using trains to get from one region to the next, and renting a car for a few days at a time only when it’s really necessary. 

For getting around the Amalfi coast, the Dolomites, or parts of the South, for example, you’ll probably want a car to give you total autonomy and access to more remote locations.

But if you’re moving between these places and better-connected urban areas up north, you likely won’t need a car for a good portion of your trip.

READ ALSO: 23 famous quotes to inspire you to travel to Italy

Driving along a road in Grimaldi in Calabria, southern Italy. Photo by Chris Holgersson on Unsplash

Most Italian cities have decent enough public transport networks as far as tourists are concerned, but if you prefer to get everywhere by car, car-sharing apps which allow you to rent for very short journeys at the touch of a button are available in the majority of Italy’s urban centres.

Ride sharing

This is a slightly more labour-intensive but very budget-friendly option best suited to small groups of people travelling without children (as it involves car pooling with another person/people who are unlikely to have space in their car for an entire family).

Websites like BlaBlaCar allow you to book a lift with someone who happens to be driving to your destination at the same time as you for a very small fee, as well as suggesting cheap coach and public transport alternatives.

READ ALSO: Seven crowd-free alternatives to Italy’s tourist hotspots

The disadvantage, of course, is that you may not be able to find someone who wants to take your exact route on your desired day and time, so you have to be flexible and willing to make up your plans on the fly.

You’ll also be thrown into the company of a stranger for a few hours, which you might see as either a benefit or a drawback depending on the kind of person you are.

If you’re a spontaneous extrovert and time is on your side, however, this is a very cost-effective and illuminating way to see the country, and you’re bound to get insights you wouldn’t otherwise have access to through conversations on the long car drives with locals.

Member comments

  1. Lease a Peugeot from Auto France. Worth the extra delivery charge, or fly into Geneva and pick it up on the French side. One month comes out to about 37 euros a day for a great car.

  2. This is of interest to us because we plan on spending weeks to months in northern Italy and need a car. Does anyone have a recommendation on which car companies to use, approx costs, tips , suggestions? Would appreciate any info on long term car rentals. Grazie

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DRIVING

What are Italy’s rules on switching to winter tyres?

Italian road rules require a switch to winter tyres by mid-November. We take a look at how the requirements (and penalties) apply for the cold season.

What are Italy's rules on switching to winter tyres?

Though we may not have seen much in the way of adverse weather conditions so far – temperatures were far above season average throughout October – the winter cold appears to be just around the corner and so is the requirement for motorists to switch to winter tyres.

The window to make the change opened on October 15th, and the requirement and penalties for not following it will come into force on November 15th. 

By that date, all road vehicles will have to be equipped with winter tyres or, alternatively, have snow chains “on board”. 

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

But, in typically Italian fashion, there’s far more to the rule than that. So, with less than two weeks to go until the winter tyres deadline, here’s what you should know about the requirements.

What areas do the rules apply to?

The Italian Highway Code along with a 2013 ministerial decree state that all road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tyres or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th.

However, the Code also gives local authorities (provinces, individual comuni and private highway operators) the power to modify national directives (including time limits) and/or bring in additional requirements according to the features of their own territory. 

Winter tire

All road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tires or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

The result is a very fragmented legislative landscape, with rules often varying from region to region.

READ ALSO: Explained: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

For instance, in Sardinia, only drivers travelling on Strada Statale 131 (‘Statale Carlo Felice‘), which connects Cagliari to Porto Torres, are required to have winter tyres on or keep snow chains on board.

Additionally, due to the region’s particularly favourable climate all year round, the requirement starts on December 1st, i.e. 15 days after other Italian regions, and ends on March 15th, that is one month before elsewhere in the country.

To keep track of all the rules applying to your region or province of residence, refer to the following website from Pneumatici Sotto Controllo.

You can also consult the following interactive map provided by Italian motorway company Autostrade per l’Italia. 

What types of tyres do I need?

Most winter tyres are marked with ‘M+S’ (or sometimes ‘M/S’), meaning ‘mud plus snow’.

Some winter tyres might carry the ‘3PMFS’ mark or a symbol consisting of a snowflake encircled by a three-peak mountain range. These tyres are largely recognised as the best tyres for winter conditions.

Both of the above categories are accepted under Italian law.

In terms of costs, the price of a single winter tyre goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros.

Tires in a garage.

The price of a single winter tire goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

It’s worth noting that, by law, motorists are allowed to install just two winter tyres provided that such tyres belong to the same car axle.

But the Italian Transport Ministry advises drivers to install winter tyres on all four wheels to avoid potential grip and braking issues. 

Snow chains

Motorists can keep snow chains (catene da neve) on board as an alternative to the installation of winter tyres. 

However, your chosen set of snow chains must be compatible with your vehicle’s tyres.

Here’s a useful guide on what types of snow chains you’ll need based on the size of your car’s wheels.

Woman fitting her car with snow chains

Snow chains can be used as an alternative to winter tires but they have to be compatible with your vehicle’s wheels. Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

The asking price for a mid-range set of snow chains is generally somewhere between 70 and 90 euros.

Fines 

The Highway Code sets out hefty fines for those who don’t follow the rules.

In city centres and residential areas penalties can go from 41 to 168 euros, while fines can be as high as 335 euros on highways. 

As specified by Article 192 of the Code, law enforcement officers can also choose to issue a temporary ‘vehicle detention’ (fermo del veicolo). In this case, motorists will only be able to resume their journey once their vehicle is equipped with winter tyres or snow chains.

Motorcycles

The above winter season rules do not apply to motorcycles.

However, the 2013 ministerial decree states that motorcycles are not allowed on the roads in the event of snow or icy conditions.

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