Driving For Members

Seven car hire scams you should try to avoid in Italy

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
Seven car hire scams you should try to avoid in Italy
Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Renting a car in Italy gives you the freedom to experience the country on your own terms - but drivers have been warned to beware of some agencies' dirty tactics.


Hiring a car in Italy is essential if you're a visitor who wants to explore some of the country's less-connected rural and coastal areas - and most of the time, you can do so with no trouble beyond the mild hassle of waiting in line to pick up and drop off your vehicle.

But in some cases, a few bad providers take advantage of loopholes and misplaced customer trust to boost their profits with bogus fines and fees, giving the rest a bad name.

Some of these scams are common throughout Europe and beyond, some are more rare, but you'll want to be aware of all of them to stand the best chance of completing your trip with your bank account unscathed.

exceThe bogus damages

Let's start with the most widespread scam, one favoured by dodgy rental agencies the world over: billing hundreds of euros for minor cosmetic damage, sometimes days or even weeks after the customer has left the country.

This is something a number of The Local's readers have reported experiencing when hiring a car in Italy.

In many of these cases, the mark was there before the car even left the garage, but wasn't included in the record of existing damages shared with the customer (the representative might even have offered reassurance that the scratch was so trivial it wasn't worth making a note of).

"We had a flight to catch so signed for insurance claim. It was so obvious it was a scam and if I had more time I would have dug my heels in," one disgruntled holidaymaker who was stung with a steep charge for 'damages' told The Local.

READ ALSO: Do I need an international permit to drive in Italy?

To avoid falling victim to this scam, experienced travellers recommend taking timestamped photos and videos of every single scratch and dent before getting behind the wheel, so you can dispute any surprise charges that may arise later.


The 'missing' items

Meticulously documenting the state of your vehicle before hitting the road may not be enough, some users warn; you also want to check that the car is equipped with everything the agency claims it is.

In some cases, customers of Italian rental companies have reported being charged for items that the company said were 'missing' on the vehicle's return - even though they swear those objects weren't in the car in the first place.

READ ALSO: How do you dispute a parking ticket in Italy?

One user of an agency in Sicily told the financial news site This is Money they were fined as much as €128 for a tube of glue allegedly missing from a tyre inflation kit, while a customer of a Rome-based firm was stung with a €300 fee for an absent air compressor.


The broken lock

You've cased your vehicle inside and out for damages and checked to see all the items listed are in place: but before driving off, make sure to carry out one last check - this time on the manual locks.

Some holidaymakers in Sicily told This is Money they exclusively used their rental car's remote locking system throughout their trip, only for an agent to test a key in one of the manual locks on its return and inform them it's not working and they'll be charged for its repair.

Traffic jam in Italy

It's important check your rental car's manual locking system. Photo by Jure MAKOVEC / AFP

The missed booking

If an out-of-town agency offers you free transport to its base, exercise caution: one car rental user wrote on Tripadvisor that they had booked a car with an agency that was two hours late in sending a shuttle bus to pick customers up from Rome's Ciampino airport and take them to its offsite location down the road.

By the time their party arrived, they were told their booking slot had expired, and they would have to pay at least €140 to secure a new vehicle with a higher insurance excess.

READ ALSO: How to avoid car hire scams in Italy

If you think you're in danger of missing your slot, it's advisable to make your own travel arrangements to make sure you arrive on time, as the cost of re-booking is likely to be significantly higher than a taxi fare.


The 'late' return

If some car hire firms will try to stop you from getting to your booking on time, other unscrupulous entities will play the same game at the other end, charging you a late return fee even when you've met the deadline.

One customer commented in a recent discussion on Youtube that their rental company in Germany tried to charge them for a full extra day after an agent checked them in an hour later than their actual return time.

READ ALSO: Ripped off: Italy's worst tourist scams and how to avoid them

While this kind of behaviour hasn't yet been reported in Italy, it's worth keeping an eye out for.

Luckily, the driver in question had taken a timestamped photograph of the car's mileage and fuel gauge, proving that it was back in the agency's car park well within the agreed timeframe.

The insurance upsell

This doesn't exactly fall under the scam category, but it's common for car rental agencies in Italy to aggressively upsell you on their insurance, even if you're already covered by your credit card provider - as this Youtuber attests.

As well as costing you hundreds of euros on top of the car rental fee itself, there is also the risk that buying additional insurance from the agency could invalidate any free insurance provided by your credit card company. Always check with them first.

Here's how to avoid getting caught in a car rental scam in Italy.

You'll want to do everything you can to avoid getting caught in a car rental scam in Italy. Photo by Art Markiv on Unsplash

If you do have access to a credit card with insurance coverage, make sure the person whose card you're paying with is the same person you've named on your paperwork as your main driver - otherwise you'll be forced to purchase separate insurance from the agency.


The confidence trick

This last scam isn't perpetuated by car hire companies, but by thieves looking to target vulnerable tourists.

The ruse works like this, according to one visiter who took to Tripadvisor to warn others: a person on a motorbike comes up from behind and slashes the car's back tyre, then indicates to the driver that they need to pull over. When the driver realises they have a flat tyre, the thief - often accompanied by an accomplice - offers to direct them to a nearby garage.

Once they've gained access to the car, the thieves take their victims to a remote location and steal valuables from inside the car, knowing that tourists often have large amounts of cash to hand.

READ ALSO: Are English speakers more likely to be targeted by scams in Italy?

While anyone could be the victim of such a scam, drivers of rental cars can sometimes be easily identified by the vehicle's red licence plate (on French rental cars, driven over the border into Italy), or occasionally by a yellow sticker on the petrol cap that tells the driver what type of fuel to use.

While a few tourists have reported being targeted by this kind of scam over the past few years, it's fairly rare, and not a reason to avoid renting a car in Italy.

Of course, you can't stop someone from slashing your tyre - but you can turn down offers from strangers to take you somewhere unknown, and keep your valuables out of sight and easy reach.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Max 2023/04/21 18:35
Hi Everyone. Your credit card company does not cover the excess on your insurance at least, if you're frim the UK. Please do not take this advice written here. You can buy a very good excess policy for around 30 pounds that will cover you for the excess on your car hire.

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