More often than not, a person will base his or her entire decision on the price. This is especially true when one is on-line creating their own itinerary without the help of a travel agent or trained professional, something that within 5 years from now will be standard practice. While price is undoubtedly one of the most important things to consider when making a reservation, it is not the first priority. The first priority should be to determine what kind of car you will need, based on a few different factors.
To begin, you must know how many people will be accompanying you on this trip. Remember that the European equivalent of a rental category will be smaller than its US counterpart, so make sure that you take notice of the model that they are quoting you for, along with the supposed size. Once you know what the model is, look it up on the internet and make sure that it will work for you. Some companies will quote you for what they bill as an intermediate car when it is in reality a compact size. Usually for 1 or 2 people, an economy will suffice, provided you have one suitcase apiece. In the event that you have more luggage than this, you may opt to put it in the back seat or upgrade to a larger vehicle. Keep in mind that if you are planning on stopping at any places where your luggage will be visible from outside the car, it is best not to keep it in the back seat.
For 3 people, a compact should be suitable. Sometimes, if you do not mind being a bit cramped on shorter trips, this will also accommodate 4 people. You may have to put some luggage in between the people in the back though. A car this size should be roughly the equivalent of a Ford Focus or Toyota Corolla here stateside. If you can afford it, I would definitely recommend an intermediate 4-door vehicle for 4 people.
For anything above 4 people, it is best to get a van, or more than one car. Once again, if you don't mind being cramped, then get an intermediate wagon. This will allow you to seat 5 people and have room for the luggage. However, luggage for 5 may not fit under the pull-shade most wagons are designed with to eliminate luggage visibility, therefore increasing your chances of a break-in if you leave the vehicle unattended. Vans are typically much more expensive and use a lot more gasoline, which is a commodity in and of itself in Europe (current average of about $4.00 USD per gallon, less for diesel) and sometimes even more expensive than two compact vehicles.
There's nothing less embarassing than trying to squeeze too many bodies and suitcases into a car that's not designed to take them. That is, unless you get a stickshift vehicle and don't know how to drive one. Americans (myself included) have generally been spoiled with unlimited access to automatic transmission. Most of the rental cars in the States are automatic as well. The opposite is true in Europe. While most major locations do stock automatic vehicles, you will not get a very good selection to choose from and those that are there will cost anywhere from fifty to one hundred percent more than the manual version. On top of that, you will lose 5 to 10 miles per gallon in gas efficiency. However, if you are uncomfortable with a stick, it costs a lot less in the long run than taking a chance in getting in an accident, which costs you time, money and overall enjoyment of the experience. This is especially true in countries like England, Ireland and Cyprus, where the cars (and drivers) are on the opposite side.
In conclusion, remember that in most cases you are planning for a vacation. Sometimes in order to enjoy it, you have to be willing to spend a little bit more. Keep an eye out for my next installment, when we discuss the best way to get the car you really need for the price you really want.
Murdoch Morris has worked in the European Car Rental industry for 5+ years, helping drivers to find the best way to get the most out of their itinerary for the least amount of money. Feel free to contact him with any questions you may have specific to your next trip to Europe.