Infrequent travelers often say cheap car rentals are the best way to get off the beaten path while abroad. They’re usually wrong.
Sure, it’s tempting to dub the base price of a car rental a “steal.” But when you factor in taxes, the cost of gas outside the U.S., the type of car you’ll need, and insurance, it’s usually far from a deal.
But there’s an easy way to keep the overall cost of a rental low—it’s a trick that can cut the base price by about 50 percent, and save you some gas money.
How to Guarantee Cheap Car Rentals
American car rental companies offer one particular convenience factor that their counterparts in other countries often don’t: Access to an automatic transmission.
In Europe and Beyond
Renting a manual-transmission car (also called stick shift) is the best way to guarantee car rental deals in Europe. Automatic-transmission vehicles are becoming more popular abroad, but there are still significantly fewer automatics available, and they’re in high demand.
There’s another cost-cutting benefit of renting a car with a manual transmission: they use less gas, which is particularly valuable in Europe and other regions where gas prices are high and rising. Generally speaking, gas has always been more expensive in Europe than in the U.S., and Europeans (companies and individuals alike) tend to value fuel efficiency more than their American counterparts. Most E.U. and U.K. nations tax carbon emissions, whereas the U.S. doesn’t.
In my tests searching for cheap car rentals, I found that automatic-transmission rentals in most European cities cost about double what a manual-transmission rental does. For example, Dublin car rentals were around $20 per day at first glance. After filtering the results to automatic-only, the cheapest-available rental for the same dates started at $63 per day. I found similar rates in other tourist-frequented European cities, like Vienna ($60 for the cheapest manual, $110 for the cheapest automatic), and Paris ($40 for manual, $100 for automatic).
In the States, Too
It turns out renting a stick shift can save you money in the States as well. While automatics make up the vast majority of the cars in America, they’re also in highest demand. If you’re able and willing to take the less popular option, it’s likely to be a lot cheaper.
Manual transmissions make up most of the cheapest-advertised rates outside of the U.S., so being able to drive one makes you a lot more likely to get a good deal. If you’re booking well in advance, you may be able to snag a cheap car rental that’s also an automatic before they’re all gone—but learning to drive stick shift can save you the time crunch. In searching for rentals on Kayak about six weeks out, only a few of the cheapest rates were typically automatics. With less time, the cheapest are likely to be manual.
Going manual is clearly worth what you’ll save—but could you do it on top of driving on the other side of the road if needed, like in the U.K.? Comment below.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Hidden Car Rental Fees and How to Avoid Them
- The One Word You Must Know When Driving Abroad
- Apple Has a Fix for Distracted Driving
Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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