This post's overview:
Planning to go to France and rent a car? Congratulations, it’s the best way to explore France! However, there are some things you need to know about renting a car in France and tips on driving and parking in France, so you don’t get in trouble as we did. I’ll tell you about our experience with Avis car rental in France and about the accident we had in Nice that caused us a lot of trouble and grey hair. You will also find our why do we ALWAYS buy full rental car insurance now.
Choosing a car rental service in France
When choosing a car rental service in France, make sure, that this is a service that offers road assistance and support. We always go for international car providers and we use Rentalcars.com to book cars. Rentalcars.com offers its own full insurance that is almost always at least twice cheaper than full insurance offered at the counter. Also, we use Rentalcars because they offer 10% cashback on Quidco (you can sign up with this link if you haven’t used Quidco before), so we save 10% when booking our cars there.
Rentalcars uses different providers and nowadays we normally go for Avis, Budget and Hertz. We used to use Europcar as well, but the last 3 times we got really old and broken cars, so we stopped using Europcar.
Mistakes to avoid when renting a car in France
Driving in France is really not complicated (unless you decide to drive in Paris), however, it could be expensive. Roads in France are amazing, but tolls aren’t cheap, so make sure to include toll charges in your travel budget. If you’re exploring France on a tight budget, consider taking a bus instead of the car, because on top of the toll charges, you would need to pay for the gas, which is not cheap in France.
However, even if you want to save money, make sure to buy full rental car insurance. We didn’t think that we would need full insurance until the accident that happened to us in French Riviera in 2016. I will tell you about it a bit later, once I’m done with the tips for renting a car in France.
Another thing you need to know when driving in France and renting a car there (or perhaps going there with your own car) is that parking can be the worst nightmare you can imagine. Both in Toulouse and in Nice it was absolutely impossible to find parking spots on the street and there were no designated parking spaces or paid parking nearby (within 2 km) of our rental flat. Most of the car accidents also happen while parking and our accident wasn’t any different.
If you want to avoid trouble and not risk while parking in France, book a hotel with a designated parking lot.
Interested in travelling around France? Read my post about the 5 charming villages near Toulouse >>>
Our rental car accident in France. Avis car accident experience
In April, we had a spare long weekend and decided to go to French Riviera for my birthday. We were staying in Nice and renting a flat through Airbnb. The flats were way cheaper than hotels, moreover, some of them offered a free parking, which was awesome for us, who wanted to hire a car and drive around French Riviera for a while.
We didn’t have anything booked in advance, so we had a huge variety of car rental services in front of us. We decided to go for Avis, though. I already had experience with Avis car rental before, some years ago, when I visited Portugal with my parents, so the name was ringing a bell. Moreover, they had adequate prices and nice cars, so we decided to book a car with Avis.
Our choice was the smallest budget car there is with no additional insurance (except for the standard one). We weren’t gonna drive a lot, so that seemed like a good option. Now we don’t think so, of course.
The road trip was good: we visited Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco and St. Paul de Vence. If you want to read more about our itinerary and experience during the road trip to French Riviera, check this post.
Parking problems in Nice & rental car accident
However, parking in Nice was crazy. On the first day, we were extremely lucky to find a tiny spot on the street where we lived. That, however, required extraordinary parking skills and just after 15 minutes we managed to squeeze our tiny car into the wee spot on the street.
On the second day, we also parked on this street, the spot was empty again.
On the last night, however, there was almost no space in our street: only one in front of our place, which, we assumed, was a place for people living there and not a public parking space. That’s why we drove around Nice for 1.5 hours looking for a parking spot and well, there was nothing. People were already parking in the middle of the street, in two or three rows, and there was literally nothing. The closest free spot we found was 1.8 km away from our flat and that didn’t make any sense to park there. There weren’t any paid parking lots either.
Frustrated and exhausted, we drove back to our street to take the spot in front of the flat. Once we parked the car and went to open the flat, we’ve heard a terrible grinding sound. When we looked out of the window we saw a black Mercedes parked almost parallel to our car, and an enormous white scratch on our poor rental car. We ran to the car to speak to the driver but realized that he could barely stand – he was really drunk. I ran to the building to call for witnesses (the woman passing the street with her dog, when the accident happened), but I don’t speak French and the woman didn’t speak a word of English, so talking was pointless. Pepe speaks French, but he was busy talking with the drunk driver.
Calling Avis France didn’t help much – they never replied to our call. Of course, on Saturday night in France, nobody works, even emergency services (keep that in mind). We wanted to call the police, but the drunk person gave us his insurance paper and walked away, saying he won’t wait for the police. We were too confused to call the police – the other side would be missing and we weren’t really able to explain everything very well in French. Moreover, half of the cars in Nice are scratched, because people park so relentlessly.
We were even more frustrated now, not knowing what to do.
Experience with Avis: car crash in France and money refund
In the morning, we woke up early to deliver the car back and go to the airport. Obviously, in Avis office they questioned us about the car and observed the damage done, charging us 800+ euros for the scratches. We thought it would be the worst experience with Avis, but it wasn’t.
You really need to be careful with insurance – most of the basic insurance packages start covering damages from 800-1200 euros, meaning that you will be charged this amount of money if something bad happens to your car. If it’s a minor scratch or a flat tire, that would be perhaps 200-300 euro, but if it’s a big scratch, prepare to pay the entire waiver. That’s why since that time we ALWAYS buy the full insurance and the only company that seems to offer it at a good price is rentalcars.com.
However, Avis returned us all the money. Why? Well, apparently this paper from the drunk French guy was a real document with his contact details, so Avis contacted his insurance company and his company contacted him, he confirmed the damage done, so the insurance company paid Avis and they returned our money with 20 additional euros in vouchers. It took more than 2 months, but we were extremely lucky to have the money back. Since then, we often hire cars from Avis.
What to do in a similar situation?
What to do when you have a car crash of a rental car? Well, you’ve got to call the police and make the other side wait for it. You need to fill the form of the incident and make the person, who is a guilty sign it. Later, you have to show it at the car rental office. All this, however, doesn’t guarantee that you will have your money back, but at least you can try!
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