Planning the expedition – Part 3 – The Car

Road tripping around France can be fun but you really need to think ahead.  We don’t simply need to rent a car for a day or two – we need to rent a car for 23 days – and we will be putting some real miles (excuse me KM) on it!

Most people just head to their favorite car rental agency – the problem is that renting a car in Europe isn’t as customizable as it is in the US and I really need to control the options in the car.

First, I need an automatic – I can’t drive stick (very well) and I don’t want to deal with stick.  Most rentals in Europe are stick.

Second, I want diesel. Remember in Europe diesel is cheaper and it gets better mileage and you want the most bang for the buck.

Third, and this is the kicker, what is the deductible in case of theft, vandalism, or accident?  Most companies have deductibles of over $1,000 which would be something you would need to budget for in case of emergency.  The MasterCard program that allows you to ‘waive’ insurance is only for 14 days or under (if that program still exists) and therefore doesn’t work here.

So instead of trying to rent a car I go through a leasing company out of NYC –

Here they actually sell you a new car (as a very short term lease).  You are the first owner – it is brand new!  Then when the trip is over – they take it back and resell it. I am told it is all about taxes on new vs. used cars and somehow it makes sense. And not only can I pick the exact car I want (Automatic, Diesel, GPS) – but it is totally covered by insurance with zero deductible. 

The lease for 23 days is like $1,500 and I am estimating about $550 for gas and tolls. 

To estimate KM, travel time, and tolls I use – which I have found is a little better for France than Google Maps.

I then check my France petrol prices here –

Since the car is new the stated mileage is usually pretty close. Though they don’t use Miles/Gallon they use Liters/100KM which involves math but you can calculate a good estimate from. 

For the 23 days we are estimating – 4200km (or 55 hours of driving) and 158 Euros in tolls.

The downside with leasing the car is that the license plate is red (indicating foreign owner) and both times I have done this I have had my car broken into (though there were other contributing factors and people say that thieves can spot rental cars just as easily).

So let’s talk about those contributing factors.

In 2004, I rented too small a car that had no covered trunk.  I drove from Paris to Chantilly (which is a tourist trap right off the highway) and left my car (with the luggage visible in the trunk) in a wooded parking lot.  When I came back the car was empty but no damage to the car (they jimmied the lock).  It was very frustrating and I spent the afternoon and the police station.  I had good renters insurance at the time and my contents were covered with the police report.  Lessons learned?  Don’t leave stuff exposed in a car, get the right sized car so your stuff is covered.  I could not have left stuff in the hotel because I didn’t have one yet.  I could have brought the bags into the castle and asked them to watch them and I have occasionally done this since.  This year we check into the hotel before Chantilly – I am superstitious about this place.

In 2009 it was a little trickier.  The rule when traveling by car is as follows – never go into the trunk right before you leave the car.  If you need something out of the trunk you get it as you go INTO the car but not as you leave it.   This takes some careful thinking.  When we were in Marseilles we were going to see the Chateau D’If which is in Marseilles harbor.  So we needed to park the car downtown and take a boat.  We found street parking on a side street but before we left the car one of the members of our trip remembered something they needed out of the back and against my better judgement I opened the trunk for them.

When we returned to the car several hours later I noticed broken glass next to the car. They had smashed one of the small windows and gotten into the car.  The broke the arm rest (thinking it opened) and grabbed one bag from the car – in fact the reached into the trunk.  Ironically, the grabbed the one bag on top which was the bag of the guy who made me open the trunk in the first place.  While not a lot was stolen – the broken window meant I had to spend several hours in the Marseilles police station (which was rough) and while I could have had the window replaced we instead opted to just stuff a jacket in the hole for the remaining day and a half we had the car.  It changed the schedule a bit but in the end all was ok (except when it rained).

I have arranged that for this trip to Marseilles – our hotel is walking distance to the dock so we can leave the car secured and our bags in the hotel.

Up next – how you map out 30 days of adventure!