Last updated on January 14, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, travelling and renting cars In Italy

10 Common CAR RENTAL SCAMS in Italy and How to AVOID them

Rental scams are always around the corner, and Italy is not different to most of the countries I have visited.

Renting a car in Italy and falling into any of these scams can change a dream holiday into a less memorable time.

In this article, I talk about some of the most common car rental scams, with a real-life scenario.

Moreover, I have added suggestions that will help you to avoid or mitigate the scam.

But let’s jump straight to them

Free thermal baths
Free thermal baths in Tuscany reachable only by car

10 Common Car Rental Scams in Italy

  1. The Upgrade Trick: The Upgrade Trick is a scam where the rental company claims that the car you booked is no longer available, and instead offers you an ‘upgraded’ vehicle at an additional cost.
    • Real-life example: Jane booked a compact car for her trip through the Italian countryside. Upon arrival, the rental agency informed her that her car was unavailable and persuaded her to pay extra for a ‘superior’ model.
    • Avoidance tips: Be adamant about receiving a car in the same class as the one you booked. If the booked car isn’t available, the rental agency should provide a similar vehicle without additional charges.
  2. Fuel Charge Scams: Some rental companies might charge you upfront for a full tank of fuel at inflated prices, expecting you to return the car empty.
    • Real-life example: John was charged an exorbitant fee for fuel upon collecting his rental car in Rome, far more than what a full tank would cost at local petrol stations.
    • Avoidance tips: Opt for the ‘full-to-full’ fuel policy where you pick up the vehicle with a full tank and return it the same way.
  3. Insurance Scams: Insurance scams typically involve rental agencies pushing you to purchase their expensive insurance policies, even if you already have adequate coverage. I personally suggest renting the car in Italy on the DiscoverCars website, an aggregator that provides the best price and the possibility to add Full Insurance (no excess) for just 7 Euro/day. A real bargain, especially considering the rental agencies offer the same for 30-50 Euro/day. I only needed it once to cover an expensive damage and it was a real no-worries experience (remember to document all the expenses though)
    • Real-life example: Lucy was coerced into buying an additional insurance policy, despite having a credit card that provided rental car insurance.
    • Avoidance tips: Familiarise yourself with the types of insurance coverage you might need and what your credit card or personal car insurance already covers. 
  4. Damage Charges Scam: Here, customers are falsely charged for damage they didn’t cause.
    • Real-life example: Mark returned his rental car in pristine condition but was later billed for ‘damage’ to the vehicle.
    • Avoidance tips: Thoroughly inspect the car and take photographs or video footage at the time of pick-up and drop-off. This can serve as proof in case of any disputes. At pick-up, highlight any damage not marked in the contract agreement. Remember to take photos of both the outside and inside of the car, especially the seat condition.
  5. Additional Charges Scam: This scam involves sneaky additional charges appearing on your final bill, for services you didn’t use or weren’t aware of.
    • Real-life example: Anna returned home to find unexpected charges on her credit card from the car rental agency, with vague descriptions like ‘service fee’ or ‘additional driver’.
    • Avoidance tips: Review your rental agreement thoroughly and clarify any doubts before signing. Keep all receipts and records of payment. This is a scam that does not happen usually when you book online.
  6. GPS and Additional Equipment Scams: Renters are sometimes charged exorbitant fees for additional equipment like GPS systems or child seats.
    • Real-life example: Peter was charged daily for a GPS system that would have cost less if purchased outright.
    • Avoidance tips: Consider bringing your own accessories, or check prices for these items in advance so you can decide whether it’s worth renting them. When I decided to rent a car in Sicily I made sure to check the cost of the booster seat which was 8 euro/day. The hiring period was for 25 days and the total additional fee was 200 Euro. I decided to buy the booster from the shop just outside the airport for 45 euros and leave it in the car at drop-off. A much cheaper outcome.
  7. “Wrong Car” Scam: In this scam, you reserve a specific car model but receive a different, often inferior, one instead.
    • Real-life example: Emily booked a luxury model for her honeymoon but was provided with a less comfortable car, with the agency claiming the original was ‘unavailable’.
    • Avoidance tips: Insist on receiving the exact model you booked, or a comparable or better model at no additional cost.
Sardinia - S'Archittu - A small coastal town near Oristano on the west coast
Sardinia – S’Archittu – A small coastal town near Oristano on the west coast
  1. “Late Return” Scam: Renters are sometimes charged extra for supposedly returning the car late, even if it’s returned on time. This sometimes happens when you leave the car at the airport outside of the opening time.
    • Real-life example: Despite returning his car on time at Milano’s airport, Tom found an extra day’s charge on his bill, with the rental company alleging a late return.
    • Avoidance tips: Be sure to document the return time of the vehicle, and if possible, have a rental company employee acknowledge the return. Before leaving a car, make a photo from the driving seat including in the lower half of the picture the car dashboard (with the odometer and the km number) and in the upper half the parking of the airport where you leave the car.
  2. “Prepaid Toll” Scam: Some companies may offer a prepaid toll service at an inflated rate.
    • Real-life example: Sarah was offered a prepaid toll service which was significantly more expensive than paying the tolls individually.
    • Avoidance tips: Research toll costs and procedures in the areas you’ll be travelling to decide if the service is worth it. In my experience, there is no need for a prepaid toll service in Italy. In the end, it will cost you more than paying with a credit card at the toll stations.
  3. “Drop-off” Scam: This is not a real scam as such. Everyone knows that agencies charge more if you drop off your car in a different location from pick-up. However, pay attention, because a few providers charge an exorbitant fee. This happens more often than not when you rent offline. The operator provides the daily rate, mentioning this fee only when you pick up the car, and you do not have many options at that point, isn’t it?
    • Real-life example: Carlos was charged a hefty ‘one-way’ fee for returning his car to a different location.
    • Avoidance tips: Always check the terms and conditions related to one-way rentals and ensure you’re comfortable with any associated fees.

How to Protect Yourself from Car Rental Scams

To protect yourself from these scams, make sure to book through reputable sources, always online, inspect the car thoroughly before and after rental, take photos and videos of the vehicle, and understand your rental agreement in detail.

Also, use a credit card for the transaction to provide an additional layer of protection. Nowadays most rental companies do not accept cash anyway.

I usually rent my cars on the DiscoverCars website, a rental aggregator that compares the prices of local and global operators providing the best deal around, with the possibility to add full insurance for just 7 Euros/day, such a great peace of mind.

Exploring the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento
Exploring the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento – Sicily

What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed

If you fall victim to a scam, immediately contact the rental company to dispute the charges.

Remember that you can also progress to the second level of the dispute through your credit card stopping the transaction.

Report the scam to local consumer protection agencies and share your experience online to warn others.

Conclusion

While these scams may seem daunting, don’t let them deter you from renting a car and exploring Italy at your own pace.

Being vigilant, doing your research, and preparing ahead can save you from falling victim to these scams. 

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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