Buying a used car in Italy can be a good deal, especially if you’re looking for the kind of model that would cost a fortune in the United States and would be impractical to drive there anyway, because no one could service it. To buy and drive a car, motorcycle, or moped in Italy, you need several documents. First, you need a codice fiscale (see the Making the Move chapter) before you make the purchase. The items that need to be tucked in your glove compartment are not much different from those in the United States: registration, proof of insurance, a valid driver’s license, and an inspection certificate on the windshield to show that you’re not polluting the environment. Italian regulations on emissions have become much stricter in the 21st century. Every car must have a catalytic converter, and leaded fuel is outlawed. Those with older cars were given a grace period, but any car imported into the country must be up to standards. Still, don’t be surprised to see cars or mopeds spewing black smoke. It cannot be stressed enough that, although Italy has some fine laws, few are ever enforced.
For your registration to be valid, it must have a new tax stamp stuck on it every year. The road tax is widely known as il bollo and is calculated on the kilowatts of power the engine puts out. For a medium-sized hatchback, it comes out to about â‚¬200. It can be paid at the post office. Driver’s licenses from any European Union (EU) member country are automatically valid in Italy. For those from non-EU countries, a current license is good for one year, assuming the driver has not established residency in Italy. Residents need to transfer their licenses into Italian ones, a process that requires no exams for as long as the foreign license is valid.
Besides gas, the greatest annual expense of owning a car is insurance. The cost depends, of course, on the kind of car, the extent of the coverage, where you live, and how long you’ve been driving. For an eight-year-old Volkswagen Golf in Milan”one of the more expensive places to own a car”a regular policy will cost around â‚¬1,000 per year through the offices of a major insurance company. The biggest ones in Italy are Generali, RAS, Winterthur, and Mediolana. But cheaper policies can be found on the Internet. For example, you might want to try out Genial Lloyd, owned by RAS. Insuring the same VW Golf in Milan through their site costs about â‚¬400 per year. The final expense, which is actually one of the first you will incur when buying a car, is an official document of sale. It needs to be signed by a notary.
Renting a car through the largest groups in Italy”Europcar, Avis, Hertz, and National”costs about â‚¬60 per day for a compact car, though most of them have a three-day weekend special for about â‚¬100. If, on the other hand, you require a car more than a month at a time, leasing will be much cheaper. At Europe By Car (www.europebycar.com), a 60-day lease has a base price of â‚¬1,200. The car is straight from the factory. In theory, you are buying the car and then selling it back, but they only ask for a â‚¬100 deposit, so that clearly is not the case in practice. For a little extra money, you can lease some pretty sporty numbers as well. They come with full insurance, roadside assistance, etc. Another such company is Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com).
Although there is no legal reason to use anything other than a U.S. driver’s license when renting or leasing a car for that period of time, companies will sometimes ask you to arrange an international driver’s license ahead of time. All it requires is sending an Italian translation of your local driver’s license, and the company should be able to handle the rest.
Here are some additional tips for renting and leasing a car in Italy: If you plan to go to the mountains in the winter, make sure to ask for chains in advance. The car won’t come with snow tires, and many mountain towns require cars to have chains, and police issue fines on the spot for those that don’t. Also, since Italy is so close to many non-EU countries in Eastern Europe, it is tempting to take a rental car there. Most Italian rental cars are not insured in those countries, however, and major agencies based in Rome, Milan, and other large cities will put the kibosh on those plans quickly. You can always take a train and then rent a car once you’re in Eastern Europe, but another option is to call rental agents in Trieste, most of whom are less skittish about letting their cars travel eastward.