Car rental

Noleggiare una macchina

Renting a car

In the United States, renting a car is as routine as picking up keys and signing a rental agreement. In Italy a visit to an agenzia di autonoleggio (auto rental agency) is often a bit more complicated.

“Vorremmo noleggiare una macchina” (We’d like to rent a car), my husband and I say when we make our way to the front of the line. “Abbiamo una prenotazione.” (We have a reservation.)

Brace yourself before asking, “Quanto costa?” (How much does it cost?) Whether you’re renting by the day (al giorno) or the week (alla settimana), you’re sure to pay un sacco di soldi (a pile of money).

It doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s una tariffa festiva o feriale (a weekend or midweek rate). Some companies may ask for a deposit (una caparra). Others add an extra charge for mileage (un supplemento per il chilometraggio). We prefer to ask for unlimited mileage (chilometraggio illimitato).

Most Italian cars have manual transmissions (cambio manuale), so you can expect to pay more for an automatic (cambio automatico). You will need to present your driver’s license (patente) and inquire about insurance (l’assicurazione), which may be covered by your personal policy or your credit card.

Always ask when (quando) and where (dove) to return the car (riportare la macchina)—and if somebody will be there (ci sarà qualcuno) when you do so. I suggest requesting GPS (navigatore satellitare) or making sure you have a good road map (cartina stradale). You can also reserve an infant or child car seat (seggiolino auto per neonati / bambini).

Depending on your location, you may have a range of vehicular choices: an economy car (macchina piccola), midsize car (macchina media),  full-size car (macchina grande), van (monovolume), truck (camion) or pickup truck or minivan (furgoncino).

For a premium, you can ask for a cabriolet or a decapottabile (convertible), a gippone (SUV) or a fuoristrada or quattro per quattro (offroad or 4 by 4 vehicle). You just don't want to get stuck with a carcassa (carcass), a macinino (grinder for coffee or pepper) or a carretta (cart) — all slang for an old jalopy or a clunker.

In big cities like Rome and Milan, you can rent a motorcycle (motocicletta) or a scooter (motorino) by the hour (all’ora) or by the half-day (a mezza giornata). Don’t forget a helmet (un casco)!

Be sure to find out whom to contact in case of an accident (incidente), breakdown (guasto), flat tire (gomma a terra—literally rubber to earth) or a dead battery (batteria scarica). Although I hope you don’t need them, you should learn phrases such as "my car won’t start" (la mia macchina non parte), "…is broken" (è rotta) or "…is overheating" (si sta surriscaldando).

If the engine isn’t working (non funziona) or you get caught in a pile-up (tamponamento a catena), you may need a tow truck (un carro attrezzi), a mechanic (un meccanico), an auto body shop (una carrozzeria) –- or a stiff drink (qualcosa di forte da bere).

Words and Expressions

Mettere in moto una macchina — to start an engine

Andare in retromarcia — to go in reverse

Fare inversione (di marcia) –– to do a U-turn

Azionare / mettere la freccia — to signal

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.