How to arrange for a short-term lease on a brand-new car in France—cheaper than a rental for longer periods of three weeks or more, and better insured

The military policeman stopped my car just outside Trieste, and as I handed over my papers, I knew there was going to be some explaining to do.

The carabiniere officer, part of a routine anti-smuggling roadblock near the Italy-Slovenia border, became confused as he shuffled through the car's title (which, like the plates, was French), ownership papers (which stated I'd purchased it in Milan), and my driver's license (which said I lived in Pennsylvania).

"It's a short-term lease, " I tried to explain. He stared at me suspiciously.

"Sir, please step out of the vehicle and open the trunk."

That's the sum total of problems I've ever encountered when leasing a car in Europe—and since my trunk wasn't full of Slovenian cigarettes, I was back on my way shortly.

Resources for leasing a car in France

Partner Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com)

Since Auto Europe does both short-term leases as well as regular rentals (at the best rates in the business), they're the best place to shop first to see which method—renting or leasing—will cost you the least in the long run. They do cheap cell phone rentals, too.

Europe By Car (www.europebycar.com)

Europe By Car saves you some legwork by grouping together all of the factory programs, allowing you lease a brand-new automobile direct from a European manufacturer (mostly French—lots of Peugeots, Renaults, and Citroëns—but also everything from Fords and Nissans to Audis, Alfas, BMWs, or Mercedes) at prices a fraction of what rental rates would run for similar long periods of time. Plus, their Web site lets you peruse pictures, stats, and strikingly honest reviews of all the models available.

Renault Eurodrive (www.renaultusa.com)

Direct line to the Renault short-term leasing program.

The benefits to leasing a car in France

The benefits of a lease—often called a buy-back, or purchase/repurchase, program —are legion. Lease agreements are packed with perks no rental outfit offers:

  • It costs anywhere from 18 to 70 percent less than renting
  • You get unlimited mileage
  • You get roadside assistance
  • Parlez-vous leasing?
    When I say you get "your choice" of car, that choice is actually limited pretty much to a Renault or Peugeot, since leases are all offered by French car manufacturers. (It's complicated, but basically these programs take advantage of a loophole put into place 50 years ago as an attempt to lure French émigrés back home after World War II.)
    You get a brand-new car of your choice direct from the factory *
  • Rates are guaranteed in U.S. dollars
  • No VAT or local taxes will materialize when you return the car—a chronic problem with rentals
  • There are no airport surcharges
  • There are no "extra driver" fees
  • The minimum age for a lease is 18 (with most rentals, you have to be 25)
  • You get free insurance and full coverage (none of that rental agency nickel-and-diming with CDW, theft, and liability each costing $7 to $24 per day).
  • There's also no deductible

The full insurance/no deductible thing is key. Once I turned in a regular rental with a scratch on the door (it got sideswiped while parked in Palermo), and the rental company charged me the full $300 of deductible to fix it.

On the other hand, I once returned a leased car—arranged through Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com)—missing its entire back windshield (wouldn't ya know it, the car got broken into the night before I was to turn it in). The backseat was still glittering with shatterglass when I drove it up to the leasing agent at the airport, but since the lease came with full insurance and no deductible, I just handed over the keys with a sheepish grin and an apology.

The drawbacks to leasing a car in France

OK, you know there's got to be a downside, and there is: the 17-day minimum. Leasing won’t work for your two-week vacation.

Also, leased vehicles can only be retrieved or returned at a few dozen locations, including 18 (Renault) to 28 (Peugeot) cities within France, plus major airports throughout Europe—with outside-France pick-up and drop-off fees ranging from $49 to $275 (priciest in Spain, Portugal, and Rome).

Know that Peugeot's out-of-France fees are roughly half those charged by Renault.

When does leasing a car in France make sense financially?

Leasing is a great option for specialty vehicles
"A four-wheel-drive or coupe convertible is very hard to get, or very expensive, with a rental," said Guy Geslin, vice president of Renault USA (www.renaultusa.com). "But with a lease, we can get it very easily, and for a very fair price."

The figures bear him out: The leasing outfits undercut rental agencies by 11% on a seven-passenger van, and rental outfits couldn't rustle up a convertible in all of Paris, while Europe By Car charged only 8% more for a 1.6-liter coupe than for a midsize.
At what point does leasing become more cost-effective than renting?

"In France, it's closer to 17 days," said Alexander Roy, president of leasing specialist Europe By Car (www.europebycar.com).

"In Italy or Germany, closer to 30 days," though "for people who always buy all the insurances, the breaking point will be closer to 17."

I ran my own numbers pitting the three leasing agencies against both Hertz and Avis. I won’t bore you with the details (except to say that Hertz was priciest by a long shot every time), but the practical upshot was that, if you’re the type to refuse the CDW and other insurances (an unrealistic scenario in countries where it's required, including Italy and Spain), rentals can be cheaper over a 17-day period (by 30–36%) and even a 30-day period (15%), but a lease clocks in at 10% cheaper on a six-week period.

However, once you compare apples to apples and tack the insurances and airport surcharges to the rental costs, leasing always comes out on top : 28% cheaper on the 17-day option, 45 percent cheaper for a month, and 70% cheaper over six weeks.

 

 

 



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