Longer term car rental in Europe

The best way to get a car in Europe if you’re not an EU resident, and if you need it for more than a couple of weeks, is to use the French auto industries tax-dodge “buy-sellback” scheme that supplies you with a brand spanking new car with zero kilometers for a minimum of 17 days and a maximum of 6 months. The theory is that since you are a non-European resident who will be buying a car for export, you shouldn’t have to pay VAT, which is now above 20 percent on cars. Again, in theory, you have six months to export your car; if you don’t, you have to pay the VAT. On the other hand, you could sell it back to the car company that sold it to you and accomplish the same thing as if it was exported, namely avoid VAT.

I’ve found that prices are often considerably less than those available from the international rental companies. The manufacturers make out because they get to book a sale, have a short depreciation on the cars, and then dispose of them on the used market at good prices since used cars are on a different VAT schedule. Since rental car companies have to pay full VAT on new cars, your car should cost you at least 20 percent less than if you got it from Hertz. In reality, it’s more, because you aren’t paying for the rental company overhead of offices, sales organizations, airline mileage tie-ins, maintenance schedules (the cars are brand new), advertising etc.

The French are the ones who run this scam, so you can’t get a BMW or Mercedes or Jaguar. But you still get a new car, from the most economic to the most luxurious. Peugeot is on the verge of becoming the biggest car company in Europe, and Renault makes some of the funkiest, most critically acclaimed cars around, so the French must be doing something right — you won’t be disappointed in the quality of the cars.

You order precisely the model you want from here at least three weeks ahead of time (and sooner is better since certain models sell out, or it takes time to deliver the car to the country and location where you want to pick it up). You specify where you want to pick it up and drop it off (although you can change drop off date and location easily) — most major European airports are covered, as well as some train stations. If the location is outside France, there’s a pick up/drop off charge of about $75 bucks. After you order your car, you will be mailed or faxed paperwork, some of which looks pretty weird (you promise to sell the car back and return to your job); you sign it and send it back.

All you pay upfront is the full amount for the rental term you decide. If you want to keep the car longer, you simply contact them, tell them how long you want to extend, and pay the difference. You can keep doing this up to six months. To you it looks like a simple rental, not a sale — in fact, it is much simpler than a car rental because there are no options, aside from where it’s delivered. (You can even order two cars at the same time, if you are so inclined.)

When you arrive to pick up the car, you go to their counter and you are given the car papers, or you take a cab to a nearby offsite office, and are escorted out to your vehicle. Like any new car, it has just enough gas to get to a gas station. You sign for your car. You go.

Wherever you pick up the car, it has red, French “TT” plates — the color indicates that the car is for “export.” It comes with zero deductible insurance (better than you can get with a rental company). If you need service (but you won’t since it’s a brand new car), you get @$/7 roadside assistance, or you can take it to a Peugeot or Renault dealer, and they are all over Europe, even in small towns where there is no rental company office. The cars come with AC and a CD player, as well as the other amenities you’d expect from a well-spec’ed, upper-end model. You can order most with auto as well.

At the end of your lease, you have to call a day or two ahead of your drop-off to make sure that someone will meet you to receive the car. They take a look at it, you give them the keys, it’s over.

Here are the URLs with complete details on the programs and the cars available:
Renault
Peugeot

The two sites for Peugeot have different pricing, maybe different cars. Auto-France appears to be the official Peugeot site, the other one is a large travel retailer who can sometimes have lower rates. Both deliver official Peugeot agreements.

One of the delivery agents suggested that you can even request the color of your car. Added bonus: minimum age is 18, no limitations on going to former East Block countries.

– Louis Rossetto