Renting vehicles overseas contains a few more pitfalls for Americans than picking up an automobile in the U.S. Besides insurance coverage, you’ll deal with higher fuel costs, language barriers, and various driving habits.

Ever watched the traffic circle around the Champs-Élysées in Paris? (It is very scary). Additionally, many regions have such extensive train and bus networks that having your own car is usually an unnecessary expense. In Europe or Asia, you will even find airfare that’s cheaper than an automobile rental, especially if you’re heading between major cities. But sometimes you will want to explore quaint and historic areas which are inaccessible by public transit. Leasing a car in Europe, Mexico, or elsewhere can be done without incident, so long as you protect yourself. Here are a few things to consider:

Local or global?

The first decision can be the toughest. You’ll find better deals from local rental car providers, particularly if you have to have a car for an extended time period. The local agency will also help you with itinerary planning as well as other tips. On the downside, you could possibly face inconvenient hours, varying customer care standards, and employees who may not speak English.

Get it in English.

Never sign something that you do not understand, and have the company point out where the collision coverage and policies are in your contract. Then ask the company for a full English copy — and make sure you keep it through the end of your trip and beyond, recommends Deborah Lyon of Carrara LLC (, a company that rents villas in Italy.

Look at the type of fuel.

Many cars overseas use diesel fuel as opposed to unleaded. Just in case you put the wrong kind in, you’re in for an unpleasant and expensive surprise, as Pete Meyers of EuroCheapo ( discovered traveling to Lake Como, Italy. What was a pleasant day turned into a $300 mess that involved towing, fuel charges for a new tank of gas and the wasted one, as well as good-natured heckling from the locals, said Meyers, who documented the ordeal.

Check the type of car.

Anyone who has watched drivers suffer on The Amazing Race knows that a standard car in most countries has a stick shift. If you don’t drive stick shift, be sure your rental is an automatic before getting there.

Ask about local roads.

Consider hiring a driver if the roads are too hazardous. That’s what a friend and I did on Italy’s Amalfi Coast one year, after realizing that neither of us had the gumption to navigate the area’s steep cliffs. Those euros were well spent on the car service, and was bargain, considering the peace of mind we had — while avoiding the stressful speed demons around us.

Document, document, document.

After hearing horror stories about unscrupulous rental car companies in Mexico, I photographed every inch of my vehicle, making certain the images were date and time stamped. That attention to detail made a difference at check-out, when an agent tried to say that I had caused a small dent in the fender. The photographic proof with the time and date stamp made them back off.