The Consummate Traveler: The High Cost of Automatic Rental Cars Abroad

BY Michele Goncalves TIMESeptember 25, 2014 PRINT

My parents have been enjoying the summer in their hometown of northern Portugal and will soon return at the end of September. My aunt and uncle, who also went along for one month this past July, rented a full-size automatic car from the Oporto Airport which cost an astounding $4,000 USD according to my father. I nearly fell off of my chair when I heard this! Did they get ripped off, or was this really the prevailing fair market value of automatic car rentals in northern Portugal? I had to take a closer look.

Since I am planning to go for a visit to Portugal next summer for two weeks myself, I went online this week to a few popular travel booking websites (Travelocity and Expedia) to pretend as if I were going to book my airfare and an automatic full-size car rental for July 2015. What did I find? The airfare was of course incredibly easy to arrange, but both websites indicated there were no rental cars available for my visit.

In a panic, I decided to type into Google the phrase “automatic car rentals in Oporto, Portugal” to find any advice or websites that could help me. I came across a site called that was very user friendly and provided many options to explore. As for the price, I found that a full-size four-door vehicle for two weeks ranged between $1,191 for a Volvo S60 with no insurance package, to $2,479 for an Audi A4 wagon with a full insurance package included. Just for comparison purposes, a two-week car rental in Orlando, Florida, during the peak season of December can be found for as low as $297 for the entire trip. Sadly, my research confirmed that the price my uncle paid was in fact correct.

What is interesting to note is that the site quoted cheaper prices for the same cars I was presented with when a manual transmission was requested. From my examples above, the manual drive Volvo S60 was approximately $821 without the insurance package and the Audi A4 wagon was $2,017 with a full insurance package included. The cost savings are $370 and $462, respectively.

My advice to all travelers who plan to rent a car internationally and require an automatic transmission vehicle is to get online early and start doing your homework to get an estimate for how much this will cost. In fact, the potentially staggering rental fees could force you to make alternative transportation arrangements using taxis, buses, or trains, which could impact the type of vacation you were planning to take. If you do go ahead with your automatic car rental, be sure to book early (1 year to no less than 8 months in advance) to ensure you can get one of these scarce commodities, as there usually aren’t many to go around. This is especially true if your trip is during peak vacation and tourist season at your destination.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!

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