If you're heading to Europe and sticking around awhile, leasing might be smarter than renting.
The big upside for travelers: Short-term leasing costs up to 70 percent less than renting. What's more, with a lease you receive the exact car of your choice--no "Ford Focus or similar" nonsense. Unlimited mileage and 24/7 roadside assistance are standard. There are no airport surcharges, extra driver fees, or requirements that drivers be at least 25; anyone 18 and up with a license is fine. Leases come with full insurance coverage, including Collision Damage Waiver, theft, and liability, each of which would cost $5-$25 extra per day through rental agencies. Drivers of leased cars don't even have to worry about a deductible.
Leases can be booked throughout Europe with Renault, Europe By Car, and Auto Europe; the latter two also do rentals, for one-stop shopping.
Among the downsides of leasing is the 17-day minimum--more vacation time than most non-Europeans receive in a year. The leasing companies have offices at most major European airports, but the options aren't as extensive as at major rental firms. Since the program is uniquely French, there are charges to pick up and drop off outside of France, ranging from $100 to $275.
In a comparison of rental rates at Hertz and Avis with lease prices for the same dates in May in France, leasing was sometimes more expensive. Giving every edge we could to the rental agencies--refusing all insurance and picking up at a downtown office to avoid airport fees--the best rental quotes beat the leases on both a 17-day period ($507 versus $739) and a 30-day period ($866 versus $995). At six weeks, though, the leased car ($1,220) was 10 percent cheaper than the rental ($1,348). And when we factored in the equivalent insurance coverage from a rental agency, leasing won every time, as rentals ballooned to $1,030 (17 days), $1,814 (30 days), and $4,563 (six weeks). Even with surcharges for picking up and dropping off outside France, leasing is often still cost-effective because many countries, notably Italy and Spain, automatically include some insurance for rentals.
Drivers should especially consider leasing if they're interested in a convertible, van, or other specialty vehicle. We found that leases were about 10 percent less expensive on vans, and while Avis's best 17-day rate for a convertible in Paris was $2,032, Europe By Car was charging $1,249 for a 1.6-liter Peugeot 206 coupe.
As for choosing between Renault and Peugeot, Peugeots cost less, and pickup/drop-off fees outside France are $100-$190, compared to Renault's $150-$275. Yet Renault has a greater variety of vehicles, including more vans and SUVs. Europe By Car handles both brands--and for some reason regularly charges less than Renault itself does.