When we recently needed transportation from Paris, France to Arles, France, a distance of 450 miles, we looked at all the options. The two cheapest options we found was to take the train for $268, or to rent a car for $102 + the cost of fuel. While the train was much faster, the car rental was for 72 hours and would allow us to go from door-to-door plus have a couple of days to explore the South of France. We chose the car. In hindsight, the train would have been the cheaper option! Driving in France costs much more than we had anticipated and we were shocked by all the hidden costs.
We don’t have toll roads on the west coast of the United States and I just assumed that once we got our car we would just get out on the road and go and the only other costs would be fuel. Boy was I wrong. When planning our route on Google it mentioned toll roads, but did not state how much. Not knowing what to expect I searched the Internet trying to figure out the actual toll costs and stumbled across a great online route planner from the company that makes Michelin Maps (www.viamichelin.com.) Their route planner gives you the tolls that you will pay, detailed turn-by-turn directions, distance, time, fuel costs, and even options to avoid tolls. Unfortunately, avoiding tolls for us would have taken an additional 5 hours and we would have arrived in Arles at around midnight. So, we chose save time and to pay the tolls, which was rather shocking. The total cost in tolls for those 450 miles came to 50€, which is around $66 USD.
Total cost to rent a car with tolls: $168
In the United States people complain about the price of gas when it is $4 a gallon. After buying fuel in France, $4 a gallon is cheap! The price for gasoline (petrol) in France is currently around 1€60 per liter. Sounds cheap until you realize that there are 3.785 liters per gallon, which brings the cost of gasoline to 6€06 per gallon. But wait, there’s more. One euro is currently worth about $1.32. So, now we have this simple formula of 1.6 €/l x 3.785 l/Ga x 1.32 $/€ = 7.99 $/Ga. (can you tell that I have a degree in engineering?) which gives us the total of roughly $8 a gallon for gas!!!! There is a reason everyone in Europe drives little tiny cars.
When we realized that the cost of fuel was going to be expensive we wondered if there was a diesel option that would save us a small amount of money. When I went to pick up our rental car I asked and they gave us one. So now we only had to pay 1€52 per liter for diesel and we would get better mileage. Our fuel cost to drive the 450 miles was 60€, which is around $80 USD.
Total cost to rent a car + tolls + fuel = $248
Automated Photo Radar (EVIL)
Another thing we did not expect was the speed traps all over the place. We had those back in Oregon, but never on the freeway. At random places the speed on the motorway will drop from 130 KPH to 110 KPH with a photo radar unit permanently mounted on the side of the road that will happily give anyone going over 110 KPH a ticket. Unfortunately, we had this experience. As we were getting close to Arles, the speed limit dropped, but I thought it was the speed for trucks and people towing. Wrong! With a blinding flash my perfect European driving record came to an end. I was only going 5 KPH over, but it was enough. We don’t know how much the ticket will be, but I expect it to be more than I would want to pay, and hopefully, it was only one ticket.
Airport and Train Station Surcharge
I had assumed that all the fees were included in our rental price, but had assumed wrong. When I returned the car to the rental agency in Arles, they slapped me with a 48€98 surcharge for picking up the car at a train station in Paris. Ouch! From now on we will avoid picking up or dropping off rental cars to train stations or airports, unless there is no other choice. Cost of surcharge was $65 USD.
Total cost to rent a car + tolls + fuel + surcharge = $313 + speeding ticket fine
Will We Rent Again?
Even though renting a car in France had lots of hidden costs that we did not expect, it was great to be able to drive through France at our own pace and to see areas that would have been really hard to get to without a car. Would we rent again? Absolutely, but we will know what to expect next time.
Tips for Driving in France
- Get detailed Michelin Maps for the regions you will be spending the most time in. The overall maps of France lack the details needed to get off the motorways and find your way around.
- Know what the road signs mean before you drive. The road signs are different than the USA and rather confusing the first time seeing them.
- Don’t speed and pay attention to speed limit changes. Those automated photo radar units are ruthless!