Senior drivers of rental cars

This item appears on page 32 of the January 2019 issue.

After reading Robert Carrelli's letter about self-drive travel (Dec. '17, pg. 27), Linda Beuret of Santa Barbara, California, wrote, "For 12 years, my husband and I planned and organized our own trips, mostly driving throughout Europe. Now, at 79, we seem to do more tours, leaving the driving to others. Mr. Carrelli stated that, at 86, he still rents cars and drives on his vacations. I know that, in some countries, many agencies will not rent autos to persons over 75. I am wondering if other travelers have found any difficulty renting autos anywhere in Europe due to age."

We asked our subscribers who recently had trouble renting vehicles outside of the US because they were above an age limit to each tell us which country it was, which rental company, what was said, what alternative was found and when it all occurred. Some of the responses were printed in last month's issue, and here are a few more.

My wife, Sandy, and I took a nearly month-long trip in October 2017 that we called the "Three I's" vacation, for Ireland, the Isle of Man and Iceland. I made arrangements for our rental cars about three months before departure.

With my British Air/Chase card I earn British Air Avios miles, and I choose to use the miles not for air tickets but for car rentals. Using Avios, I can rent cars only from Avis.

For this trip, I signed into my Avios Travel Rewards Programme account on British Air's website ( and rented cars at Dublin's airport and the Isle of Man's airport. (I was unable to use Avios for the Avis at the Keflavík, Iceland, airport, so I booked that rental by going directly to Avis' website [].)

On the rental forms, I was truthful about my age: 76. All three came back "Approved," or so I thought.

Upon arrival in Dublin, IRELAND, all went well at Avis until the agent spotted my age. She asked if I had brought my documentation. Since I had seen nothing in the approval paperwork about documentation, I, of course, had none. (I had rented Avis cars previously, at age 74, in Amsterdam.)

The agent said that Avis would not rent a car to us without (1) a letter from my primary-care physician stating that I was in good health and had no issues that would prevent me from driving and (2) a letter from our auto insurance company stating that I had not had an accident in the last five years.

We were envisioning our 10-day drive around Ireland vaporizing before our eyes!

We talked to the manager, who said it was in the fine print. We were angry.

Fortunately, it was a weekday, Friday, and it was 1 p.m. in Dublin, which meant it was 8 a.m. in our hometown in Massachusetts. I called my doctor's office and asked the nurse practitioner to get my doctor to write the letter. I also contacted our agent at Liberty Mutual Insurance and asked them to write one as well. Avis gave us the email address where those documents should be sent.

We kept asking if the emails had come through, and it was looking hopeless by 3 p.m. local time. I was worried that my doctor, who probably had a long list of patients to see that day, wouldn't get to it until too late.

Finally, the auto insurance document came through. It showed we had had two accidents for which we were not at fault ("NAF") and that they had occurred more than five years earlier, which met Avis' guideline.

There still had been no word about my doctor's letter yet when we heard the agent say to her manager, "So, are they good to go?" He said "Yes" and instructed me to get in line again for the next available agent. (We will never know if the doctor's letter ever arrived there.)

There was some quiet discussion between two agents about which car to give us. The car we were given had 90,000 kilometers on it, one parking light out, no cruise control and a sticky gear shift. I drove around the airport several times to get used to the accelerator and the clutch engagement and shifting with my left hand. (Until a couple of years before, I had driven manual-transmission cars all of my life; my first car was a '55 Chevy.)

By this time it was nearly 5 p.m., and we decided to just accept the car. We got into Dublin's traffic, which nearly rivaled the worst 5 p.m. traffic in Boston, and that is serious! Although I had driven on the left side of the road in Scotland and Bermuda years ago with a manual transmission and gotten used to it, my indoctrination into Dublin's traffic was definitely a white-knuckle trip.

It was a little hairy for my passenger, too, since I tended to keep moving to the left out of habit, but I got used to keeping my eyes on the center line.

Of course, when we subsequently went to Iceland, where they drive on the right-hand side of the road, I kept banging my left hand on the door reaching for the gear shift, and we kept going to the wrong side of the car to get in. One adapts even at 76!

After a night in a hotel in Dublin, we headed toward Killarney. About an hour into the ride, we began hearing screeching sounds in the front, much like a fan belt slipping. I thought the problem might be the steering because it would come and go when I turned the wheel at certain angles and speeds.

While we loved seeing the green beauty of Ireland, our trip was fraught with anxiety about the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I decided not to call Avis about it at that time because I just didn't want to deal with them again.

Finally, in Donegal, two days from the end of our Ireland circumnavigation, I called Avis because I was worried that the car might break down on the last day and we'd miss our flight from Dublin Airport to the Isle of Man. We were able to transfer to another car at the Belfast Airport on our last day.

Even with GPS, we had to ask directions twice before finding the office at the Belfast Airport. The Avis sign was behind a fence, not visible from the roadway, but what a relief to have a new car at least for one day!

We had worried about securing the required documents for our next two rentals. I had received the one from Liberty Mutual, but I kept waiting for the copy of the letter from my doctor, though the nurse practitioner said she had emailed it several times. (We did have email problems in Ireland.) Finally, on our last day in Ireland, the letter appeared in my email. Whew!

After a 30-minute flight from Dublin on an Aer Lingus prop plane, we arrived on the ISLE OF MAN at 5 p.m. We went to the Avis desk, where a very friendly woman did our paperwork. When she asked for the critical two documents, I could only show them to her on my laptop, since I had had no place to print them.

She said she would need them but that we should first go to our hotel, unpack, relax and have a cocktail. We could email the documents either that night or the next day; she trusted our word. How different things can be!

(We stayed seven nights at The Southfields B&B [Abbeylands, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM4 5EG, U.K.; phone +44 1624 672830,] in Abbeylands, about 10 to 15 minutes' drive from Douglas. We highly recommend this accommodation. Jill and Peter Nash are the fabulous owners. We booked it through an AAA travel agent for about $100 per night.)

We found the Isle of Man to be a wonderful destination, just as green and as friendly as Ireland and also with a rich history, castles, museums and excellent restaurants. Folks would volunteer to help us if we even looked confused!

Drivers were very patient. However, watch out for the sudden, creepy fog that will cancel flights and which makes a drive over Snaefell mountain a scary event, especially since some locals don't put on any lights, much less their fog lights.

After a very pleasant and interesting week on the Isle of Man, we took a night flight back to Dublin and in the daytime caught a WOW air flight to Keflavík, ICELAND.

Jill Nash had printed out hard copies of our two necessary documents. I had them in hand, ready for anything at the Avis desk. The very friendly woman who drew up our papers never asked for those documents and handed us the keys to the car!

However, the directions we were given (from the Avis desk in the main building at the Keflavík Airport) to our rental car were inadequate. After searching in the cold rain over four different parking lots, having been further misdirected to an Avis return/repair facility a half mile away, we returned to the rental desks and went to a Hertz agent, who pointed us in the right direction for our car pickup.

Iceland has a speed limit of 56 mph (90 kph), and they do have speed-enforcement cameras, even out in the middle of nowhere. (The posted sign shows a picture of an old, accordion-type extension camera, so it's pretty obvious.)

The landscape of Iceland was as dramatic as Ireland's but more stark and remote — an adventure we loved.

Some last thoughts —

For certain countries, like Ireland, if you are over 74 and renting a car, take auto insurance and medical documents with you showing, hopefully, that you have a good driving record and no medical issues.

When renting a car, I try to always get a collision-damage waiver (CDW) with a "zero" pay-down advantage. That means no deductible. It's worth it if you are in a country with narrow roads, such as Ireland, Isle of Man and Iceland as well as Scotland. Actually, Avis said the CDW was mandatory for senior drivers.

Next time, I would rent a larger vehicle; getting out of small cars tests our flexibility. I also would get a car with an automatic transmission, especially if driving on the left.

If anyone would like to know more about our "Three I's" vacation and car rentals, I can be reached at

Duncan S. Martin
Cambridge, MA

It was August 27, 2015, and my wife and I were at the airport in Cork, Republic of IRELAND. We had prepaid for an Avis (800/230-4898, rental car back on July 1, but when we got to the counter, the clerk said that because I was over 74 years of age (I was 76), in Ireland I could rent a car from Avis only if (1) I had a signed letter from my physician certifying that I was physically and mentally able to drive and (2) I had a signed letter from my auto insurance company certifying that I had not had an accident while driving over the past five years.

We were taken totally by surprise, having no explicit warning in advance of these requirements. We certainly did not have any such letters with us. I don't know how much my physician might have charged me for such a letter and, since I had been the driver in a one-car accident within the previous five years (no one was injured, and the car suffered damage only to the rear bumper), my insurance company would have been unwilling to issue such a letter.

Fortunately, the Avis clerk was willing to rent a car to my wife, who was not yet 75 years old, but she cautioned that only my wife was allowed to drive the rental car.

That seemed unfortunate to us because my wife was not exactly comfortable driving on the left side of the highway, while I had prior experience driving on the left.

The clerk mentioned that two countries that have similar laws are Jamaica and Israel, but we don't know if there are more.

William G. McCanne
Carbondale, CO

In September 2017, at 81 years of age, I had no problem renting a car from Kemwel ( in GERMANY to drive to Paris, FRANCE, and it was the same for a May 2018 drive from SPAIN through ITALY to Paris.

I have asked rental companies about the age-limit issue and was told that it is determined by the policies of the individual rental companies, not necessarily the government.

For the Spain-Paris trip, I had planned to use Renault's (888/532-1221 or 914/510-2010, lease/repurchase program. However, the days of our trip changed, resulting in its being more economical to simply rent a car from Auto Europe (

I have leased Renaults five or six times in the past, and it was simple, with no surprises. Under this program, at the end of the short-term lease, the company buys back the car.

When I was checking around for a car for my September 2017 trip, I mentioned to the agents of several companies that I would also be driving in Italy. I was told that Italy requires an international driver's license. I do have one.

William Fuller
Vancouver, WA

I would like to think that my husband, age 79, and I, 72, will be in the same great health as Mr. Carrelli is at 86. We take annual, independent trips abroad and, except when in Asia, always rent a car.

My husband turned 75 in April 2014. Since that time, we have rented cars (under his name and specifying his age) in the following places:

• SCOTLAND, in 2015, from Enterprise ( — 20 days driving all over the country.

• FRANCE, in 2016, from Hertz ( — 2,500 miles in 29 days.

• NORWAY in 2018 — from Avis ( in Oslo, 28 days, and from Europcar ( in Svolvær, Lofoten islands, one week.

Between the ages of 70 and 75, we successfully rented cars in. . .

• CANADA in 2009 — Enterprise in Montréal and Budget (800/472-3325, in Nova Scotia.

• ITALY in 2010 — Hertz in Verona.

• GERMANY in 2013 — Hertz in Wittenberg.

• NEW ZEALAND (both islands) in 2014 — Hertz.

The only time that we encountered an age situation was in 2008 in JAMAICA. On that trip, my husband was 69 and, in spite of a clean driving record, Hertz would not rent to him there, thus we rented under my name and I drove.

I would also recommend ITN readers get an International Driver's License prior to departure from the US. These are available the same day at AAA for a reasonable cost to any US resident who has a US driver's license. Two passport-sized photos are required, and it's good for one year.

Having one may make things go more smoothly and quickly in case of any accident or driver's infraction. Fortunately, we have never experienced one of these situations.

Cathie Sundry
San Diego, CA