This summer, I’m ending my two-year hiatus on international travel and heading to France. I’m just one of many people ready to get back out there, as air travel to Europe increased 862%(Opens in a new window) in March 2021 compared with March 2022, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. But inflation and gas prices are also up, so to save money I thought I might rent an electric car.
When I searched “Paris rental car,” I was surprised to see so many battery-powered options. Has Europe become some sort of electric utopia in the past few years? Is renting an EV really as viable an option as these results suggest?
The first row of search results on Hertz in London shows two electric options, highlighted with a green banner.
Skeptical but interested in the money-saving potential, I did a deep dive into the EV driving experience in Europe. Here’s what you need to know to determine if it makes sense to rent one for your next trip.
Sixt, which has a larger European fleet than Hertz, returns EVs for the entire first row of results (the four cheapest options) for a Toulouse, France-based rental.
EVs Are More Common in Europe Than the US
In the US, EVs make up just 5% of new car purchases. The numbers are much higher in Europe, with many European countries seeing double or more EV adoption than the US. In France, EVs make up 12% of new car sales. It’s the same for the UK(Opens in a new window). In the Netherlands(Opens in a new window) and Norway, EVs have 21% and an eye-opening(Opens in a new window) 83% market share, respectively.
When it comes to rental car fleets, EVs often make up about 20%, according to Carsten Anhalt, head of car rental at Share Now in Berlin who formerly spent nearly 30 years as a senior vice president at rental company Sixt.
Parisian streets are increasingly dotted with small, easy-to-park EVs like the Citroen AMI, according to Julian Dupuis, who lives in Paris.
Some European rental companies are even promoting EVs, hence the lower rates. “We have worked hard to keep EV rental a tempting proposition for people used to gasoline-powered vehicles, and competitive rates are key in that,” said Conor Twomey, senior director of communications for Hertz International.
Can You Save Money By Renting an EV in Europe?
One of the main allures of EV driving is avoiding high gas prices. European gas prices are notorious for shocking US travelers, who thought a quick two-hour jaunt wouldn’t break the bank. The war in Ukraine affects European energy prices more than in the US, pushing the cost of gas even higher(Opens in a new window). From that perspective, EVs might be particularly attractive for price-minded travelers this year.
Charging an EV is almost always cheaper than filling up a gas tank in Europe(Opens in a new window), according to Netherlands-based charging company EVbox. We found the same to be true when driving a Tesla around the US, which was about $5 cheaper per 100 miles when using Tesla Superchargers.
EVbox estimates that filling up a Nissan Leaf in Europe will cost $15 for a 226-mile range, and $23 for a Tesla Model X with a 388-mile range. Driving a typical gas car 300 miles, such as a Honda Civic, would cost about $60 with current gas prices in Europe.
A level 3 Tesla Supercharger station, such as this one in Beaver, Utah, offers up to 250kW charging.
(Credit: Chloe Albanesius)
However, the actual cost depends on two key factors: electricity cost and charging speed.
For electricity cost, the average price per kilowatt-hour across Europe is $0.23, but it’s higher in places like Germany ($0.32). When looking at electricity costs in France(Opens in a new window), fully charging an EV costs about a third the price of gas. (These estimates assume 85% home charging, however, which is slightly cheaper than public charging.)
As for charging speed, the faster the charger the more expensive it is. On-the-go travelers will want to charge at level 3, DC fast chargers. These are still cheaper than gas, but you’ll need to charge for 30 to 45 minutes every three hours or so on a road trip. That’s a big consideration for a once-in-a-lifetime, international vacation.
If you’re willing to spend time charging, the next consideration is station availability.
How Do You Charge an EV in Europe?
In both the US and Europe, you usually need to create an account with an EV charging company through an app to use their stations. You cannot simply pay with a credit card like at a gas station. While some charging station companies operate in multiple European countries, you’ll encounter new ones as you cross borders, and you’ll need a different app for each one.
US travelers face another problem: Most public charging apps are only available on European app stores. Downloading them is prohibitively difficult, as it requires creating a new Apple or Google ID for each country or region. Thankfully, rental car companies are aware of this problem and offer other solutions.
The number one thing to find out about a rental car company before selecting an electric vehicle is what public charging access is included. For example, Sixt partners with Plugsurfing to provide near-universal charging fobs for renters in the Netherlands and Germany.
The Plugsurfing fob (or charging key) works at 300,000 stations across Europe.
Plugsurfing(Opens in a new window) is a European aggregation app that allows drivers to power up at many charger brands through one account. It works at more than 300,000 charging stations in Europe. It’s not just for foreign car renters. More than a million drivers use it, according to Maxwell Philp, communications manager at Plugsurfing.
“Many rental car companies provide drivers with a charge key to charge their rented car,” said Philp, “But I am afraid to say that there is not a single rental car company with a pan-European partner for EV charging. It’s a patchwork of solutions.”
Hertz provides renters a key fob from Shell Recharge,(Opens in a new window) which also claims to provide access to 300,000 charging points across Europe. “Quite a few Americans have rented EVs with us already,” said Twomey. “For any customers that are unsure of how to use an EV, we have QR codes in convenient places in the vehicle (on the dashboard, keyring and charging flap) that link to answers to EV specific questions(Opens in a new window).”
The Shell Recharge cards works at 10,000 public EV charging points across the UK, and 300,000 across Europe, including fast chargers.
If you have driven an EV in the States, US-based companies like ChargePoint and Tesla have stations in Europe you can access with your account. New drivers should create accounts prior to traveling. ChargePoint recently grew its European network(Opens in a new window) by partnering with EVGo and EVbox to give users access to those stations, according to Electrek.co. Tesla is also running a pilot (Opens in a new window)in most European countries that allows non-Teslas to charge at their stations. This program is set to expand to the US later this year, but at present it’s only in Europe.
The big takeaway: Before you book, contact the rental company and ask how charging works, both in the country you rent from and any countries where you plan to drive.
What Else to Know Before You Hit the Road
A typical European EV rental might be a Fiat 500 Electric, Peugeot E-208, Tesla Model 3, Volkswagen iD, or Renault ZOE. If you’re unfamiliar with the model, make sure to ask what type of charging plug it has. There are a few different types with goofy names like CHAdeMO and CCS, and they dictate which stations the car can successfully connect to.
The Fiat 500e claims to charge 30 miles in five minutes, enough for a full day of driving around town.
See our charging plug guide to learn more, although many European cars use additional ports not included in the article. That said, they still follow the same basic principles: Some allow only level 1 and 2 charging, others allow all levels (including level 3, fast charging), and Teslas require their own proprietary plugs found at Tesla brand charging stations.
The car may also come with a plug adapter to expand the number of stations where you can charge, which you should confirm with the rental company. When PCMag senior analyst Angela Moscaritolo spent a week driving over 1,000 miles in a Tesla, Hertz included an adapter so she could charge at non-Tesla stations.
The screen on a Tesla Model 3 shows charging progress.
(Credit: Chloe Albanesius)
How Do I Find Charging Stations in Europe?
Just like in the US, European cities and highways are dotted with level 2 and 3 charging stations. As a traveler, level 2 chargers—the kind you find in store parking lots and public garages—might be too slow for your on-the-go itinerary. What you want are fast chargers, or level 3/direct current chargers where you can fill up in 30 to 45 minutes. Level 2 chargers can take 2 to 3 hours in my experience, depending on the weather (batteries take longer to charge in the cold).
But fast chargers aren’t always available or plentiful, so travelers will likely charge at a combination of level 1 and 2 stations. It’s critical to take stock of the stations on your route and expected charging time before renting.
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Luckily, when searching for fast chargers in Europe on PlugShare(Opens in a new window), quite a few came up, although some countries have more extensive networks than others. “Day trips should be fine in Western and Northern Europe, but avoid anywhere else,” said Florian Louis-Therese, a friend living in London.
PlugShare shows ample level 2 and 3 chargers, i.e. DC fast chargers, in Western Europe. You still need to zoom in on your to make sure.
The image below shows the Google Maps results for EV charging stations in London. Like PlugShare’s map, the details include the number of available chargers on location, charging speed, and plug type. Pay attention to these details; the last thing you want is to arrive at a station with no available chargers, or the available chargers are slower than expected and unable to plug into your vehicle.
Google Maps is another easy way to search for nearby places to power up.
Most, if not all, EVs have a screen that includes a map of chargers along your route. It’s still essential to have an international phone and data plan to troubleshoot and look up chargers on the road. The vehicle-provided map may lose service in some areas (same for the phone) or have out-of-date information. Plus, you might need to translate the station’s instructions to English. Here’s a video with our recommendations on international phone plans.
Before you return the car, double-check whether you need to power it back up to full. If so, you may be charged if it’s returned on empty.
Is Renting an EV in Europe Worth It?
Renting an electric vehicle in Europe almost certainly saves you money through cheaper fuel costs and often a lower rental fee than a gas car, but charging time and station availability will make or break your experience. Most Europeans I talked to agreed that if you’re traveling to a country with ample stations, a day trip in an EV could be an enjoyable addition to the itinerary. Imagine cruising up to one of Europe’s many beautiful, old castles in a shiny new Tesla.
“I think American tourists might be interested in having a new experience, but only for a short trip,” said Alexandre Forlini, a teacher who lives in a suburb of Barcelona. He’s noticed more EVs on the road these days, and an increasing amount of newly built chargers.
Share Now’s Carsten Anhalt, who lives in Germany, agreed. “Renting an EV is fun for a day, but I currently wouldn’t go on a road trip unless you love challenges,” he said. He also felt charging stations—or “loading polls,” as he calls them—are “not very available.” Most Europeans charge at home.
All I want is a vehicle that can get me somewhere with espresso and Nutella crepes.
(Credit: Getty Images/Alexander Spatari, Paris, France)
Longer trips, particularly those crossing borders, would prove challenging. Given Americans’ limited access to charging apps, variations in charging companies in each country, and the lack of universal charging assistance from rental companies, Philp at Plugsurfing doesn’t recommend EVs for American travelers. But based on my conversation with reps from Hertz, they say “go for it.”
As for me, I’m sticking with a gas-powered car this time. I’m not willing to spend time on my first international trip in years either charging or searching for chargers. Instead, I’ll focus on enjoying the relatively low gas prices compared with previous trips because the exchange rate is currently favorable to the US dollar.
Plus, European cities are bursting with other, more accessible low-emissions transportation options I can take advantage of. Underground metro systems, like those in London and Paris, run on electric trains. 60% of new buses in Europe(Opens in a new window) in 2021 run on renewable energy sources (electric, hybrid, fuel cell), electrive.com reports. You can even cross the English Channel in an underwater electric train(Opens in a new window).
But if you’re motivated to rent an EV, be sure to discuss charging options with the rental car company. Ask what to expect in each country where you plan to travel, and confirm if you can use a US phone and credit card with the available charging apps. Finally, map out your route to ensure you’ll have enough power to make it to each destination. And don’t forget that international phone plan.
Stay tuned for my post-trip update. In the meantime, for more travel tips, check out our Tesla roadtrip review and list of the best apps for travel.
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