Renting a Car in Spain: 2024 Full Guide

Driving In Spain

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Spain stands out as a remarkable country, boasting a variety of landscapes from picturesque coastlines to the towering peaks of the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada. Journey from bustling cities steeped in history to tranquil villages nestled in valleys. Indeed, Spain offers a wealth of places to explore, marking its prominence in Europe. Although the country features an extensive interrail and public transportation network, driving offers the best opportunity to experience Spain at your leisure. Here is everything you need to know about car rental in Spain.

Why Rent a Car in Spain?

Over numerous trips, we’ve accumulated thousands of kilometers driving rental cars throughout Spain. From touring the beautiful northern coast to embarking on road trips through historic southern cities like Barcelona, Córdoba, Granada, and Seville, Spain stands out as one of the top European countries to explore by car.

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© 2024 Noamds Travel Guide

We’ve visited most of Spain’s major cities and historic towns, using rental cars to access many of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Places like El Caminito del Rey or San Juan de Gaztelugatxe would have been either expensive or inaccessible without a rental car.

How to Rent a Car in Spain

While Spain is known for its efficient railway and bus systems, renting a car offers arguably the best way to fully explore the country. Having your own vehicle provides the delightful freedom to craft your own itinerary and travel at your own pace. The roads in Spain are generally well-maintained and provide comprehensive coverage, ensuring you can reach every corner of the nation with ease.

Drive from the mountainous regions to the seaside, making stops at breathtaking cities like Barcelona and Valencia along the way. Alternatively, venture into the Andalucian hills to explore enchanting white villages and fairytale-like castles. No matter what you wish to discover in Spain, a car provides the ideal means of transportation. In this guide, you’ll find detailed information on how to drive and rent a car in Spain, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable travel experience.

We recommend to rent a car in Spain through Discover Cars, they compare prices and review multiple car rental agencies. Book your rental car here.

What do you need to Rent a Car in Spain? 

When you rent a car in Spain, you’ll need to bring the following documents:

  • Your driver’s license from your home country
  • Your ID (passport)
  • Credit Card in your name
  • International Driver’s Permit

In Spain, the legal driving age is 18 years old, but to rent a car, most rental companies require drivers to be at least 21 years old. Additionally, some companies may require that drivers have held their license for at least one year, and others may set the minimum age at 23. All drivers must present a valid driver’s license and an ID for proof of identity. A credit card is also necessary to complete the rental transaction.

Please note: Most car rental companies in Spain impose an additional fee for drivers under 25 years old. Additionally, non-EU citizens are legally required to possess an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to drive in Spain. This permit must be presented both to the rental agency at the time of rental and to Spanish police if you are stopped while driving. An IDP costs approximately 15 USD and remains valid for one year. You can arrange to obtain yours prior to your visit.

Rental Car Insurance in Spain

When renting a car in Spain, you are required to have unlimited third-party liability insurance. This is usually included in the rental price by most companies and will take the form of a deductible hold on your credit card. Before renting a car, it’s important to verify that your credit card can handle this deposit. While additional insurance like a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or theft coverage is recommended for further protection, it is not mandatory.

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When opting for additional coverage, it’s advisable to include this in your initial booking, as prices are typically more favorable when arranged in advance. Additionally, check if your credit card policy offers car rental insurance in Spain, which can provide significant savings. Always ensure that the proof of insurance, the car’s documentation, your passport, and your International Driver’s Permit (IDP) are with you in the car at all times while driving.

When adding additional coverage for your rental car, it’s best to arrange this during your initial booking as the rates are generally more favorable. Additionally, it’s worthwhile to check if your credit card policy includes car rental insurance coverage in Spain, which could provide a cost-effective alternative. Make sure to keep the proof of insurance, the car’s documentation, your passport, and your International Driver’s Permit (IDP) in the car at all times when driving. This ensures you’re fully prepared in case you’re stopped by local authorities or need to provide documentation for any reason.

Make Sure: Make sure you arrive with a credit card and not a debit card, they are different! Also check wheather you need to obtain an International Drivers Licence.

Road Conditions and Speed Limits

In Spain, the terrain is often flat or features gentle inclines, making travel across the country quick and straightforward. The roads and motorways are well-maintained and generally experience light traffic, allowing you to comfortably enjoy the scenic surroundings as you drive.

Spain’s road system is made up of motorways and main roads:

  • Highways (autopistas) are identified by an A or E followed by the road number. Toll roads (autopistas de peaje) are indicated with AP along with the road number. All exits (salidas) are sequentially numbered.
  • Two-lane highways (autovías) carry an E and the road number, and they may not always include a median strip separating the lanes.
  • National roads (carreteras nacionales) bear an N or CN, followed by the road number.
  • Country roads (carreteras comarcales) are designated with a C and the road number.

Tolls & Offline maps

While Spain does feature some toll roads on certain Autopistas (AP) and radial roads (R), they are less prevalent compared to neighboring countries like Portugal or France. These toll roads often pass through mountain tunnels or involve complex engineering, requiring more maintenance.

If you choose to travel on a toll road, you can pay the toll using cash, credit card, or the electronic payment system Via-T. Toll charges in Spain typically range from 5 to 30 EUR, depending on the distance traveled and the specific location of the Autopista.

Most navigation devices or map apps clearly mark toll booths and offer options to avoid toll roads if preferred. Given the occasional spotty connectivity in Spain, it is advisable to use a GPS or download maps on Google Maps for offline use. Ensure you load your route before leaving a WiFi area or while you have mobile data to avoid any navigation issues during your journey.

Traffic in Spain

Driving in Spain offers a mix of experiences, from navigating bustling city streets to traversing scenic mountain roads. In larger cities like Barcelona, traffic jams are common, particularly during peak hours. Spain experiences four rush hours, known as “horas puntas,” due to the traditional afternoon break, making driving challenging throughout much of the day. In cities like Madrid, traffic is restricted from entering historical centers to curb pollution, further complicating city driving.

Beyond urban centers, Spain boasts stunning landscapes, including impressive mountain ranges like the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada. While most mountain roads are well-maintained, cautious driving is advisable, especially in winter when snow chains may be required. When renting a car, it’s a good idea to ask the rental agency about the necessity of snow chains if you plan to visit mountainous areas during colder months.

For city visits, consider parking outside the city center and using public transportation to navigate. Spain’s urban areas are well-served by a reliable mix of metros, tramways, and buses. This approach is not only more convenient but also cost-effective, as parking costs increase closer to city centers.

How much does a Car Rental in Spain cost?

Rental car prices in Spain are generally reasonable but can vary based on several factors: the time of year you visit, the length of your rental period, and the type of vehicle you choose. Prices tend to rise during the summer months due to higher demand.

If you visit Spain during the off-peak seasons, including winter, you’ll find that rental prices are significantly lower. Additionally, the longer you rent a car, the more economical the daily rates become. For example, renting a car for five days may cost only slightly more than a three-day rental. If your schedule allows, consider renting a car for at least a week to both save money and fully explore the diverse regions of Spain at your leisure.

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in Spain?

Choosing the right vehicle is crucial when renting a car in Spain. As with many European countries, smaller cars generally cost less to rent and are more fuel-efficient, making them ideal for navigating narrow roads and crowded urban areas. If you prefer an automatic transmission, be aware that these vehicles are less common in Spain and typically come with a higher rental cost compared to manual cars.

To ensure you get the best deal, it’s advisable to compare options online using a car rental comparison site. Booking your car rental in advance online can also be significantly cheaper than arranging it at a rental office upon arrival.

Tip: Before finalizing your booking, carefully review the rental conditions. Factors like mileage policies can greatly affect the overall cost of your rental. By understanding these details, you can choose the best option that fits your budget and travel needs.

Where can I Rent a Car from in Spain?

Spain offers a plethora of reputable car rental options. If you’re planning to rent a car during the busy summer months, it’s wise to book well in advance. Early reservations not only secure your preferred vehicle but can also lock in lower rates.

Considering the logistics of your trip, opting for a one-way rental can enhance your travel experience. Many car rental companies in Spain allow you to pick up the car in one city and drop it off in another. This flexibility lets you explore more freely without the need to circle back to your starting point. While this service is sometimes offered at no additional cost, it can be worth any extra fees when you factor in the savings on gas, time, and tolls.

Why we recomend Discover Cars

Discover Cars serves as a comprehensive platform for all car rental needs, providing options for both car hire and rentals. As a third-party rental car aggregator, Discover Cars aggregates pricing from multiple car rental agencies across nearly 150 countries. This enables customers to effortlessly find the most competitive prices for their car rental, saving them both time and effort that would otherwise be spent on searching for rentals independently.

Top tips for renting a car in Spain

1. Do a walk around and check the car

When picking up your rental car in Spain, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Start with a walk-around to ensure that everything is in order, particularly if you’re traveling in winter to mountainous regions. Check for snow tires or snow chains in the trunk if you expect snowy conditions.

You’ll be required to sign a document known as the check-out form. This form should list any pre-existing damages such as scratches or dents. If you notice any damage not recorded on the form, point it out to the rental agency staff and ensure it gets noted before you sign. The form will also record the car’s mileage and the fuel level at the time of pickup.

For additional security and to ensure all details are accurately logged, consider taking photos or videos of any noted damages, the fuel gauge, and the car’s odometer. This can provide you with proof and peace of mind should any disputes arise later regarding the condition of the car at the time of rental.

2. Choose a Small Car

When renting a car in Spain, it’s advisable to choose a smaller vehicle unless you specifically need more space or plan to drive in mountainous areas. The reasoning is straightforward: many Spanish streets, particularly in older urban areas, are narrow, parking spaces are often tight, and fuel costs can be high. Therefore, if the rental agency offers an upgrade to a larger car, it’s usually best to decline.

Car-hire-spain

Spain’s urban charm is largely derived from its ancient architecture, much like its neighbors Portugal and France. Many towns and villages boast narrow, cobblestoned streets that reflect centuries of history. These historical features, while picturesque, can make driving challenging. To navigate these roads effectively, ensure your rental car is equipped with an up-to-date navigation system and pay close attention to road signs to aid your journey.

3. Parking in Spain

When parking in Spain, especially in the historic centers of cities, be prepared for some challenges due to the variability of parking regulations across different areas. In urban zones, paid street parking is designated by blue lines on the pavement, and you’ll need to purchase a ticket from a nearby machine to park there. Resident-only parking areas are marked with green lines or have a black sign featuring the letter ‘P’.

It’s important to note that street parking is generally free on national holidays, Sundays, and after 7 PM in most areas, but always double-check local signs to avoid fines. Like in Italy, it’s not unusual in Spain for drivers to be somewhat indifferent to minor scratches on their cars, and the practice of nudging cars slightly to make space for parking, though less than ideal, does occur.

To ensure safety, always be cautious about where you park your rental car and avoid leaving valuables or luggage visible inside the vehicle. Theft from parked cars is a risk, particularly in tourist-heavy areas, so removing important items from your car when parked can help prevent potential break-ins.

Top Tip: In some street parking areas, particularly in the south of Spain, you might encounter individuals offering to help you park your car. It’s important to note that these people are not official parking attendants but they typically expect a tip of 1 – 2 EUR for their assistance. While not mandatory, it’s often advisable to pay them to avoid any potential issues or damage to your car.

4. Petrol Stations

In Spain, you’ll find gas stations widely distributed across the country, available in rural areas, small towns, big cities, and along the autoroutes. Google Maps and other navigation tools can help you locate the nearest gas station. The average price for gas is about 1.90 EUR per liter, which translates to approximately 7.20 EUR per gallon. When refueling, you can choose between diesel (diesel) and unleaded gasoline (gasolina). Be mindful that diesel may also be labeled as gasóleo in Spain.

Most gas stations in Spain are self-service, although during daytime hours, attendants are usually available to assist if you’re unsure of how to proceed. To know which type of fuel your rental car requires, look for a sticker that might be on the car key, the dashboard, or the fuel door.

When returning your rental car, remember to check whether you need to refill the gas tank before returning it.

Good to know: It’s important to note that gas stations in Spain can sometimes be unattended, especially on Sundays, holidays, during the typical lunchtime siestas, or late at night. During these times, your only option might be an automated gas station, which generally only accepts card payments. Keep this in mind when planning your travel to ensure you don’t run out of fuel at an inconvenient time.