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You know most cars look pretty much alike from the inside.  Of course, there are some differences when renting cars outside your home country. 

If the driver's manual is in a foreign language and the flashing dashboard symbols do not look familiar, you will wish  you had asked some questions before you left the rental car lot.  Read our article for a brief overview of the features you should familiarize yourself with before you "hit the road".



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Travel Advice/Travel Tips - Know how to operate your rental car

Take a few minutes to examine the layout of the car’s controls after you have taken possession of your rental car.

  • Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the layout of the dashboard, safety features, the locations, and meaning of warning symbols, signaling devices, and accessory switches.
  • In addition, note the side of the car that contains the fuel door and make sure you know what type of fuel the car requires for normal operation.

The time to familiarize yourself with the car’s functions is before you start driving not afterwards.

  • Making sure that you understand the layout of the car before you leave the rental lot is especially important if you are renting a car outside of the United States.
  • It is likely the manual in the glove compartment will be in the language of the country you are visiting and may be of little help when you are trying to figure out how something works.
  • In addition, remember that the warning signals on the dash may be accompanied by text but the message will not be in English.
  • Have personnel at the facility explain any questions that need answering

Why spend time doing this, what can go wrong?

  • On a trip to France, we rented a Renault that was an extremely nice car with good performance. However, when I started the car, I realized that I was dealing with a diesel engine and would need to fill-up with diesel when I  refueled the car. What I did not know was that diesel is called “gas-oil” in France. During the first fueling of the car I tried to confirm that “Gas-oil est Diesel?”  “Non”, came the response “Gas-oil est gas-oil.” Finally, we communicated and the agreed that gas-oil was diesel. Of course, a quick question at the car rental agency would have eliminated the problem but I was in too much of a rush to get started.
  • Later in the trip, as I was pulling out of a rest stop, a warning light showed up on the dash. I pulled over on the side of the highway and poured over the owner’s manual printed in French, consulting my Langenscheidt French-English pocket dictionary all the while. It was only after some reading that my companion pointed out the symbol looked like the one on her car for the emergency brake. Yes, it was on. Oh the shame of it all!


Be particularly careful to give your car’s operation a close once over if you will be driving in the British Isles or other locations that have adopted the driving on the left rules of the road. The steering wheel will be on the wrong side of the car for most of us and many of the switches will be in the “wrong position”. I am sure you will remember this advice, even if I forget it from time to time. If you want to know how a travel writer can be embarrassed, read this article.

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