Renting a car in Ireland for a week or two is no problem (if you don't want to bring your own car on the ferry as a visitor from the UK or Continental Europe). Thanks to the Internet it can be done from the comfort of your home, and within minutes. Yet there are potential pitfalls when ordering a rental for an Irish vacation. Actually getting the right car for your needs can be difficult.
For instance, the very concept of "car" can be radically different between North America and Europe.
Whereas in the US and Canada size really matters, Europeans look for fuel economy and have cramped parking conditions in mind. Here are some hints on choosing the right car when renting. Don't get stuck with an ultra-mini for a family of five ...
Transmission - Not Automatically Automatic
The very first thing to bear in mind is the transmission. Whereas most rental cars in North America will be equipped with automatic transmission, manual transmission is the norm in Europe. In addition, the gearshift will be to the left of the driver. If you are not familiar with a manual transmission be sure to ask for an automatic. Be prepared for an extra charge at some rental agencies. And remember that the "exotic" automatic transmissions may sell out fast, so book early.
Fuel Costs - Don't Worry
As said before, European drivers are obsessed with fuel efficiency. One look at the price of gas in Ireland, let alone in Northern Ireland, will explain this obsession to US visitors - expect to pay twice the price you are used to.
The fuel efficiency of rental cars should normally be great, even for the larger vehicles. Which ultimately makes driving in Ireland not a hugely expensive way of travel. Unless you forget to pay the barrier-free tolls on the M50 - other road tolls are no problem and paid on the spot.
Interior Space - Small Blessings
Most rental cars on offer are standard European or Japanese vehicles, built for cramped road conditions and comparatively short journeys.
Especially the lower categories ("Sub-Compact" and "Compact") are typical "city cars" for the occasional user. Even "Mid-Size" in Ireland would be rated "Compact" in the US. So expect tighter conditions and choose a larger vehicle if traveling long distances.
Seats and Legroom - Be Prepared for Surprises
Cars are smaller and Europeans are used to them. This combined leads to the ratings on rental car websites. An international supplier will offer the same size of vehicle with totally different suitability ratings. On the US website rated for two adults and two children, on the Irish website rated for five adults. If you are in any way larger than the average European (5 ft 7 in, 165 pounds) go for a larger vehicle. Some rental companies will tell you equivalent US vehicles to help you choose.
The Trunk - Which Trunk?
Luggage space in European and Japanese cars can be tight. "Sub-Compact" and "Compact" vehicles will more than likely be of the hatchback type with no actual trunk and a somewhat cramped storage area in the back. Getting four adults and their luggage into a "Sub-Compact" is nearly impossible. If you are planning to take your full baggage allowance to go for a "Mid-Size" at least.
Do not plan on leaving your luggage in view while touring, this will attract undesirable attention. And, actually, the trunk is called the boot here ...
Extras - You Don't Need Them
When looking up European rental cars you might notice that air conditioning or cruise control are not necessarily included in the specifications. You will not really miss them. While air conditioning can occasionally be nice during the short Irish summer, cruise control would be of no practical use at all. Better look for good tires - especially when you are driving in winter or in rain and floods.