Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 19, 2017

Driving My Mercedes To Italy – Day 7


The Duesseldorf Express is somewhere off the coast of southern Mexico today.


Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, about 800 miles south of here, a shipping container loaded with my old Mercedes is loaded aboard the Panama-bound Duesseldorf Express cargo ship.

I have verified this now, after being unable to locate the container by number on the website of Hapag-Lloyd, the operator of the Duesseldorf Express.

“It’s booked with ZIM & not Hapag Lloyd,” Evelyn Valderrama wrote me in an email yesterday. Evelyn is sort of babysitting my booking at Schumacher Cargo Logistics in Gardena, California, where she works. “Please use the booking no. & below is the link :”

Zim Integrated Shipping Services is one of the top 20 global cargo shipping carriers in the world, according to Wikipedia.

I looked up the link to ZIM’s container number, and sure enough, my Mercedes was indeed loaded into and put aboard the Duesseldorf Express in the port of Los Angeles back on May 13. It’s still due in Genoa, Italy, around midnight June 13/14. That’s where I hope to pick it up and start driving it around southern Italy and France this summer.

A reader asked me if it wasn’t cheaper just to rent a car in France or Italy instead. Good question. Exhaustively researched by me. According to my calculations, after four months of driving the Mercedes, instead of renting or leasing cars in Europe, the Mercedes becomes the cheaper option. (That’s assuming the fickle Mercedes keeps running.) I plan to keep driving it here for six to 12 months.

I can rent cars in southern France for about $10 a day if I shop around. But that’s not always a guarantee. It’s a hassle to keep changing cars every couple of weeks. And you are playing rental car roulette each week with what you get (i.e., a Fiat 500 one week, a Renault Twingo the next, a Fiat Doblo van, a Toyota Yaris, a Citroen 2008, etc.) You’ll note these are all rather austere little econoboxes, often diesels, usually with manual transmissions.

You can rent or lease for longer terms. Wheels in Europe is an especially good website to check, for rentals of three to 24 months. This is great for expats who don’t want to, or can’t, buy a car while in Europe (buying a car usually means getting a driver’s license, a permanent address, insurance, taxes, etc.). Insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance are included! You also have no age limit (good for under-25 drivers who can’t easily rent from the big agencies like Hertz), the option of multiple drivers, and the availability of just about every size and type of vehicle. The cost varies by the city in which you pick it up; the cheapest I could find was about $450 a month for a small car.

Renault also offers a Eurodrive leasing program that is good for 90-165 days. But that’s a little more expensive. It’s generally available in France, but I was quoted a rate for pickup in Milan, Italy too. Renault’s offer is for brand new cars only.

Leased cars typically come with mileage limitations. The rental cars are generally for unlimited miles, but beware: some are unlimited only in the country its rented in (quite a joke if you rent in mile-wide Monaco!) Nice has horrible, generally undisclosed “luxury destination” taxes (which can more than double the rental) on cars picked up at the airport or train station.

Europcar offers long term rentals (up to 90 days) that were reasonably priced. But you aren’t guaranteed what car you are going to get (regardless what your reservation may claim) and it’s not likely to be a new car. I had quite a goat rodeo with Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar and Thrifty about whether any of them would honor a series of reservations I made for a nine-passenger van for a month. Turns out none of them would; a cramped “six-passenger” station wagon with two child-size jump seats in a third row (eliminating all luggage space) was their idea of equivalence. Lesson learned.

And, besides, when it comes right down to it, what can top driving around the Riviera in a classic, red, 450 SL convertible?

(Editor’s Note: Tomorrow, I will talk about the relative rarity of a 1973 Mercedes 450 SL in southern Europe these days.)

Jerry Garrett

May 19, 2017


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