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We've all heard horror stories about how expensive it is to rent a car in Europe, and let's not even discuss the cost of fuel there. But costs aside, there really is no better way to see Europe at your own speed, having the freedom to stop and start whenever you like, and see the sites that few tourists get to discover on a traditional tour. Renault, the leading French car manufacturer is here to help and is offering some serious discounts on its short-term lease program -- called Renault Eurodrive (tel. 800/221-1052; www.renaultusa.com). You may be thinking "I don't want to lease a car, only rent one" but with these savings, you'll reconsider and once you understand the process, it's an easy and money saving alternative to traditional car rental if you are planning to travel for periods greater than 17 days (can you really see the whole of France in anything less than 17-days? I think not!).

To make the deal even sweeter this holiday season, Renault Eurodrive is offering an end of year promotion to its U.S. customers with $100 off the price of 17- to 30-day leases and $200 off any lease 31 days and longer. To qualify, vehicles must be picked up no later than December 31, 2005. Additional discounts are available to students, teachers and seniors based on the car model and duration of lease. Reservations must be placed at least 30 days prior to pickup.

You can collect your car from 35 pick-up and drop-off sites in nine European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland) although Renault does charge an additional fee for certain city pick ups and drop off points outside France (ranging from $150 to $275 on top of the lease fee). Apart from overall price, there are a number of other incentives to using the Eurodrive program.

Firstly, the price you are quoted is totally inclusive, no hidden fees, no taxes, no additional insurance costs that usually add to your car rental price. Your included comprehensive insurance covers personal injury, collision, fire and theft and has no deductible, which means that you can feel secure and covered in over 30 European countries. The car you will be driving is brand new, direct from the factory so you get that new car feeling (and that great new car smell!) without the hefty price tag.

Leases range in duration from 17 days to six months and in certain cases, can be extended to one year. The Renault program is simple (all the paperwork is done prior to departure) and most of the savings result from a special law that allows short-term leases to be tax-free for EU non-residents. Unlike car rental agencies that usually will not extend a rental agreement to drivers under 23 or 25 years of age, Eurodrive's minimum age for leasing is just 18. And at the tail end of that scale, if you've been discriminated against in the past by car rental companies that won't rent to you because of your advanced age (i.e. if you're over 70), you should know that there is no maximum age limit. Another big plus is their free 24-hour Roadside Assistance program, which is included in your lease agreement and guarantees support throughout Europe with a network of 17,000 service agents and qualified service stations. Should service be necessary, Eurodrive's English-speaking staff will arrange for 24-hour roadside assistance and repair, vehicle replacement and can even arrange for a hotel. In the event of a mechanical problem, there is never a charge for parts or labor. For example, you fly into Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Upon arrival (every day between 6am and 8pm) you dial a toll free number only accessible at the airport and a shuttle will come and pick you up to take you to your car. Drive your manual air-conditioned Renault Clio for the requisite 17-day period and choose to return it at the airport in Marseille in Provence and pay only $909, which includes everything except fuel. This works out to a little over $53 per day. Add $80 for a Diesel model or an automatic transmission, or upgrade to larger vehicles including SUV's, minivans, station wagons and passenger sedans. If you take the car for a longer period, your per day rate reduces significantly, i.e. $1,077 for 25 days is only $43 a day (plus $80 more for a Diesel model or $88 more for an automatic).

Or how about driving around Europe in style in an automatic Renault Megane Convertible with air conditioning for $1,809 for a 17-day rental -- that's still only less than $107 a day. 2005 rates start as low as $799 for a 17-day lease of the sub-compact Renault Twingo with additional days priced at $20 beyond the initial lease period. Renault offers the choice of automatic transmission in every category of car, and a GPS on-board navigation system comes standard in nine of Eurodrive's most popular models.

For additional cost you can also order roof racks, infant or children's car seats, although these can be a little pricey so you may want to consider bringing them with you. A $300 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and this is fully refundable if you cancel your reservation 30 days or more from the pickup date. So you're probably wondering, "What's the catch?" It's nice to be able to say that there isn't one, so enjoy your driving vacation in Europe this winter and save money at the same time.

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