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Sometimes, thinking outside the box can be very productive. That's the case with auto rental in Europe. Instead of looking only at the big names in car rental, take a gander at Renault Eurodrive, which has short-term leasing programs, one as low as $500 for 17 days. This includes unlimited mileage and is for a sub-compact Renault Twingo. If you want to upgrade, they give you a 21-day lease on a mid-sized Renault Megane sedan that is $12 a day less than the average cost of an equivalent rental car, they say.

Leasing is perfect for vacations of 3 weeks or more. The Renault deals require that your permanent address must be outside the European Union (OK for most of us) and that the lease be for a minimum of 17 days and a maximum of 185 days (6 months). French tax law allows these low prices, as the company can sell Eurodrive vehicles on very desirable terms. Technically, a Eurodrive lease is a purchase-repurchase agreement, with the customer's payment representing the difference between the purchase price of a brand-new car and the sale price of a used auto. You, of course, are driving the brand new car, straight from the factory (no tobacco smell in these vehicles!). There's also no VAT (which can run to 18.6% in France), no additional charges such as airport pickup fee or for additional drivers.

Every Eurodrive car comes with extras like a free cellphone, discounts at hotels (30% off rates at 415 Mercure hotels in 12 countries) and many attractions (the latter through the ABC Privilege card in the Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne-Ardennes regions; and the Chateaux et Monuments de France Card).

Unlike some car rental firms which have high minimum ages (frequently 23 or 25) and maximum driving ages (often 70), Eurodrive has no maximum age at all, and a minimum age of just 18. You can pick up and drop off in any of nine different countries, and in the event of a problem, there are 17,000 qualified Renault service stations at your command, far more than any car rental company. The lease agreement includes a comprehensive insurance policy that covers personal injury, collision, fire and theft--with no deductible. There are bigger cars, even vans, available at higher prices, of course.

For more information, contact Renault Eurodrive, phone 800/221-1052, e-mail info@renaultusa.com or go to www.renaultusa.com.