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Car rental in Italy- a few questions

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Going to Italy in October and have a few rental car questions. We arrive in Rome and depart from Florence and our general plan is Rome (4 nights), Tuscany (TBD hilltown- 4 nights), Cinque Terre (3 nights), and Florence (2 nights).

We'd like a car for the Tuscany bit to more thoroughly explore the countryside. My initial thought is to pick it up leaving Rome and drop it off somewhere like Pisa or La Spezia. However, I've run across a couple glitches to this plan. We need to rent an automatic- I am totally prepared to pay more for it than a manual, but we'd prefer a small economy car as it's cheaper, we won't have a lot of luggage, and make it easier to navigate narrow roads and parking.

I've searched my dates on a number of websites: Autoeurope, Autoeurope.uk, and a few individual car rental companies (e.g., Budget, Hertz, Avis, etc.). Surprisingly, Autoeurope and Autoeurope.uk game me different answers as to what was available at FCO (and prices), but one similarity was the same- the only automatic cars available for a one-way trip were mid-size or bigger, generally luxery. I could only book an economy/compact if returning it to FCO. But if I went on Hertz or Budget, the small economy/compact automatics were available for one-way- or so they say. So I guess my questions are:

1) Is it generally better to go with a consolidator like autoeurope where you pay up front, or book directly with the company, where you don't pay until you pick the car up? Which is more likely to get you the car you reserved? I worry about booking with somewhere like Budget, without paying anything upfront- if you show up and there's nothing available, then what?

2) To avoid the one-way issue, would it be better to say, take the train/bus from Rome to Siena, rent a car there, then return it Siena before taking the train to Cinque Terre?

3) Any idea why do I get such different answers between Autoeurope, Autoeurope.uk, and the individual companies? It's confusing!

Sorry for the rambling question. I'd appreciate any advice, or success stories with renting a small automatic for a one-way trip. Thanks!

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