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Rental Cars and Italian Prohibited Traffic Zones

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Just a warning to those contemplating driving rental cars in and around Italian cities.
I think this topic has appeared in these forums before, but it may be time for a refresher.
Most medium and large cities in Italy (and many small ones) have large areas ("ZTL"s- "Zona Traffico Limitato") where you as a tourist are not allowed to drive-even for a second-in your rental car. (Locals, taxis, and buses are of course allowed to drive anywhere) These zones are in the central part of town (where you want to get to) and are identified by a sign (a red circle) and sometimes a light (red means no-go). They can be hard to see, particularly if you're not familiar with the area (as you almost certainly will not be), and you could accidentally enter one and not know it until later (see below). If you enter one- even for a second-there will be a camera that takes a picture of your license plate, and you will be tracked down by the credit card you used to rent the vehicle.
If you rent a car with a GPS system, be advised that the GPS knows NOTHING of these limited zones, and will direct you as if they don't exist.
In a lot of small and medium sized towns in Italy (which are usually situated on a hill) it will be fairly obvious where the no-drive zone is (e.g. inside the old city walls). It's fairly easy to park the car outside the walls and walk/take an escalator/whatever into the center of town. But in larger places like Florence, Rome, etc. the boundaries are not intuitive, and your GPS may tell you to "take the next left"- say to return your car to the rental agency- only to find that you have inadvertently entered a ZTL. In Florence, in fact, the Hertz Agency on Borgo Ognisanti is actually WITHIN a ZTL, which presents a tourist contemplating renting there with an extreme dilemma. Frequently the streets are one-way ("senso unico") and turning around will not be an option (particularly since you will virtually always have cars/buses/locals behind you).
It used to be possible to ignore the large (several hundred euro) fine you will get- but with rental cars and credit cards that is no longer an option. Don't expect to get the rental agency to fix the problem.
Be aware that the car rental agencies will offer no help or advice here ("caveat emptor"). They act as if they are blithely unaware a problem exists (and for them, as locals, it doesn't).
This is not meant to discourage driving in Italy. It remains the best way to get to the small towns and countryside that remain a charming part of the experience. And ZTL's are probably a good idea overall in terms of the environmental impact on city centers. Just be very alert, don't assume the GPS is giving you the best route, and think twice about renting cars in the larger cities even if you don't plan on driving much in them.

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