Zadar is a historic and beautiful coastal city in Croatia that serves as the perfect base for exploring the surrounding regions. With a rental car in Zadar, you can easily access nearby national parks, islands, beaches and historic sites.
Renting a car gives you the freedom and flexibility to discover Zadar and beyond at your own pace.
Here is everything you need to know to rent a car for your trip to Zadar, Croatia.
Table of Contents
Decide on Car Size and Type
The first step is deciding what size and type of rental car you need for your trip. Compact cars and economy models are the most affordable options for solo travelers or pairs. Small hatchbacks or sedans are nimble on Croatian roads and easy to park in tight spaces.
For groups of 3-5, intermediate or standard-size rental cars offer more trunk space and legroom. Upgrade to a minivan or SUV if you have a large group or plan to haul lots of luggage and gear. Convertibles are fun for scenic coastal drives if you don’t mind the exposure.
Consider renting a car with all-wheel drive if planning to drive on unpaved or gravel roads in national parks and remote areas. This provides more traction and control. Automatic transmissions are also easier for driving on Croatia’s winding hillside roads versus manual.
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Compare Rental Car Companies and Rates
Once you decide on car size and features, next compare rental options across major companies like Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Sixt, Enterprise, Budget and local agencies. Rental car rates can vary widely, so comparison shopping is key to finding the best deal.
Look at the rental company’s website directly or use an aggregator site like RentalCars.com to compare real-time rates across multiple providers in one place.
Make sure to factor in any taxes, fees, insurance costs and add-ons. Narrow down your top 2-3 options based on rate, car availability and customer reviews.
Reserve Your Rental Car Early
Especially during the busy tourist season between May and September, it’s essential to book your Zadar rental car as early as possible. Cars book up fast, so reserve 1-2 months in advance if you can. This locks in availability and the best rate for your dates.
Most rental car companies allow you to cancel your reservation up to 24 hours before pickup with no penalty. So even if you’re unsure of your exact itinerary, you can reserve early for peace of mind and then adjust later if needed.
Last-minute rentals in Zadar will be much pricier and more limited in selection. If renting in July or August, don’t wait until the last minute or you may end up without a car.
Understand Insurance Requirements
Rental car companies in Croatia require drivers to carry a minimum level of liability insurance. This covers damages to third parties in an accident. However, liability insurance does not cover damage to the rental car itself or injuries to you and your passengers.
It’s highly recommended to also purchase the collision damage waiver (CDW) and supplemental liability protection (SLI) to lower your financial responsibility for the vehicle.
This can add $10-30 per day to your rate.
Some credit cards provide free rental car insurance when you book with them, so check your benefits.
If declining the CDW, the rental company will put a hold on your credit card for the full value of the vehicle as collateral. Be sure to understand your potential out-of-pocket costs if you get into an accident before declining extra coverage.
Pick Up and Inspect Your Rental Car
When picking up your rental car, first carefully inspect the vehicle’s exterior and interior for any prior damage. Check the tires, windshield, paint, interior upholstery, electronics and trunk area. Take photos or video of any dents, scratches or defects before driving off the lot.
Review the rental agreement and inspect the car with the agent present. Have them note any damage you discover on the paperwork so it’s documented as existing before your rental period. This protects you when returning the car from unfair damage claims.
Before leaving, adjust the mirrors and seats. Locate hazards, headlights and windshield wipers. Test drive briefly in the parking lot to ensure the proper functioning of directional signals, brakes, steering, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different vehicle if you’re unsatisfied.
Know the Rules of the Road in Croatia
Though you don’t need an International Driver’s Permit to rent a car in Croatia, having one is recommended since rules differ somewhat from other countries. Speed limits are generally 50 km/hr in cities and 80 km/hr on highways. Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers.
It’s illegal to use a mobile phone while driving without a hands-free device. Croatia has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving. You must always drive with headlights on, even during the day.
Be prepared to pay tolls on motorways and bridges by having cash kuna on hand.
Get Accustomed to Driving a Manual
Over 75% of rental cars in Croatia have manual transmissions. If you only have experience driving an automatic, spend some time reacquainting yourself with the mechanics of driving a stick shift. This is especially important before attempting to navigate hilly terrain.
Practice using the clutch pedal and shifting gears. Learn techniques for smooth upshifts and downshifts.
Have the agent provide a tutorial on starting and stopping on hills so you can avoid stalls and burnouts. Take things slow as you get used to clutching and shifting gears.
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Use GPS and Offline Maps
Having a GPS navigation device or app on your phone is extremely helpful for navigating around Croatia. Download offline maps in advance so you don’t need mobile data to view maps and routing.
Make sure your phone is equipped with a car charger mount to display maps hands-free.
Key in exact addresses or coordinates when possible versus only city names. This provides the most accurate routing.
But also have a physical map or atlas as a backup in case you lose digital connectivity in remote areas.
Take Advantage of Unlimited Mileage
Most rental car agencies in Croatia offer unlimited mileage, so take advantage. Don’t be afraid to take excursions to visit national parks, beaches and historic towns outside Zadar. Just be aware of your fuel tank and stop regularly to refill it.
Consider trips to Krka National Park, Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica National Park, Nin, Pag Island or Kornati Islands.
The flexibility of a rental car lets you create your own customized itinerary to discover Croatia’s natural beauty.
Understand Parking Regulations
Parking in Zadar’s old town requires payment via meters, scratch-off vouchers or the PayByPhone app. Parking zones are colour-coded: Blue is short-term, yellow is all day, and green means parking is free but usually further out. Street parking otherwise is usually free but has time limits.
Never park in designated taxi or bus lanes. Be cautious of pedestrian zones with limited vehicle access and pay attention to entrance/exit signs. Also, watch for spaces reserved for residents.
Getting towed or ticketed will ruin your day, so study up on parking maps and restrictions.
Return Car on Time and Refueled
Avoid extra rental charges by returning your car to the correct agency location on time and with a full tank of gas. Give yourself ample driving time when returning to avoid rush hour traffic jams. Top off your tank right before dropping off the car.
Thoroughly clean out trash and belongings from the car. Do a final walk-around to check for new damage. Have an agent inspect the car and sign the paperwork.
This verifies its return condition. Keep the inspection report for proof in case any issues later arise.
Renting a car opens up Croatia’s beauty at your own pace. Follow these tips to seamlessly reserve, insure, pick up and drive your Zadar rental car.
Familiarize yourself with driving manual transmissions and Croatian road rules. Use GPS but also bring backup maps.
Take advantage of unlimited mileage to freely explore national parks and coastal towns. With the freedom of a rental car, you can experience the very best of Croatia’s Dalmatian region.