There are many benefits to hiring a car while on holiday – it allows you to get about independently and see more of the country than you would if you relied solely on public transport and internal flights. But car rental can all be a bit of a minefield. While many companies offer low headline prices, certain add-ons can cause these seemingly competitive rates to soar. So, if you’re looking to hire a car this summer, careful planning is imperative.
Luckily for you, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to help you dodge any hidden charges and avoid getting ripped-off at the rental desk.
Book in advance
It might seem obvious but an easy way to save some cash is to book – and pay for – your hire car in advance. Most car rental companies offer online and early booking discounts – generally, the further ahead you book, the bigger the saving. Simple. And that way you’ll be left with more spending money for those all-important souvenirs.
Even if you opt to reserve your car ahead of time but choose to pay on collection, there’s a chance you will still lose out. Many car rental desks are franchises, and they are free to set prices locally – so the amount they charge on the day may not match the price originally quoted online. Unfair, yes, but that’s the way it is – so don’t get caught out.
Know your insurance options
Nearly all rental cars come with a basic level of insurance – however, this will likely have a hefty excess and only cover major incidents. At the desk you’ll be offered another policy which extends the cover and reduces the excess. While taking out additional cover is a sensible idea, the top-up proposed by the car hire company will no doubt be eye-wateringly expensive. Instead, do your research and look into independent policies – these are usually much better value for money. If you’re a frequent traveller you may even benefit from taking out an annual policy.
Just remember, though, if you do decline the rental company’s extra insurance, they will probably block a sizeable sum on your credit card for the duration of the rental, so make sure your card has enough credit available to cover this. And, whichever policy you choose to take out, make sure you know exactly what is covered – many policies exclude damage to certain parts of the car, such as tyres, wheels, windows, the undercarriage and roof.
Don’t be enticed by an unnecessary upgrade
If the car you booked isn’t available, the rental company should offer you an alternative model in the same price bracket. If they offer an upgrade instead, make sure there isn’t an additional cost attached – and if you’re given a car in a lesser category, you should receive an appropriate refund.
Even when your chosen car is available, chances are you’ll still be subject to the infamous up-sell – an art form practised by all salesmen because it’s the best way for them to achieve that much-sought-after bonus. Try not to be tempted – remember, bigger isn’t always better, and you chose the car you did for a reason. While you’ll no doubt be told you’re getting a great deal, the cost will be far higher than if you’d booked that same vehicle online in advance.
Check for damage
When you pick up your rental car, give it a thorough once over and ensure that every last scratch, dent and blemish is recorded on the rental agreement – remember to look under the bumper and on the roof too. Similarly, when you return the vehicle, have a rental company employee check it and provide you with a signed receipt stating no new damage has occurred. You don’t want any nasty surprises later!
Weigh up your fuel options
When you pick up a rental car it will usually come with a full tank of petrol, and the company will likely want it back in the same way. You have two choices here – fill it up yourself before returning the vehicle, or prepay for a full tank. Go for the first option. If you opt to prepay, the car rental company will almost certainly charge way above market rates. What’s more, if you’re only hiring the car for a few days, and planning to travel just a short distance, you may not even use all of the petrol it initially came with – so you’ll be paying twice for petrol you never used.
If you do choose to fill up yourself before returning the vehicle, be selective in your choice of petrol station. Those close to airports tend to hike up their prices as they know this is the last option for holidaymakers returning their rental cars before flying home – pesky people! So even if it’s necessary to top up a small amount here, you’ll want to avoid refilling the entire tank if you can.
Take your own extras
Whether you’re going on a month-long road trip or just renting a car for a few days, we totally understand you wanting a sat nav – it’s something of a safety blanket on foreign roads. However, hiring one from a car rental company can be expensive, so, if you have one at home, we recommend bringing it with you. Most models will let you pre-load other countries’ maps – but if yours won’t, you can always use your phone. Google, as well as apps such as Maps.me, let you download maps to use offline, so there’s no need to worry about draining your precious data.
The same goes for child seats, with prices sometimes being as high as £100 for a week’s hire. Chances are, though, if you’ve got a child you’ve probably also got your own child seat at home. Most airlines don’t charge a fee to check these in, so you’re better off bringing your own and saving yourself some pennies at the rental desk. That way, you can also be sure of the quality and fit.
Check about additional driver costs and one-way fees
It’s natural to want to share the load – and the driving – but sometimes it may not be the sensible choice, fiscally speaking. Adding an additional driver to a rental agreement is fairly simple but it can be costly, so figure out how much each of you is likely to drive over the duration of your trip and decide whether the additional cost is worth it.
Other sneaky ways that car rental companies try to make some extra money is to charge one-way fees or to impose mileage limitations. Be sure to look into these if you’re planning to drop your car off somewhere different to where you picked it up, or if you know you’re going to be driving a significant distance.