If you are going to specific or even various locations in Europe, it can make sense to hire a car but it can be a confusing thing to get right with different deals on offer from the many providers in the market. So here are ten ways in which you can save money on hiring a car while making sure you make the right choice.
It's easy to compare deals using various broker websites but it's always best to then delve a little deeper and check a shortlist of providers directly too. Rental cars come in all shapes and sizes and so do the deals for hiring them.
Making sure you know exactly what type of car you want is an obvious first step, as there many practical factors to take into account – while a zippy little open-top coupe might be great for a romantic getaway, it’s not so good if you've got to fit the kids and the dog in the back seat.
The cheapest deal might look great at first glance but car hire is an industry that is notorious for extra 'add-ons' that are in fact obligatory fixed costs. Look out for a "car hire company fee" as a first catch, but make sure to study the small print for any others extras.
Damage waivers, road insurance, cancellation fees and much more can all enter the picture and can make the initial bargain price substantially more expensive. Note that while several of the major car hire firms have agreed to make their pricing clearer under pressure from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), many others have not.
Some car hire companies will have added fees for using different payment methods, so this is another way that an unwary customer could end up paying more than they had expected. Often cash, debit cards and prepaid cards will not be accepted and so using a credit card will be the only option.
Make sure that your card has the available capacity to cover the deposit as well as any charges, as that money will sit on the card for the duration of your hire. One good thing about using a credit card is that the provider should give you extra protection if any dispute about charges or costs does occur.
Charges for cancelling will vary wildly from deal to deal, so it's best to try and find one that offers free cancellation for up to 24 or 48 hours ahead of collection. Not only does this mean that you can protect yourself from any travel disruptions to the earlier part of your journey, but it also means you can book a good deal well ahead of time and then search again in the weeks before leaving to see if you can bag any last-minute bargains.
Travelling with kids can be great fun but it can also add to the expense in ways you might not have considered. Many car hire companies will charge extra for providing child seats – sometimes as much as €100 for a two-week period. As the quality and fit will be something you can't be sure of, it's a good idea to consider taking your own, especially when most airlines will put a car seat in the hold for free for you.
Everyone loves an upgrade because they think they're getting 'something for nothing' but it's rarely the case. Sometimes a genuine upward move will happen if a car hire provider doesn't have the model you've booked and they'll offer something bigger or better, but even then, you must check that 'free' actually means no cost to you.
Only ever accept a free upgrade if you can get it in writing as part of your contract. You should always read the contract carefully before signing so that no optional extras that you don't want can be added later. Taking a photo of the contract on your phone once you've signed it is a good back up plan, as extras can't be added after you've driven away.
If you return a car with less fuel in it than when you drove away you can leave yourself open to top-up at exorbitant rates. That's why a 'full to full' option is the best bet. This means you drive away with a full tank and fill it up again just before you take the car back at the end of the hire period, meaning you only pay for the fuel you use. Some cheaper car hire companies have an opposite "full to empty" policy which may sound like a good idea, but often leaves you out of pocket as you’ve paid for any fuel that is still in the tank at the point of returning the vehicle.
There is usually a lot of pressure to take out extra insurance cover offered by the hire firm but it is worth considering whether you should buy a separate excess insurance policy online before you reach the check-in desk.
Roadside breakdown recovery is another area where you might find yourself paying double, but standard cover is usually included in rental rates so you really shouldn't need to pay twice. Again, this is where you need to do some homework before you travel to make sure you know that you're fully covered as part of your chosen car hire deal.
Inspecting a hire car thoroughly before you sign any papers is vital. Being charged for damage to a returned vehicle is one of the biggest ways that hiring a car can turn out to be more expensive than you had planned, so taking your time on this can be worth it in the long run.
Check anywhere for scratches, especially the bumpers and alloy wheels. Look at the windscreen for any chips and pay attention to wing mirrors that might have been scraped. Essentially, try and make a note of all blemishes, however small they might be and ensure that they are recorded on the rental agreement before you sign and drive away. Remember to check the car locks too, especially if a vehicle uses keyless technology as the locks may not be regularly used.
Most of the tips above relate to hiring a car at home or abroad, but when you are driving in other countries there are extra things to keep in mind.
If you fail to pay for any form of road toll on a motorway, bridge or tunnel, you'll most likely fall foul of automatic number plate recognition systems that will end up sending a fine to the car hire company. As well as being hit by these unexpected costs, you will likely be charged an administration fee by the hire firm too and this can be expensive.