With the summer holidays just around the corner here are a few tips on how to avoid being taken for a ride by your car hire company.
Book early and shop around
As with many aspects of holidays, the further in advance you book your hire car, the more likely you are to get the best price.
Don’t just go for the first price you see either, use comparison tools to check out the offers from different companies or go direct to their websites where they often offer their best deals. Virtually every airport has multiple rental firms so you should be able to compare several offers for the vehicle you need.
Just make sure that you’re comparing like for like in terms of vehicle, mileage allowance and what’s included in the hire.
Small-scale brokers can also sometimes offer deals you won’t get elsewhere thanks to tie-ups with particular providers. Just be aware that what they’re offering might not match other deals and unscrupulous ones have been known to offer deals that the company won’t honour when customers get to the desk.
Every car hire provider will try to force you into taking collision damage waiver (CDW). This cover essentially reduces or removes the often-enormous excesses charged by hire firms if you have an accident. In some cases it only covers car-on-car accidents, so scraping it against a post or hitting a rock in the road won’t be covered, and in every case it’s massively expensive. There are plenty of third-party providers who offer hire car CDW at better rates either for one-off trips or on an annual basis.
Read the paperwork
It sounds obvious but don’t just blithely sign the contract you’re handed. Make sure nothing has been added that you didn’t want and that the price matches what you were quoted. Check if there’s a mileage limit, the return date and time, and the fuel level policy. If you’re unsure about anything query it before signing and before taking the car.
Don’t borrow car seats and sat nav
It’s important to have the right car seat for any young passengers but car rental firms charge big bucks to provide these. A quick check of some of the biggest operators found prices ranging from £27 to £73 per week.
Depending on your airline and how long you’re away for, it could be better value to pay the excess baggage charge to take your own. Some airlines even allow you to bring a child car seat for free (although some apply age restrictions).
As with child seats, sat nav is an easy way for rental firms to make money. We found weekly loan rates of around £100 – more that you’d pay to buy a brand-new system. Take your own system or, if you’ve enough data, use a smartphone instead, just be sure to take an appropriate hands-free mount as well.
Check for damage
Before driving away give the car a thorough inspection. The rental company will be quick to charge you for even the smallest scrape so make sure every blemish and mark is noted on the agreement when you collect it. Photograph it from all four sides and do the same when you return it to prove it’s in the same condition.
Also check that any essential equipment, such as spare bulbs, spare wheels or tyre inflation kit, and high-vis jacket are present. They’re legal requirements in many countries and you don’t want to be charged for something that was missing before you left.
When you return it try to get a representative to sign the car back in to confirm the bodywork condition and the fuel level are as expected.
Fill it up
Some firms operate a full-to-empty fuel policy where they fill the car with overpriced fuel before the loan and expect you to return it empty, meaning you’ll end up driving around aimlessly to get your money’s worth. Far better to go for a package that asks you to return the car with the same fuel level as when you collected it. Just make sure to note the level before setting off and get evidence that it was at the same level when you returned it.