Rental cars offer the freedom to explore a different country. They give you flexibility, allowing you to travel where you want, when you want.
Like most things, however, car rentals can be stressful and costly. Every day, unwitting travellers are cornered at car hire desks and handed a whopping bill along with the car keys.
It doesn’t have to be like this! Read on to find out how to avoid hidden costs, tips to get the best deal, and get your holiday off to the best possible start.
Take a look at some of the leading car hire companies
How we made our table
- Example car hire. With all of the providers included in the table we booked cars using the same details. Picking up the smallest car on offer from Alicante airport, for a 7-day rental, for a late week in August.
- Customer service. We calculated an average star rating based on figures from multiple independent review engines.
- Mobile app rating. This is just an average of Google Play and App Store ratings.
- Website popularity. Using a range of tools we pulled together some data around website traffic and sorted it into 5-star bands.
4 tips for comparing car hire companies
- Book early. If you leave it late, or even until you get there, you’ll end up paying more for an average deal.
- Compare providers. As with any product, there are dozens of providers out there vying for your money. It’s up to you find the best one!
- Sneaky fuel fees. Some car rental companies offer cars with full tanks of fuel. This sounds good, but most families don’t end up using even half of the tank. In effect, you end up paying for a full-tank and getting half. Certain companies offer deals in relation to this, so keep an eye out for those.
- Excess insurance. This one is big. People get scared into buying expensive excess insurance with the big charges for dents and scratches to the car. You might be better off buying the insurance separately, so make sure you explore these options.
Where can I find the right rental car for a trip to Europe?
It’s best to book early, no matter where you’re headed. Car rentals are priced higher when rented directly at the counter.
Set aside some time and shop around a few different companies to see which one is gives you the best value. Here are a few things to compare:
- Multi and single vehicle accidents.
- The same type of car
- Tax (if there is any)
- Booking fees
- Excess insurance (if you’re getting it with the provider, though check standalone insurance too if you want to be sure you’re getting a good deal)
- Fuel allowance/cost
Paying in advance is important too. This will protect you from changes in exchange rates, hidden clauses, and other unexpected charges that could come up at the counter.
Make sure that you understand the policies regarding petrol on your return, late penalties, and how to report an accident or incident.
When you make your online reservation, print your confirmation details and have that document along with the receipt of payment readily available when you arrive at the rental car counter.
What is excess insurance?
Getting the right deal on the car is one thing. You’ve got to be on top of all the little extras they heap onto you, be it online, over the phone, or at the rental desk. Car hire excess insurance can be a killer! But what is it…?
Check out our page on excess insurance to find out more.
What’s a DVLA code?
Before travelling, you need to request a personal code from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). You should do this 21 days before travelling to ensure everything is sorted on time.
Car hire companies may need this code to check for your driving points, as paper licenses are being phased out. You might not be asked for a code (in fact it’s more likely that you won’t) but it’s best to have it ready and avoid being unable to hire the car!
How do I decide on what car model to hire?
If you are attempting to save money with a rental car, the model type you choose should be perfectly suited to your needs. Here are some things to consider:
- Car size. This one’s a bit obvious. If there’s only two of you, there’s no need for a big car!
- Size of the boot. If you’re going to be carrying a lot of luggage, this is an important one to take into account.
- Petrol consumption. You should weigh this up against the distances you expect to travel.
- Air-con. This might sound trivial, but if you’re headed to a hot country you’re going to need it!
Help! I’ve damaged my rental car – what can I do?
Whether the damage is caused by an accident, or you’ve mistakenly broken a window, the first thing you should do is contact the car rental agency.
Depending on their policies and the type of insurance you have secured, they will let you know what to do next. If the car is damaged to the point where you can no longer drive it, yet you still need a car, they will take care of the repair and issue you a replacement car to finish out your contract.
What do I do if I think I’ve been overcharged for car hire?
If you note charges on your credit card from the rental car agency that you were not made aware of, contact them immediately and ask for an explanation.
If it turns out to be an error on their part, then they will have to charge back your account.
If there is a dispute, and you believe that the car hire company overcharged you, you could also file a dispute with your own credit card company. They will investigate the charges and work directly with the car rental company to come up with a resolution.
Be advised, however, that many of those charges can be explained in the fine print of your rental car contract, making it very important that you read all of those documents thoroughly and ask any questions before renting a vehicle.
What’s better, to hire a car or to purchase one?
Depending on how long you plan to rent a car, you may find that buying is a less expensive option. With a buyback deal you could get up to 50% back when a purchased car is sold back to the dealer at the end of your trip. This scheme works best when you need the car long term, but you have to take a lot into consideration.Back to top
Georgia-Rose is a publisher at Finder.com and specialises in all things shopping and travel. She has years of experience working in retail and tourism and as an avid budget traveller, she loves helping people find the best deals on everything from plane tickets to sunglasses. When she's not jetting off somewhere new you'll find her watching cake videos or befriending stray cats.
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