Hiring or renting a car abroad and in the UK

There are lots of reasons why you might need to rent a car – If you’re on holiday, you don’t currently have a car, you have friends visiting and need a different type of vehicle, and many more. No matter the reason, there are some tips to reduce the chance of getting an unexpected bill when picking up and returning the car.

Finding a hire car

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It can be tempting to just go to the first place you find, but to get the best deal it might be a good idea to use more than one comparison website. A good comparison site will help make the fees, charges, key terms and conditions easy to understand, reducing the chance of unexpected bills.

It’s also important to do some research into the type of car, its features and the type of rental service you need before making a decision.

Make sure you book your car hire early as well because it’s usually cheaper than walking in on the day. You can also compare the cost of hire cars using the following websites:

  • Zest Car Rental - This site is known for its clarity on extra charges, fuel policy, showing total costs and for its customer service.
  • Auto Europe - This website is known for being transparent when it comes to fuel policies, showing total cost, ease of opt out of additional extras and its flexible policy on cancellations.
  • There are a wide range of comparison sites that will check car rental providers, brokers and travel agents such as Skyscanner
  • Kayak
  • TravelSupermarket

Also think about if you really need to a hire car in the first place.

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Top tips for comparing car hire deals

To help avoid unexpected bills make sure the car you hire will meet your needs and you know the terms and conditions of the car hire. Some things to think about are listed below.

Fuel policy

There are two main fuel policies when renting a car.

A ‘full-to-full’ policy means you will pick up the car with a full tank and have to return it with a full tank. In most situations, this will be the cheapest option, as you can find the cheapest fuel in the area before returning the car.

A pre-purchase fuel policy (sometimes know by other names) means you collect the vehicle with a full tank and are then charged at the end by the rental company for how much it costs to fill up the tank. This might save you some hassle when returning the car, but the rental company might charge you more for the fuel than you would pay at a petrol station.

A good car hire comparison site will let you compare fuel options so you work out what the best option is for you.

Sat nav or GPS devices

These are useful but costs can be between £70 and £110 for a week’s hire.

Many modern cars come with sat nav built in, so check if the vehicle you’re hiring comes with sat nav already before including it.

You might buy or bring your own sat nav, or use an app on your smartphone. If you’re using your phone and you’re hiring abroad make sure you won’t be charged a lot of money for data roaming. 

Mileage limits

If you’re planning to cover a lot of miles, check if the booking comes with unlimited mileage.

If you’re crossing borders, whether national or internal (US states), make sure you’re still covered by the insurance given with the rental, and that you won’t get charged extra fees.

Check fly-drive, and hotel packages

Some websites give extra discounts if you’re hiring a car with flights and a hotel as a package.

Just because they’re discounted when booked together doesn’t automatically make them the cheapest though.

Package holidays do offer extra protection via ATOL though.

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The extra driver fee, if you need it

You might have to pay an extra fee to add another driver to the booking. But, depending on the company and the location, it might not cost you extra to do this.

It might be worth doing this in advance as some rental companies will charge more to add this on the day of collection.

Size of car

Check the vehicle you’re renting will be large enough by looking at leg room for passengers, the boot size for luggage and so on.

Changing or upgrading the car at the last minute will often cost extra.

Child seat costs

Child seats are compulsory in Europe for children under three, and in some cases booster seats are required for children up to the age of 12.

Make sure you get the cost including the car seat, to compare the full cost of your hire car.

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Before you go to pick up your rental car

Car hire excess insurance

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It might be a good idea to look for excess insurance for peace of mind before you pick up your car. Getting it a few weeks or even months before your trip could save you a lot of money.

Buying your excess insurance in advance also means you don’t need to use a credit card to leave a large deposit with the rental company. Sometimes, the deposit can be between £500 and £1,200.

While it’s only a deposit, if you need to claim on the insurance the money is taken from your card. You then need to claim back what isn’t used to fix any damage from the insurer. It means you could be left with a large credit card bill to pay, without yet having the money back to pay for it.

The credit card will usually need to belong to whoever made the booking too, so always double-check the T&Cs if this might be a problem.

If you don’t have a credit card, some firms could force you to take their insurance because they don’t accept deposits on debit or prepaid cards.

If you rent cars several times a year, an annual excess insurance policy might be even cheaper.

DVLA code

You might need to request a DVLA code before you pick up your car. This lets the rental company see your driving history to check for things like points.

But some rental companies will only request your driving licence number.

If needed, it’s best to do this a week or so before your booking so it’s ready. But the code is only valid for 21 days, so don’t get it too early.

To apply for your code you’ll need your Driving Licence number, National Insurance number and postcode.

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Picking up your hire car and avoiding damage charges

When it comes to collecting your rental, there are a few things to remember to help make sure things go smoothly.

Avoiding complaints over damage charges

This is the number one problem for people hiring cars. There are ways of reducing the risk of coming into problems with this though.

Give yourself plenty of time to look the car over inside and out thoroughly. Report any defect, even if it’s tiny, and make sure it gets noted on the pre-rental inspection form. This is the form that shows the condition of the vehicle – you’ll get a copy, so make sure you keep it safe.

When you first get your car, it’s a good idea to take pictures or videos of the defects you see on the car as extra proof.

Paying with a credit card can also be a good last line of defence against disagreements with car damages. 

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Don’t be pressured into buying insurance if you don’t want to

There have been reports of rental companies making people feel pressured into getting their excess insurance. You don’t need to buy it from the company.

If you feel pressured, make a complaint to the rental company – taking note of the name of the sales adviser you were dealing with.

You might also want to think about whether you can walk away and hire a car from another provider.

If walking away isn’t an option, pay for the additional insurance (so you can get the car you booked), but write on the contract that you object to the payment and reserve the right to complain and ask for your money back.

Is the car the one you booked?

Make sure the car is what you booked – if it’s smaller than the one you booked or of lower quality, stand your ground.

The rental company should give you the car you booked or a similar one. If they can’t do that, you should be compensated and refunded the difference. You shouldn’t have to pay for an upgrade if a suitable vehicle isn’t available.

Having a copy of the booking you made to hand can help to get your case across. If you’re not treated fairly, make a complaint to the company.

Returning your car

This is where your hard work picking up the car can pay off because you have lots of proof of the condition of the car. This might help stop companies trying to blame you for damage.

It’s best to still check the car inside and out for any fresh damage. Regardless of the condition of the car, take photos or videos of the car’s condition.

If you accidentally left a small scratch, for example, you don’t want to be overcharged for repairs. A rental company will find it a lot harder to charge you for excessive repairs if you can prove the damage was minimal.

Then, return the car with plenty of time to spare so you have time to try and sort out any disputes.

Cleaning the car is sometimes included in the overall price. But to avoid any unexpected or extra cleaning charges, it’s best to return the car in as good a condition as possible.

Lastly, check your credit card or bank statement to make sure no extra charges have been added to your bill without your knowledge. 

Dealing with problems

Sometimes, you can take all the right precautions, but still have some unexpected charges.

First, it’s important to get in touch with the rental company and ask them why they’ve taken charges. If the charges are for damages, ask for proof of the damages and a repair bill.

Make sure you supply evidence that shows why the charge isn’t correct.

If you still have issues, you can make a claim on Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, as long as you’ve paid by credit card. 

If you paid by debit card, you might be able to use the chargeback process to make a claim.

If you’ve repeatedly tried to get a resolution through the rental company with no success, you can also escalate your complaint through organisations whose job it is to deal with these kinds of issues.

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Need to borrow to pay the bill?

If you need to borrow money to pay your car rental bill, for example, by using a credit card, it’s important to make sure you’re using the best kind of credit available and are not creating debt problems for yourself.

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MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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