Car Hire Secrets Revealed

Five things to know before renting a car

Holiday Car Hire

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Arranging appropriate car hire for our next trip shouldn't be stressful. After all, hiring a car when abroad is a fantastic way to head off the beaten track and explore more of your destination. Not only does it offer the freedom to travel at your own pace, but uncovering towns, attractions, or scenery you may otherwise have missed is simple. Getting the right car hire for you can be a tricky process however; plenty of customers out there have come unstuck when the hire company surprises them with unforeseen costs.

No-one likes to finish their holiday with an unexpected bill, so it's good to know that there are things you can do to limit the chances of that happening to you. These five car hire secrets will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls and enjoy driving with a bit more peace of mind during your next getaway.

1: Choose the right vehicle

It's always wise to do your homework before choosing your rental car and the firm from which you want to hire it.

Before you book, spend some time checking that it will be the right car for you. Most importantly, will it comfortably accommodate all of your passengers and luggage!? You may decide to play it safe and go for a make and model that you have driven before, in which case the odds are you'll be fine. But many people hire something a little different while on holiday – a convertible or sporty model perhaps – and if the excitement of a different car appeals to you, then make sure you fully understand what you'll be driving beforehand.

If you're driving for long distances on a road trip or touring holiday, you'll need to know the car is comfortable, or it could turn an adventure into a nightmare. If it's a vehicle that's available in the UK, think about heading to a local garage for a test drive, or at the very least, take a look at some user reviews online. Sites such as What Car? are a great source of information when it comes to finding out about cabin space, comfort and handling, and the user reviews will give you an indication of what other drivers make of the model.

2: Be aware of one-way fees

One-way hire is a great option if you want more flexibility on your trip. You may, for example, choose to pick a car up at Barcelona airport and drop it back at Nice airport. A one-way fee is where costs are incurred for returning the car to a different destination from where you picked it up. The reasons given for this include insurance regulations and the cost of returning a car to its original location.

Before committing to an agreement, ensure you are up to speed on the hire company's fees or restrictions regarding one-way travel. A good firm will be upfront about the costs involved, which can vary depending on how far you want to travel or if you intend to return the car to a different country.

You can save money by using a third party to compare the cost of one-way car hire from various rental companies. Holiday Extras allows you to compare holiday car hire from the leading brands in over 110 countries and 117,000 locations. This ensures you get the best deal possible for you particular trip.

3: Choose appropriate insurance

Hire cars come with insurance included, but it won't always cover you in the way you would hope. Be aware of high excess charges (or “deposits”), which may be so expensive that you end up handing over up to £1,000 - particularly on seemingly cheaper car hire deals - before you've even picked up the keys! Any charges payable are then taken from your excess or it's refunded if the car is returned undamaged. This is likely to leave unwitting holidaymakers considerably out of pocket at the start of their trip, so it's always best to check the small print before booking. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Simon Hagger, Deputy CEO at Holiday Extras Group says: “One way to avoid a sky high excess payable upfront is to purchase a zero-excess product either in advance or at the rental desk at your destination. Alternatively, you can take out an excess refund policy, such as the one offered by Holiday Extras. Our policy refunds up to £3,000 in the event of an accident or any damage to the car.”

Choosing this option means that, although you will still need to pay the excess charged by the hire company, you will be able to claim it back afterwards. Be sure to keep your excess cover documents with your other insurance documents during the trip, just in case you need them.

In addition, you may find that, once you get to the desk, the local agent tries to persuade you that your excess refund policy isn't valid, and you also need to take out their supplier insurance cover. This, however, does not equate to fully comprehensive car cover as it is defined in the UK, even if it is advertised as being comprehensive. If possible, avoid purchasing this cover as it often means you pay for two policies, which the car hire company and agent are not obligated to refund.

4: Avoid expensive fuel charges

Many hire car companies, particularly in Spain, employ what is known as a ‘full to empty’ fuel policy. This means that you have to pay for a tank of fuel once you return the car, often at a higher rate than you'd find at the pump because the supplier adds additional surcharges. This might be less of a problem if you're going to a remote destination with limited access to fuelling stations. However, for many people, it means paying for a full tank - plus extras - and maybe using only half. Instead, look out for companies that offer a ‘full to full’ option. It may put the basic rental cost up a bit, but you won't be paying over the odds on refuelling fees.

5: Provide evidence of any existing damage

Picking up your rental car after a long flight is a pretty exciting moment. Finally you can hit the road and begin your holiday. But before you hop into the driver's seat and head for the horizon, take a few minutes to have a good look at the vehicle. Are there any existing scratches or chips? If so, ensure you snap a quick picture of them on your phone or camera in case the hire firm tries to charge you for them when you hand the keys back. Next, have a look at the interior and record any rips, stains or marks on the upholstery. Ensure the tank is full if it's meant to be and, if you opted for restricted mileage in your agreement, take a snap of the mileage before you set off and when you arrive back after your trip. On your return, take a picture of the fuel gauge as well if you chose a ‘full to full’ option. If there are any issues with the car, record them on the document and get someone from the hire company to sign it before setting off. Doing so simply stops the firm trying to argue that you caused the damage when you bring the rental car back.

By doing your research before you sign a hire agreement you can knock off many of the potential excess costs you might face from renting a vehicle. Shop around for a good deal and – more importantly – a reputable company, and ensure your insurance is suitable for your trip. Once at your destination, stay firm if you don't want extras such third party insurance and read the contract carefully before adding your signature. After giving the car a once over, you're ready to start your trip.

Happy travelling!