Hiring a car can be an expensive business, especially if you’re booking in the peak season. What’s worse is if you’re charged for extras you weren’t expecting. Find out how to save money on holiday car hire – and how to avoid sneaky extra charges.
Save money on holiday car hire
You can compare the cost of holiday car hire at several comparison sites, such as Travelsupermarket.com (part of Moneysupermarket) and specialist car hire sites such as carrentals.co.uk and Holiday Autos.
However, it’s not always easy to find out exactly what you’ll pay when you pick up the car. Bob Atkinson, travel expert with Travelsupermarket.com says that the only way to be sure about how much you’ll pay is to check with the company direct. “One you’ve looked online you’d have to check, not only with the company but with the location you’ll be picking up your car from. Many companies operate as franchises and have their own rules and regulations.”
What you must be told upfront
Car hire companies were notorious for adding on all kinds of extras at the last minute, to bump up the prices. The rules changed in 2017, and now you must be given easy to access information about seven key areas:
1. Young driver surcharges
2. One-way fees
3. Fuel charges
4. Excesses and the cost of reducing excesses
5. Pre-authorisations or deposits (any deposit that’s taken from your card)
6. Collision damage waiver exclusions (what’s covered on the car hire insurance you’re provided)
7. Warnings about the need for snow chains (a legal requirement in some countries in winter)
Don’t get caught out by extras
Even though the charges when hiring a car are much clearer, there are still some things that can catch you out. Make sure you find out exactly what any extra costs are, or what you’ll be charged if you – for example – don’t fill up with petrol before you return the car.
1. Excess waiver/ super collision damage waiver. If you have an accident or your car is damaged, you may have to pay a high excess if you claim on the hire car company’s insurance. There is a way round this, which is to buy excess waiver insurance (it’s sometimes called ‘super collision damage waiver’ insurance). If you don’t have this cover, you may have to pay an excess of several hundred pounds. I’ve just looked to hire a car today and the collision damage waiver was €750.
SAVVY TIP: You don’t have to buy excess insurance from the car hire company — it’s often much cheaper to buy a standalone policy. There are several companies that offer these policies for around £50 a year. Read more about Buying car hire excess insurance elsewhere in this section.
2. Returning with a full/empty petrol tank. Some car hire companies stipulate that you should return with a full tank of petrol others — strangely — say the petrol tank should be empty. And some companies say that the tank should be returned with the same amount of fuel in it as when you picked it up. Not always easy if it’s isn’t full or half full!
SAVVY TIP: If you have to buy petrol or diesel from the car hire company you’ll normally pay far more for it than if you bought it yourself. If you’re going to return the tank full, make sure you refuel as near to your drop-off location as possible. This can be easier said than done if you have a late night flight as petrol stations may be closed or may not accept credit or debit cards.
3. Pick up and drop off locations: Some companies charge you more if you pick up or drop off the car at an airport, others will charge you more if you drop off in a city centre. Some companies charge more if you pick up and drop off at different locations. There is no consistency of approach. Having had a look at some hire car companies today, a number of the cheapest ones had a shuttle bus to take you to pick up the car. You might be fine with that, but it’s worth being aware of.
4. Excessive extras. If you want to hire a sat nav, child seats or a roof rack you may be charged well over the odds. Make sure you specify all of these when you search for the best price or take your own where practical.
5. Additional drivers. Some companies include one additional driver free of charge but others don’t. Check the company’s policy before you sign up and bear in mind that it will always be cheaper to add a second driver when you book rather than when you pick up the car. I’ve just had a look at some hire car prices and, while the hire car itself was quite cheap, adding a second driver tripled the cost. Be warned.
6. Paying in local currency. You certainly shouldn’t pay for car hire in pound sterling when you’re abroad as you may receive a lower exchange rate than the going rate. Always pay in the local currency.
SAVVY TIP: Always check out the car hire company on a review website such as Trustpilot or the Review Centre. Others may have a different experience to you but it should alert you to some potential problems.
When the bill arrives..
If you find that your car hire company has taken more money from your credit card than you expect or than had been agreed, you do have rights. Many people don’t realise that consumers were given much better protection about unexpected sums being debited from their cards.
SAVVY TIP: Under the rules, your bank must refund unexpected debits on your credit or debit card within days unless it can come up with evidence why it shouldn’t. If your bank doesn’t do this, you should complain and, if you don’t get anywhere – complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Make sure you get your driving licence details
If you’re hiring a car and you have a plastic driving licence, you may be asked for an online code so that the car hire company can check whether you have any penalty points. From June 8th 2015 the paper part of the driving licence was abolished (except if you have a paper only licence or you’re in Northern Ireland).
This means that if you’re hiring a car (or perhaps a new employer needs to check your licence) you may be asked for a code so they can check your licence. The code lasts for 21 days. I have to confess that whenever I’ve hired a car in the last couple of years, I’ve not been asked for this code. There are details of how to view your driving licence information on the Gov.uk website.
You can read more about the driving licence changes on the Gov.uk website.
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