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8 car hire tips and tricks

Have you ever walked away from a car rental desk feeling you’ve been scammed?

I have, many times, but now I’m wise to their little tricks to squeeze more money out of you so here are my tips to avoid paying more than you have to for car hire.


Don’t book direct:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can halve the cost of car hire by using an intermediary rather than going direct to one of the big boys like Avis or Hertz, which is pretty much always the most expensive option. My go-to car hire site is Holiday Autos, which has consistently offered the lowest prices when I’ve been searching for rentals in France and Italy in recent years.


Young drivers:

On my last summer holiday to Italy, I was looking to hire a car for my 18-year-old son, which was a challenge because most car hire companies have a minimum age of 21 (in the US it’s often 24), or they charge a high premium for young drivers. Europcar was prepared to hire my son a car, but the price was £500+ for a week. I hired a similar car – a Kia – with EcoVia in Italy via the Holiday Autos website for less than half that.


Don’t book via your airline:

If you do, and a fair number of passengers on your flight do the same, you’ll all be queuing at the same car rental outlet to pick up your keys. A better idea is to find out which car hire firm your airline recommends, then use a different one. Chances are you’ll be on the road much faster than any of your fellow passengers – and felling pretty smug.


Beware excessive excess charges:

Car hire prices usually include insurance but there’s often a high excess, which can be several thousand pounds, so it makes sense to take out a separate insurance policy to cover this amount, just to be on the safe side. However, you can save money by refusing the excess insurance (or CDW) offered by your car rental firm and buy a stand-alone policy from a company like icarhireinsurance (others are available, just Google ‘car hire excess insurance’). On a recent summer holiday to France, I paid just £15 for a week’s excess insurance with icarhireinsurance, it would have been much more through Holiday Autos. If you regularly rent cars abroad, you can save much more by purchasing an annual policy.

Another reason I prefer to take out my own excess insurance is that a reader once contacted me to say that after he’d had an accident in a hire car the rental firm charged his credit card for the excess rather than making a claim against the policy they’d sold him. Their argument was that he was to blame for the accident, although they had no proof of and anyway, this was actually no excuse not to make a claim. However, when I contacted other car hire firms to ask what they would have done, they all said they would have charged the clients’ credit card rather than make an insurance claim. So I’d say always buy excess insurance from a third party provider, and not just because it’s cheaper.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to find an insurance company offering a stand-alone excess policy for young drivers. For my son, I had no choice but to take out Holiday Autos excess insurance for £60 for a week in Italy.


Say no to excess excess insurance:

Yes, you read that right and it’s not a typo or an accidental repetition. When my son and I picked up our rental car in Italy we were asked if we wanted to pay extra for excess excess cover. Errr what?  Apparently this extra insurance will immediately cover any costs incurred in an accident so you don’t have to pay out of your own pocket then recover the money from your insurer later, which could take several weeks if not months. However, assuming you have a credit card with a reasonably high limit, I this extra cover is probably unnecessary, unless you’re so risk averse you can’t go out of the house without wearing a full suit of armour.


Look out for additional charges:

I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a rental car without the sales person trying to con me into paying for extras I don’t want. For instance, once in France the rental firm tried to charge me an extra £20 to £30 because the petrol car I’d booked wasn’t available so they were going to give me a diesel, which, they said, was more expensive. When I told them I wasn’t prepared to pay the additional charge they tried to argue that I’d save in the long run because, in France, diesel is cheaper than petrol. I still refused the additional charge and they removed it.

In Italy this year, SIXT tried to charge my husband to upgrade to a larger car because they claimed the one he’d booked wasn’t available. He refused and, as if by magic, they managed to find a suitable car for the price he’d paid.

Also in Italy this year, EcoVia tried to charge me €16 because I’d hired a car in my son’s name but as he doesn’t have a credit card I asked them to take the €500 deposit from my card. Although they pointed out that the booking T&Cs required the main driver to provide a credit card, they waived the free when I argued that it was unreasonable, which just goes to show that it’s always worth (politely) asking for charges to be removed, even when you’re in the wrong!

Check for damage:

When you pick up your hire car you should receive a piece of paper with a diagram of the car with any dents and scratches marked, but once or twice I’ve noticed some minor damage such as a scatch, a cracked headlight or a dent that hasn’t been listed. It’s important to bring these to the attention of the car hire firm and make sure they make a written note of them before you drive the car away, otherwise you might be charged for the damage when you return it.


Check the tank:

Car hire firms usually provide cars with a full tank of petrol so you have to return them with a full tank. When you pick up the car, make sure you check it has a full tank and take a timed photo of the fuel tank gage when you drop off the car as proof that you left it with a full tank.

More annoying are those few companies who provide a partially full tank and expect you to leave it with the same amount (EcoVia provided us with 3/8 of a tank). This is irritating because it’s so hard to judge how much petrol to put in at the end of your trip that of course you err on the side of caution and leave more than strictly necessary, so you end up spending more than you should. Regardless of how much you leave, take a photo as proof.


Do you have any other tips to save money on car hire? Give us a shout using the comment box below!

Linsey McNeill

A journalist and travel writer of 35 years' standing, a once-a-week yogi, terrible skier and out-of-order mum to 2 teens. Previously Editor of TravelMole.com, bylines also include The Telegraph, The Times, The Observer, the London Evening Standard, Which? and The South China Morning Post.

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1 Comment

  1. nice information thanks for share

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