So unless we’re doing a short city break (like Porto, Hamburg or Rotterdam) we tend to hire a car when we go abroad. It gives us the freedom to visit sites off the beaten track and means that we don’t have to struggle with public transport and the kitchen sink! That said, whenever I speak with friends and family they always seem so worried about the process of hiring a car and most would simply never consider doing it. So, in an attempt to allay some fears here are our (or mainly my husband’s!) top tips for hiring a car abroad.
Before you go
1. Book your car hire when you book your flights. It gets more expensive the later you leave it so don’t leave it!
2. Do your research and search out the best deal. We tend to use the various comparison websites suggested by Martin Lewis on the money saving expert website. In fact there is a whole load of information on there about car hire. Well worth reading it. Check all the comparison websites to be sure you’re getting the best deal and watch out for the filters and the hidden extras.
3. Think space and be sensible about how much boot room you’ll need. Whilst the golf may be cheapest you may end up traveling 100 miles with a suitcase on your lap. When travelling with little people (and all their stuff!) it’s definitely a case for substance over style! We’ve just had a Renault Kangoo…:hardly a car to drape yourself over but it has a huge boot!
4. Weigh up the pros and cons of the big names vs the budget newcomers. So Enterprise and Europcar vs Goldcar and Record Go. Whilst Europcar, for example, tend to have the spot closest to the terminal building (cue less walking with the kitchen sink!), in our experience they often seem to have longer queues to collect keys and also tend to be more expensive. With the budget providers, you save money but do need to be more careful about unexpected costs (see below).
5. Understand Excess carhire insurance. If you have an accident, need recovery or scratch your car (it’s easy enough in narrow streets!) you’ll be charged up to £1200 (as the excess to the car hire insurance policy). To avoid this the car hire company will offer an insurance policy to cover this excess (i.e. to prevent you from having to pay the £1200). On our recent trip to Malaga airport this was quoted as (€238 euros at the airport but they will try to tempt you with a cheaper deal when you book the car hire). However, you can take out your own car hire excess insurance policy (quite a mouthful!) in the UK before you travel. This is normally around £25 for 2 weeks (again have a look at what Martin Lewis has to say about it). The car hire company will still block the €1200 on your credit card but if they deduct anything from this you’ll be able to claim back from your insurance policy in the UK.
6. Can you take a car seat? On a recent trip we were quoted €150 for the hire of two car seats (the car hire was only £140!). This is a ridiculous amount of money. The car seats offered by the car hire companies can, from our experience, be fairly poor quality and you have no way of being certain that they’ve not been involved in a prang of some sort. You’ll also have to fit them yourself (without instructions) which can be pretty stressful when you’ve been travelling with little people all day. We now tend to try and take our own. It’s worth checking with your airline to see what baby equipment you can take for free (or for a small charge). It’s also vital that you invest in a good quality bag such as the Isafe bag (they come in various sizes). If you’re travelling with an older child then something like the Mifold is ideal (review to follow). If hiring a seat is really the only option then check out a fellow travel bloggers top tips here.
7. Car hire companies often charge in the region of €50 to hire a satnav. Could you take your own (or it may even work out cheaper to buy one!)? Alternatively, use your phone (and good old google maps) now that roaming charges have been removed. If you do decide to use your phone it’s worth investing in a window mount (and don’t forget your in-car charger!).
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1. Don’t forget to get your driving licence declaration code (see the Gov.uk website here in the UK for more information). We’ve never actually been asked for it but it is technically a legal requirement. It lasts for 21 days so do it a few days before going away. You’ll need to print it off.
2. Once you’ve got the keys ,check the car over for every tiny scratch, dent etc and insist that these are logged on the piece of paper (the budget carhire places can, from our experience, be reluctant to do this) and signed for by the company. Take photos at the start (and just before you hand it back). Make sure these are date and time stamped (iPhones do this automatically).
3. When returning the car – Insist that the company check the car with you when you return it and get them to sign the paperwork in front of you (and ask for a copy). Arrive at the airport early to give yourself time to sort this. If you know that you’ll need to use the key drop facility then make sure you take plenty of detailed photographs (and perhaps a video) of the car in the event that the company attempt to make a claim on your return home (we’ve been caught out by this in the past).
4. Be clear on whether you need to take the petrol tank back full or empty (you may be asked to pay for a full tank of fuel when you collect your keys – another money making scam from the budget car hire companies!). We’ve driven many a mile on fumes to avoid charges!
Lastly, don’t let the worry put you off hiring a car. Once you’ve done it for the first time you really won’t worry as much and the benefits of hiring a car really do outweigh the challenges. You really can explore so much more if you have your own set of wheels!