Need to rent a car for your holiday or business trip? Here’s everything you need to know to make sure you’re getting the best price possible and avoiding any hidden fees and charges.
How to find cheap car hire for your next trip
Book as soon as possible
So you need to hire a car for an upcoming trip? My top tip is to not wait – car hire prices tend to get more expensive the closer to the date and can really sky rocket if a date suddenly becomes more popular.
The good news is that many car hire companies offer free cancellation policies without a huge price tag and so you can often pay a small deposit to hold the rate, or even choose to pay on arrival.
Just make sure you set a reminder in your calendar to cancel if you’re not 100% yet!
Use a car hire comparison site
Found a cheap price? Be on high alert
When I find a cheap price – such as the £1.97 a day I found above – alarm bells ring in my head.
It’s not that the deal isn’t legitimate, it’s more that it’s best to be on high alert for other areas where they may try to charge you. From tedious terms and conditions to dubious practices of trying to charge you for scratches that were already on the car when you picked it up…
The good news is that as long as you follow all the terms to a tee, you can absolutely score a car hire for this cheap price but I think it’s best to go into the agreement thinking that someone is trying to pull a fast one. Cynical? Yes, but unfortunately there are too many stories of car hire companies using these tactics for us consumers to ignore them.
In fact, always be on high alert
Cheap price or not, unfortunately car hire companies do not have a good reputation when it comes to catching out consumers with hidden charges and fees so I think it’s best to always be thorough – but this is what this guide will help you with!
Know what you're getting for your money
Firstly, it’s worth knowing exactly what you’re paying for and making sure it’s the right deal for you.
These tend to get more expensive, the higher the category you go up.
Volkswagen Up, Toyota Aygo and Fiat 500
Volkswagen Polo, Fiat Punto and Peugeot 108
Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, SEAT Ibiza and Renault Clio
Kia Ceed Sportswagon, Citroen C4 SpaceTourer and Mercedes B Class
Audi A4, Opel Insignia, Nissan Juke and Volkswagen Passat
BMW 3 Series, BMW 5 Series, Volvo V60 and Mercedes C Class
Mini Cooper Convertible
Mercedes V-Class 8 Seats
Remember, many car hire companies will not give you the car they show, but something they deem as ‘similar’. If you really want a specific make or model, I’d recommend emailing or phoning when you book and also the day before you pick up.
Capacity & Baggage
Personally, I much prefer Full to Full as it can be really difficult to get it spot on with Same to Same and you can end up losing out by paying for fuel you’ll never end up using. However, some companies may ask you to pay for the full tank up front which could be at an inflated rate, so double check that in your terms.
Check the company rating
Read the terms and conditions
I cannot stress how important this is as this is where car hire companies can really catch you out!
The main things worth checking are:
Picking Up and Dropping Off
- Where is the car hire actually company located and how will you get there?
What are the opening hours and is there an out of hours charge?
- If you are not returning the car to the same place, is there a one way fee?
- Do you need to pay for the fuel up front?
- What are the fees if you return your car without the accurate amount of fuel?
- Is there a cleaning fee?
- How many drivers are included in the rental?
- How many miles are included and what is the rate per mile if you go over?
- What insurance policy is included?
- If you’re under 25 years old, is there a young driver surcharge?
- Will they accept your UK driving licence or will you need to show your papers too, or have an International driving licence?
- What form of payment do they accept?
- How much money will they hold as a deposit on your card?
- Whose name has to be on the payment card?
- Is there free cancellation and if so, what is the cancellation period?
- Do they charge any fees such as ‘admin’ or ‘reimbursement’ fees if you do choose to cancel?
Don't be caught out by your payment card
This is so important it needs its own section!
It’s fairly standard that to book a hire car, you need to have a credit card in your name. This is because unless you opt for their additional insurance policies, deposits can often reach the thousands and so companies need to take a ‘hold’ on your card until you return it.
Unless there’s an issue, they won’t actually take this money from your account but you will need to have enough credit on your card for it to be used.
Things to double check include:
- Do they accept your card type? For example, many hire car companies do not accept AMEX.
- Do you need your physical card? Most will not accept a credit card that you’ve stored in your digital or phone wallet.
- Does the card need to be in the driver’s name? It often does though a workaround could be to add another drive to the booking which could cost you more money.
If you don’t have a credit card, there could still be options including your car hire company charging the deposit on your debit card. As this is often in the thousands, it’s not something I would recommend as unlike a credit card hold, this money will actually leave your account. If you return the vehicle without any damage, you’ll have this amount returned to you but handing over that amount of money would make me feel very nervous!
How to get cheap car hire insurance
Do you need to buy additional car hire insurance?
Most car hire comes with basic insurance which typically covers damage, theft and third liability insurance meaning you wont have to pay the full cost of replacing a stolen or damaged car. However, it’s likely that this insurance policy will not be very robust and will have a scary sounding ‘excess’ which you will have to pay if anything goes wrong.
Car hire companies will often use these high excess amounts – which could be as much as £2500 – to persuade you to opt for additional car insurance so that you won’t have to fork out huge amounts if you need to make a claim.
You could choose to risk it or, pay up or you could do what I do and simply source your insurance from elsewhere and save a fortune!
Buy third party excess insurance instead
Yes, you can fork out for the insurance from the car hire company you’re renting from, but you can save a lot of money by buying ‘Excess Reimbursement Insurance’ from an insurance company instead.
Alternative ways to get your hire car rental price down
Before you hit book, it’s also worth seeing if you could get the price down even more – in particular if you’ve left it last minute or you’re booking for peak times when the costs are high.
Change your pick up location
In general, picking up from airports is cheaper as that’s where tends to have a lot of choice and longer opening hours. However, it’s always worth searching the local area to see if anywhere comes back cheaper.
In the past, I’ve ended up booking a car from a downtown location instead as it’s worked out cheaper and more convenient for my trip.
Check for local hire car companies
If the prices from comparison websites are still coming back too high, it can also worth checking if there are any local car hire websites or companies. I do this in a few ways:
- Check your arrival airport’s website to see if they’ve listed all the car hire companies available
- Open Google Maps, find your destination and search for ‘car hire’
- Simply search for your destination followed by ‘car hire’ to see what comes up! I did this for Iceland and came across Northbound which is an Icelandic car hire brokerage and the vehicles were so much cheaper. There’s also often lots of helpful blogs and tripadvisor posts.
Try peer to peer car hire
It’s worth seeing if there are any peer to peer hire car companies available at your destination. It’s like Airbnb for cars!
Here’s some that are up and running here in the UK:
Definitely read all the FAQ on those websites and always check the reviews before you book anything – I’d definitely recommend only going for a car that’s already got a few. We’ve used Turo a couple of times before and it’s worked out great! But don’t expect the same polished service (or cars!) as car rental services.
Check for relocation deals
When customers rent a car one way, companies are left with a car being a long way from where it should be – and thats where bargain hunters like you and I come in!
There are platforms that will post these one way trips online for as cheap as £1 rental meaning you get a cheap car hire, and the company gets their car back for cheap!
Check your credit card and travel club memberships
If you have any bank accounts or credit cards that come with travel perks, it’s worth seeing if they give you access to any hire car deals.
For example, the AMEX Platinum card gives you elevated membership and discounts with companies like Hertz. I personally find they’re still more expensive than going through a comparison site, but it may be worth checking.
Search for promo codes and cashback
If you’ve settled on the car you’re after, always double check to see if there are any discount codes or cashback available for the hire car company you’ve decided to go for. I like to simply search for the company name followed by ‘promo code’ or ‘discount’ on Google and also on Twitter too.
Picking up and dropping off your car hire
Delayed flight? Let your hire company know
Most hire car companies will have asked you for your flight details, but if you’re delayed and are nearing closing time, it’s absolutely worth trying to get in touch with the company as soon as you can so that you can confirm that you are on your way.
Beware of the extras!
I’ve already spoken about insurance above but that’s not where it stops! Be it sat nav, car seats or even ‘an upgrade for a great price’ – be ready for the hard sell!
Here’s some things to think about:
- Additional drivers – if more than one of you wants to drive, you may have to pay a daily fee.
- Sat nav – with smartphones, there’s almost no need to pay for these though if you don’t have free EU roaming, it may be worth downloading the area you’re travelling on Google Maps when you’re at home or on Wifi
- Road toll payment systems – we came across these systems in Portugal where for £1.92 a day, we could sail through all the tolls and then the company would bill us the final price at the end. However, it turned out we could pay manually for all the routes we wanted and so chose to go without
- Car seats – if you’re travelling with young kids, you may legally need a car seat in your destination. Hire companies may have these to rent, but it’s likely to cost you a daily fee. Double check whether your airline charges you to bring a car seat and note that some can be used for plane seats too! Though you will need to have purchased a seat for your child to be able to use it (many infants travel on the knees of their parents!)
- Upgrades – If you think you could be interested by a cheap upgrade, when booking make note of how much it would cost to rent in the category above and for what sort of car. This will help you determine whether they’re actually offering you a good deal or not.
Film and take photos of everything
When you’re going to pick up the car, make sure you slowly circle your car whilst filming – making sure to linger on any scratches, bumps or dents. Then go around again, and take photos of anything of note. If you’re in a low lit car park, get your flash on – or ask someone you’re with to light the car with a torch as you do this. I’d also recommend driving somewhere nearby – such as a petrol station or supermarket – which will be better lit and checking everything out.
If you do notice anything – and I mean anything – that isn’t listed in the cars paperwork, let the car company know straightaway. Even if it’s the smallest, faintest scratch, it is absolutely worth noting. Even if you’re in a rush – take your time. This could save you hundreds, if not thousands of pounds and a lot of frustration in the future.
If you’re no longer with someone from the rental firm, get on the phone or at least send photos over email with a detailed write up of the additional imperfections you have found. Then follow up when they are open to check that they’ve received it.
Do this for the outside and the inside of the car.
Also remember to take photos of the mileage and the fuel gauge.
Make a note of the fuel type
It should really say on your paperwork whether the car takes petrol or diesel, but I’ve lost count the amount of times that I cannot find that information when we pull into the petrol station! So as soon as you find out, make a note to refer to next time.
And please – PLEASE – do not take a guess. If you put petrol in instead of diesel, the car will probably misfire and you will need to call help. Nobody needs that stress, or the potential cost!
Don't fill up fuel at the airport
On returning your car, make sure you give yourself enough time to return your fuel to whatever you started with.
Petrol station next to the airport tend to have pricier fuel and so find somewhere nearby instead – if you’re filling up to full, you’ve normally got a few miles in the tank before the gauge starts to go down again.
Some countries display fuel prices on Google Maps. As for others, a simple search of ‘fuel prices’ followed by the destination you’re in will often show gleam helpful insights to the best places to fuel up.
Film and take photos of everything - AGAIN
Especially if you’re just dropping off your car and posting your keys, make sure you’ve got evidence of the state of the car that you left it in.
However, I would always try my very best to have someone come and look at it in person so that you can get confirmation from them that they’re happy. We tend to always discreetly film this interaction (for the audio more than anything so I’ll just have my phone in my hand) just in case they say everything is fine and then they ‘find’ something else afterwards…
What can I say, there are too many stories of dodgy hire car companies that we do not like to take a chance!
Set a reminder to check your bank balance in a few days time
Whether you paid your deposit on your debit card, or just as a hold on your credit card, set a reminder to make sure that everything has been settled in a few days time. It’s so easy to get caught up with life when you’re back home and forget to check!