If you leave it to the last minute and simply pick a hire desk at random when you arrive at your destination airport you'll have no idea if you're getting a good deal or not.
Airports have a captive audience and prices are likely to reflect this, besides which, if you've already been waiting in line for an hour you are unlikely to be in the mood to read carefully through the conditions of hire before you sign the agreement.
The best advice is to plan ahead and book in advance, before you travel, if you can. This will give you plenty of time to read and understand the conditions of hire and consider the cost and value of any additional charges.
If you do your research online before you go you will be able to work out the total cost, including any fixed or optional extra charges, and compare prices and terms & conditions between different hirers. There's a good chance that the cost of hire will be lower too if booked in advance.
Photocard paper counterpart
The paper counterpart to the photocard licence is being abolished from 8 June 2015 and information about penalty points will only be held on DVLA's driver record.
Anticipating that some car hire companies overseas may not immediately be aware of this change, the AA recommends that you retain your paper counterpart if you intend hiring a car abroad rather than following DVLA advice and destroying it on 8 June.
Additionally you should:
- Print your own driving licence record from DVLA's website - you'll need to know your driving licence number, national insurance number and your home address post code.
- Obtain a code from the DVLA's 'share driving licence' service* that you can pass to a third party (employer, hire car company) to give them one-off, limited time access to your online driving licence record to verify the printed copy.
You can expect to be offered a fairly bewildering array of additional insurances, particularly if hiring from an independent hirer within your resort rather than a well known international brands.
- ALI(Additional Liability Insurance) and LIS(Liability Insurance Supplement) – flat-rate increase in the liability insurance cover sum
- CDW(Collision Damage Waiver) – comprehensive damage cover with liability reduction, but not automatically with a liability waiver (may differ from country to country)
- LDW(Loss Damage Waiver) – comprehensive damage cover with a liability waiver for damage to the rented car, also for theft and vandalism
- PAI(Personal Accident Insurance) – passenger insurance for injury and death
- PEP(Personal Effects Protection) and PEC(Personal Effects Coverage) – luggage insurance
- PERSPRO/CCP(Carefree Personal Protection) – personal injury and luggage insurance, additional cover for certain emergency medical services
- SCDW(Super Collision Damage Waiver) – comprehensive damage cover with a particularly low excess or no excess at all
- TP(Theft Protection) or THW(Theft Waiver) – theft insurance, usually with an excess
- STP(Super Theft Protection) – theft insurance with a particularly low excess or no excess
- UMP(Uninsured Motorist Protection) – additional insurance in the event of injury or death caused by a hit-and-run driver or by an under-insured driver
Car hire excess insurance
Rather than pay the hire company's 'Super' insurance premium to reduce possible excess payments in the event of a claim it might be cheaper to take the hirer's standard product and insure separately with a car hire excess reimbursement insurance policy.
Check the rental agreement carefully. Additional theft cover is recommended if not included as standard.
In an emergency
If a hire car is involved in an accident or stolen, insurance cover and refunds may be linked to conditions such as a requirement to report the incident within a set period of time. As a general rule, contact the rental company immediately, together with the police, asking them to produce a written incident report for the hire company.
An emergency telephone number and an accident report form should be supplied at the time the car is rented.
Compulsory equipment and penalties
Local rules may require drivers to carry (and use if/when required) certain items of safety equipment such as a warning triangle, first aid kit or reflective jackets.
It's important to make sure you understand local rules but, as loose items like this can go missing from hire cars over time, it's important to check that the car is correctly equipped too.
Fines for not having the required equipment on board can be stiff depending on the perceived seriousness of the offence. Police can levy an on-the-spot fine or can take a much higher 'deposit' to cover the maximum fine until the dispute goes to court.
Fuel tank – full or empty?
There are two different approaches possible here and you may, or may not be able to choose which to take.
- Supplied full, return full – You only pay for the fuel you need and the fuel you use as long as there's a filling station close to the return location where you can fill the car. Service charges for filling the tank if you don't return it full are likely to be very high and charged direct to your credit card.
- Supplied full, return 'empty' – You're charged up-front for a full tank of fuel and can return the car with as much or as little fuel in it as you like. This can be an advantage if you're planning a lot of driving as you won't need to find a filling station immediately before returning the car, but it can be a very expensive option if you're only visiting a small island or don't intend to do much driving.
For peace of mind
- Damage – check the car for damage with an employee from the car rental company before signing a rental agreement, and again when the vehicle is returned. Have the damage-free condition confirmed in writing, or note any damage. Disputes can sometimes arise after you arrive home so it’s a good idea to take photographs for your own records of any pre-existing damage or of any damage that occurred while the car was in your care.
- Controls – Check all the switches, indicators and other controls carefully and if any are unfamiliar or don't work, ask the rental firm for guidance
- Refuelling – check the refuelling requirements in advance and keep fuel bills as proof of a full tank when the vehicle is returned. Consider taking a photograph of the fuel gauge, particularly if dropping the car off without a hire company employee present.
- Insurance cover – third-party insurance is a must but in some countries the minimum statutory cover may be higher and if cover is insufficient, the hirer is personally liable for the excess. There may be a charge to increase cover.
- Additional insurance – if you can, choose comprehensive damage cover without an excess, but check what is actually covered as some may exclude damage to tyres, rims, the underbody or stone chips.
- Theft insurance – recommended if this is not included in the comprehensive insurance.
- Receipts - keep receipts for all fuel purchases and toll payments in case of later dispute over possible non-payment or misfuelling.
- Agreements in writing – make sure that all agreements and the rental agreement are given in writing. Ask for an English version or a version in a familiar language.
- Credit card and documents – it's impossible to rent a car without a credit card – the card must have sufficient funds on it too – but enquire in advance which other documents you will need (driving licence, ID card, IDP etc.) You will need to have held a driving licence for at least one year.
- Hidden costs – watch out for hidden costs
- extra fees for drivers under the age of 25, and for additional drivers
- VAT added to the rental price
- cleaning costs that are often charged as an extra, but should be included in the overall hire charge
- additional road-use charges (other than tolls) that may be applied in some countries
- additional charges for crossing an international border
- service and refuelling charges (customary if refuelling rules are not observed)
- extra costs for accessories such as child seats.
- Age restrictions – some car rental companies stipulate a minimum age of 21-25 while others set a maximum age. If you don't meet the age requirements you will have to pay more or may not be able to rent a car.
- Breakdowns and accidents – ask what you should do in the event of a breakdown, accident or theft, i.e., whether the police have to be notified, whether an accident report is required, or whether it is sufficient to inform the car rental company immediately? Have you been given an emergency contact number?
- Rules of the road – make sure you understand the local rules of the road and any compulsory equipment requirements. You may be required to carry a warning triangle, reflective jacket(s) or first aid kit for example. Check the car to make sure that it's suitably equipped and ask the rental firm to provide any necessary items that are missing.
- If you feel uncomfortable about the car, or if you discover defects, exchange it as soon as possible.
European car rental concilliation service
If you're hiring within Europe it makes sense to look for a rental company that is a member of the European car rental concilliation service scheme (ECRCS).
Subscribers to the ECRCS agree to be bound by the decisions of the concilliation service in the event of a complaint unresolved by their own internal complaints procedure.
ECRCS can only help in the case of disputes involving cross-border (rental takes place in a different country to the booking) rentals within Europe.
Subscribing hire companies commit to an eight point rental charter and also agree to adhere to a code of best practice.
(updated 29 April 2015)
*This service is currently in development but will be available before the counterpart is abolished