Hiring a car abroad

How to avoid getting ripped off

Plan ahead to keep costs down if you need to hire a car abroad

It should be easy to hire a car but all the different insurances and conditions of hire can make it hard to make the right choice. And it doesn’t help if you leave it to the last minute.

If you just pick a hire desk at random when you land, you won’t know if you're getting a good deal, and after waiting in line for an hour, you’re unlikely to be in the mood to read the terms and conditions carefully before taking the keys.

Hiring a car abroad

Plan ahead so you can work out the total cost, including fixed and optional extras, and you can compare prices and terms between suppliers. There's a good chance you’ll save money too.

Driving in the EU after Brexit

The UK stopped being a member of the EU on 31 January 2020. However, until the end of 2020 the previous rules on travel for the UK and the EU continue to apply.

New rules on travel in the EU may take effect on 1 January 2021, including the documents you'll need to carry when driving in Europe.


Car hire excess insurance

Most hire firms expect you to pay the first part of any accident or damage claim unless you pay extra for their ‘super’ insurance. But it’s often cheaper to arrange your own car hire excess reimbursement insurance.

Insurance extras

Littered with jargon and designed to confuse, these are some of the extra insurance policies that you might be offered:

  • ALI - Additional Liability Insurance
  • LIS - Liability Insurance Supplement 
  • CDW - Collision Damage Waiver
  • LDW - Loss Damage Waiver
  • PAI - Personal Accident Insurance
  • PEP - Personal Effects Protection
  • PEC - Personal Effects Coverage
  • PERSPRO/CCP - Carefree Personal Protection
  • SCDW - Super Collision Damage Waiver
  • TP - Theft Protection
  • THW - Theft Waiver
  • STP - Super Theft Protection
  • UMP - Uninsured Motorist Protection

You don’t always get a choice, but fuel can be provided in two ways:

  • Supplied full, return full –pay only for what you need but you’ll have to find a filling station close to the hire car return.  There’ll be a big service charge on your credit card if you don't return the car with a full tank.
  • Supplied full, return 'empty' – pay up-front for a full tank and return the car as empty as you dare.  OK if you’re planning a lot of driving but not great value if you're only visiting a small island.
Driving licence paper counterpart

The DVLA got rid of the paper counterpart to the Photocard licence in 2015 as driving licence records are now all held online. However, some hire companies ask to check your driving licence record – so check what they’ll want to see before you go.

We recommend printing your own driving licence record and also getting a code from the DVLA's 'share driving licence' service. The code will be valid for 21 days and gives a hire firm one-off access to your online driving licence record if they need to see it.

Read our guide to renewing your driving licence

  • Damage – check the car carefully and make sure any damage is noted on the rental agreement.
  • Pictures – photos or video showing the car’s condition on collection and return can be really helpful if there’s a dispute later.
  • Controls – if any switches or controls don’t appear to work or you don’t understand them ask for help.
  • Fuel – keep fuel receipts in case there’s an issue later.  It’s a good idea to take a picture of the fuel gauge when you leave the car too.
  • Additional insurance – if you can, choose comprehensive damage cover without an excess, but check what is actually covered as some don’t cover damage to tyres, rims, the underbody or stone chips.
  • Theft insurance – recommended if not included in the comprehensive insurance.
  • Tolls – keep toll receipts so you can prove you paid if there’s any doubt later.
  • Mileage limits – make sure that any daily mileage limit is enough.
  • Credit card and documents – you can’t rent a car without a credit card and the card must have sufficient funds.  You’ll need your driving licence and will need to have held it for at least a year.  You may also be asked for an ID card, passport or IDP .
  • Age restrictions – there are no general rules but you may come across a minimum, maybe 21 or 25 years, or a maximum age.
  • Breakdowns and accidents – ask what you should do if you break down, have an accident or the car’s stolen, and make sure you have an emergency contact number.
  • Rules of the road – check the local rules of the road so you know if you have to carry things like a warning triangle or reflective jackets in the car. Ask the rental firm to provide anything that’s missing as you could face an on-the-spot fine.
Watch out for hidden costs too
  • Additional or young driver charges
  • VAT
  • Cleaning charges
  • Additional road-use charges (other than tolls)
  • Charges for crossing an international border
  • Servicing and refuelling charges
  • Extras such as child seats or sat nav

If you feel uncomfortable about the car, or if you discover a defect, exchange it as soon as possible.

If there’s a dispute

In Europe it’s best to use a hire company that’s a member of the European car rental conciliation service scheme (ECRCS).

ECRCS members agree to be bound by the decisions of the conciliation service.

Updated 3 March 2020

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