Car hire is one of the most complained about motoring subjects.
Additional charges, unforeseen insurance costs and poor customer service all related are common car rental grumbles reported to This is Money by readers.
With this in mind, we wanted to know the best insider tips for holidaymakers to avoid being ripped off at the rental desk and save money in the process.
We asked experts at Rentalcars.com to give us the inside scoop on what customers can do to get the best deal on a hire car…
Tips for hire: These are the 10 rental hints from industry insiders that should see you avoid surprise fees and potentially save some money next time you’re booking a car for your holidays
We’ve reported plenty of hire car horror stories in the past, so in an effort to help you avoid the same fate we’ve rattled it down to 10 key tips aimed at avoiding additional fees and getting the best deal for your money.
And to guarantee you save some money, they’ve also provided us with a discount code for readers to use this summer that gets them a 10 per cent discount (*T&Cs at the bottom of this page) when they book online with the car hire broker.
Reader simply need to enter the code go to promo.rentalcars.com and enter the promo code ThisisMoney.
The discount is only available to car hire booked before 5 August 2018, with the offer valid for vehicles collected by 5 August 2020.
Here are the best recommendations to cut your costs when hiring a car.
1. Book your hire car in advance
It’s an obvious one, but definitely the best way to save some cash.
The further ahead of your trip you book, the cheaper the price is likely to be – and, just as importantly, the greater the chance of getting the car you want.
To put it into context, booking three months in advance for a week’s car hire in Santorini could save you around £60 compared to arranging vehicle rental the week before you travel.
2. Don’t restrict yourself to renting cars in the airport
You might get a better deal by using a rental firm that isn’t in the airport terminal building
If you’re travelling by plane to your holiday destination it might be tempting to use a rental company that’s inside the terminal building.
However, rental companies outside of the terminal can, in many cases, be a less expensive option.
Getting to these locations shouldn’t be a problem as providers often run free shuttle services to get you to and from the airport to make the process as easy as possible.
If you’re picking up in a town or city, it’s also worth looking into rental companies that are based in the suburbs. These are often cheaper than the ones in the city centre.
3. Don’t get stung by one-way fees
If you’re dropping your car off in a different place to where you picked it up, it’s worth comparing car hire companies before you book as many rental firms charge a one-way fee you might not spot in the terms and conditions.
Some don’t charge any extra if you don’t return the car to the same location you collected it, and some are up front about the additional cost associated.
However, others will hide one-way fees in the small print.
Examples of one-way fees we found
– Milan > Bergamo Airport – A one way fee with Sicily by Car is €70
– Palma Airport > Alcudia Downtown – A one way fee with Europcar is €20
– Malaga > Sevilla – A one way fee with Goldcar is €100
4. Be mindful about brimming
Most hire firms will provide the car with a full tank of fuel and request that it’s returned with the tank brimmed.
Knowing this, many airports have on-site or local fuel stations.
However, fuel prices can be at a premium with retailers knowing that rental-car drivers will be looking for the nearest pump to avoid any penalty fees for handing a vehicle back without a full quota of petrol or diesel.
Do your research before you travel and locate a fuel station within five miles of the airport that might be off the direct route to the drop off.
If you’ve let the fuel level drop fairly low at this point, you’ll save a fair chunk of cash by paying less per litre away from the airport.
5. Take action to avoid surprise hire car insurance charges
Many rental companies offer their own insurance policies and they can provide cover that you really don’t need.
Money-saving tip: Car hire excess insurance
Getting stung for extra excess waiver insurance at the car hire desk is a bugbear of many people, writes Simon Lambert
However, you can get a specialist policy that will cover you for a trip or even annually at a fraction of the cost – as long as you are willing to put down a bigger credit card deposit.
A long-standing policy I have used for years is insurance4carhire, which costs £42.99 for a year in Europe and the UK.
Car hire comparison sites also often offer their own by the day cover.
For instance, some rental companies offer injury cover as part of their policies. However, this is usually included in your travel insurance, so you don’t need it.
The surprise fee most people get charged for at the desk is for insurance excess waivers.
This is to bring the excess cost of any damage down to zero so you don’t have to pay for any bumps or scrapes found on the vehicle.
You don’t need to have this, but many prefer it for peace of mind. And if you don’t take it out you’ll be asked for a credit card deposit that will be held against the booking until the car is returned unscathed.
Providers will tell you that you can only arrange an excess waiver at the rental desk, so inquire about the cost of this beforehand and have it in writing – either via email or a transcript of an online customer services chat – from the hire firm before you travel.
Present this at the desk to guarantee that you don’t get charged more than you should.
There are also companies offering rental excess waivers as part of separate cover, however, most will require the driver to pay the cost up front and claim it back once they have a receipt from the hire firm.
6. Don’t be enticed by upgrades unless it says it’s free in the documentation
If you’re offered an upgrade, make sure you get it in writing that no additional charge will be added to your agreed rental fee
Everyone loves being offered a free upgrade, but the chances of being offered one for no extra cost are slim.
That’s not to say it won’t happen, but many of the complaints we receive suggest upgrade fees were never discussed but still charged after the trip.
If you are offered an upgrade because of a shortage of cars you requested, have it in writing that this will cost you no extra money.
We’ve received emails from disgruntled customers in the past who claim the fee they discussed at the desk was then inflated in the paperwork, and the clarification of this tends to be buried deep in the small print.
Nobody really wants to spend time reading when they’ve arrived for a long overdue break abroad, so it might be best to demand that you have the car – or similar model – that you initially requested to avoid headaches and holdups.
7. Be thorough when checking your car for damage
If you’ve paid for a zero excess waiver, damage isn’t going to be an issue. But if you haven’t, you will need to put in the time to protect yourself from additional charges.
At pick-up, always check the car for bumps, dents and scratches, both inside and out.
The rental company staff will give you a form showing all the damage to the car but you should always check it yourself and report anything that’s not listed on the diagram.
Take pictures of any damage you see as evidence, too.
And if you arrive at the rental desk at night, request for the car to be moved to a well-lit area so you can inspect any damage before you even step inside it.
8. Do you really need a toll pass?
If you’re driving in a country that uses tolls, have a think about how much motorway driving you’re going to be doing.
If you’re doing a lot, you may want to look into a toll pass which you can usually buy from the rental counter.
This could save you time and money over the course of your hire period.
If you’re only likely to use toll roads to get to your destination and back to an airport at the end of your trip and not in between, it might be more cost effective to simply pay for it yourself.
9. Can you live without a sat nav?
A mobile phone app might save you a few quid rather than renting a sat-nav from the hire-car provider
A sat nav is essential in a country you don’t know. But if you hire one from the desk, you’ll be charged for the device by the day, which can make the total cost of your rental pricier.
Fortunately, in today’s day and age you shouldn’t struggle to find a useful phone app that will save you the expense.
Apps like HERE WeGo allow you to download maps for free at home and use them offline when you’re at your destination to avoid racking up roaming charges if you’re holidaying outside the EU.
And don’t forget it’s illegal to use your phone behind the wheel in most countries, so make your route before you set off or ask a passenger to dictate to you.
Old fashioned road maps will do the job too.
10. Don’t be late
Make sure you return the car before the designated time in the rental agreement – some providers will charge a day’s extra hire if you bring the vehicle back more than half an hour late
If you’re late to drop-off, you might get charged for it. In some cases, they may even charge you a whole extra day.
So don’t take any chances and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to return the vehicle before the deadline.
Most major hire firms allow a 30-minute grace period to return the keys, however smaller local firms might not be so forgiving.
Read the small print on late return charges before you travel.
T&Cs for 10% discount code for This is Money readers
10% discount applies to the cost of car hire only and does not include any optional extras.
Promotion applies to car hire booked before 5 August 2018, offer is valid for cars to be collected until 5 August 2020.
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