If you’re heading on your travels, hiring a car can be a cheap and easy way to get around, or it can be a headache. Read our common sense (and budget travel) guide to hiring a car abroad.
Travel abroad often means using a lot of public transport, lugging your bag onto trains and buses and suffering the disapproving looks of locals. One way to avoid this? Hire a car.
Hiring a car abroad can often be one of the most effective ways to get around, with the price of car rental sometimes not much more than the cost of a few train journeys. Having driven around the world over the years, we’ve dealt with unscrupulous private hire companies, driven souped up sports cars and got lost in the wild wondering if this tin can will resist an elephant’s charge (true story).
Off on a road trip or just getting from A to B? Here are our car hire tips for wherever you end up.
1. Shop Around
It wasn’t always so easy to shop around for your car hire when you’re abroad, but thanks to the internet, now it’s a breeze.
In small towns you might only have the option of a couple of companies, but hiring from a bigger city or international airport will yield better (and more competitively priced) options.
Our favourite options are HolidayAutos.com and RentalCars.com. These hire car comparison sites both compare the best prices including the big chains such as Avis, Europcar etc as well as smaller local companies.
2. Using A Credit Card
Most companies will ask for a credit card to block off an amount in case of accidents – this can be anything up to £2000 with some car hire companies.
This money is effectively used as a deposit which is then returned to your card in the event of safe return. In the meantime, that £2000 is not available to spend. This is the most popular way for companies to take their deposit. The amount is normally blocked off for up to a week after the car is returned, to account for events such as speeding tickets or parking fines.
Can you pay your car hire deposit with a normal bank card or prepaid travel card?
Not usually. The point in using a credit card is that the large amount of the deposit isn’t actually taken from your account but is just held as pending.
Can you get around paying the car hire credit card deposit?
Some companies will allow you to pay an extra surcharge, often sold as full insurance or damage waiver fee, to avoid using a credit card. This varies but is usually an amount per day. As an example, when I was in Slovenia recently I hired a car for £35 for 4 days and the fee to waive the credit card deposit was an additional £30.
This varies from company to company and it might be worth asking them before you book if you want to skip using a credit card.
3. Check For Damage
Of course the biggest expense or issue with non returned deposits is accidental damage to the car. Normally your hire rep will look around the car with you and then make you sign a form agreeing what damage is already present.
You don’t necessarily need to document every little paint chip, or scuff mark, especially with the bigger companies. With smaller one shop companies, you might want to be a bit more specific in case they decide to poach some of that deposit.
Alternatively, paying the damage waiver fee means you don’t have to worry about it. Driving the car off a cliff wouldn’t incur any additional charges (don’t do that though).
4. Top Up The Tank
Most car hire companies will offer full tank to full tank, so make sure you top up with the right fuel. If you don’t they normally charge for the cost of the top up plus an extra fee (of something like an extra £40 ish). For the sake of stopping in the closest garage before returning, do it yourself and save yourself the hassle.
5. Check For Mileage Limits
If you have a mileage limit on your vehicle it can get expensive, as these fees can add up quickly. Make sure to choose a company that provides unlimited mileage – or if you’re not planning on doing a lot of driving then perhaps the limit will suffice.
The mileage is normally worked out on an average across the days you’re using the vehicle, so if you do exceed it on one day but then not use it so much the next, it should be OK.
6. Cross Border Fees
Planning on hiring a car in one country and then hopping across a few borders? Be aware that crossing the border usually incurs an additional daily charge, applied to the whole time of the car rental, not just the day you nip across.
This is often something in the region of an extra 10 Euros/Dollars/Pounds per day, which if you’re hiring the vehicle for 10 days makes an extra £100. If you’re going to cross borders for sightseeing then perhaps park your car near the border and then take local transport.
There are special cross border car hire agencies which will include frontier travel in their costs. Especially handy if you’re doing a tour of Europe or similar. Centauro are a reliable option Europe.
7. Hire From An Airport
You’ll often get the best deal from airports, so if you’re flying in to town pick up your wheels on arrival. This is especially the case with the bigger brand companies, as they usually have the biggest stock available from airport industrial estates (might also be something to do with lower overheads).
Car hire companies also offer transfers between the terminal and their offices, which is handy.
8. Return To Pickup Location
Dropping your car back to where you collected it is usually the cheaper option, as many companies charge a relocation fee (known as a one way fee). This can be substantially more than the cost standard rental. In a test booking, on a 7 day booking, the one way fee was nearly £100 on top of the standard booking charge.
If you have multiple passengers and the one way fee works out better than buying public transport for everyone then this might be a good option.
9. Which Insurance To Buy?
You will always get a degree of insurance cover with your car hire, but this normally only covers third party accidental damage. This is the CDW (collision damage waiver) which companies should provide as standard. Sales reps will also always try and up sell you the premium insurance package, which covers more than just collisions – usually. It is worth checking what is actually covered with the extra cover and what the excess is. Often this is something in the region of an additional £5-10 per day. Deciding if you’re going to need it or not is up to you.
Are you going to be going anywhere a bit treacherous? Narrow lanes, bumpy potholed roads, areas with high crime levels, areas well known for bad driving (like Italy or Mexico), adverse weather conditions such as ice are all key indicators that you could end up damaging your car more than anticipated.
If you’re happy to risk it and don’t mind that you could end up paying £600 or more for your excess should the worst happen, then go for it. If the extra few pounds/dollars/euros a day could put your mind at ease and save you worrying, then maybe just pay it…
10. Book In Advance
As with flights and hotels, you get a better deal if you book in advance. Prices fluctuate massively, especially during peak season so keep an eye on the car hire comparison sites.
If you have questions about your chosen company’s policies then email or call them before you make your booking.
So if you need to hire a car abroad for the best prices, check out our trusted partners below.