Experience has taught us that the magical world of car hire is full of surprises – not all of them pleasant. But what about the incredible freedom (and convenience) of having your very own vehicle at your disposal for an extensive road-trip?
In this article, we have summarised the ten most important things you’ll definitely need to know when hiring a car in order to be absolutely sure everything will run smoothly.
Car rental without the pitfalls
Credit card, deductible, insurance, etc. Renting a car, especially abroad, can be problematic for the inexperienced traveller.
To start with, you will need to choose the right supplier from the many different car hire companies available on the market, such as Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Sixt, etc. A good place to start is by comparing the prices of all the car rental companies on the Auto Europe website, which gives you the chance to choose the cheapest one.
Once you have selected your preferred company, the hard work is just beginning because you’ll need to be wary of all the various clauses to find the lowest price. Here are 10 things you’ll need to know when renting a car, based on our many years’ experience.
1. Credit Card
First things first, a credit card is a prerequisite for renting a car. Furthermore, it must be in the name of the main driver and, as a rule, be the same card that was used during the booking process.
Although a small number of car rental companies allow the use of a debit card, it’s important to note that this option involves a significant surcharge. We recommend that you always check the conditions set out by each respective car rental company before making a final decision.
Some of our friends were unfortunate enough to be refused their car when they arrived to pick it up because they violated one of these essential clauses, so they had to kiss goodbye to their care-free holiday! Nobody likes to waste valuable time and money over such a silly thing, do they?
2. Credit card deposit
Depending on the country, car hire company and your amount of coverage, a certain quantity of money will be blocked on your credit card as a security deposit.
A few years ago, at the start of a road-trip around Ireland, we had to pay an extra 80 euros at the check-in desk because our credit card limit was under 1,500 euros.
We therefore advise you to check the amount of the deposit in advance and contact your bank to raise the credit limit, if necessary.
3. Driver’s age
Being of legal age and properly licensed in some cases is not enough to be able to rent a car. You need to keep in mind that the minimum age is 21 in most of Europe and North America. If you are younger than 25 you will have to pay more money, which is the price of being young!
Similar conditions apply to older people, such as those over the age of 65 who will normally have to pay a surcharge. And for anyone over 70…well, we suggest they consider travelling by train!
4. Additional drivers
If you would like to share the pleasure of driving with your partner, a friend or a family member, we always recommend that you include an additional driver at the time of making the booking. This way you’ll be covered by the insurance without having any nasty surprises, no matter who’s doing the driving.
Although it might increase the cost of your rental, it’s particularly useful in left-hand-drive countries because if you get stressed you can always hand the steering-wheel to someone else!
5. Insurance coverage
How safe do you want to be? When it comes to renting a car, especially abroad, you can never be too careful. Even a small scratch can cost you dearly.
When booking your car hire, you’ll need to decide which insurance cover is best for your trip. Fire, theft, accidental damage, damage caused by passengers, public liability, roadside assistance, glass, tyres, meteorites, an alien invasion…the list of perils you’ll need to cover yourself against is frightfully long!
On another trip to Ireland, we had a puncture on a Sunday morning which caused us no end of panic and fear because the chance of finding an Irishman fully awake and not suffering from a hangover on a Sunday is quite difficult! Since we were not covered by any tyre insurance, we had to find and call out a mechanic at our own expense.
You should also pay attention to the deductible, more specifically the portion of the damage that you will have to pay in the event of a claim. For example, if the deductible is 600 euros you will have to pay for any damage below that amount. To avoid this, it’s worth thinking about adding more comprehensive insurance cover to your rental contract.
6. Checking the car before departure
Trust is good but it’s not enough, so when you pick up your car at the airport or in the city, you’ll need to go over it as if you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.
Check that there is no damage of any kind, such as scratches, chips or problems with the paintwork before you drive away, otherwise you might be held responsible.
7. Filling up the tank
You’ll also need to check that the fuel level in the tank corresponds to what’s stated in the rental contract, because you’re obliged to return the car in the same condition as when you collected it.
It is important to return the car with a full tank if that’s how it was at the time of pick-up, otherwise the penalty will be high, usually between 10 and 20 euros per missing litre.
Take note of any petrol stations that are open near the car hire drop-off point. At Lille Airport in France, we’d been running on empty for half an hour before we finally had to give up and pay the penalty, which wasn’t pleasant at all.
8. Travel restrictions
In general, at the time of hire, you might also be informed of any restrictions relating to the use of the vehicle on particular roads or routes.
For example, when we went to Crete, we found a clause stating that cars were not allowed on unpaved roads which included the access road to the famous Balos Lagoon.
Please note that in the event of demonstrable breaches of such clauses, the insurance company will not be obliged to cover any damage caused to the vehicle.
Will you be driving on any motorways? When travelling abroad, it’s important to check the toll payment methods before you leave because they might be similar or completely different to those in Italy.
For example, if you are planning a trip to Portugal, it will be useful to add a motorway toll card to your rental. Each country has its own way of operating its motorways, so it is advisable to get properly informed before your trip.
10. Different pick-up and drop-off points
If, like us, you love road travel, you might want to collect your vehicle from one location and return it to another.
We adopted this strategy on our trip to Andalusia where we picked up the car at Seville Airport and returned it to Malaga Airport five days later. Obviously, this entails a surcharge but once again, how would you have known?
The same applies to journeys that cover more than one country. Crossing borders with your car hire means that you will have to pay a much higher price due to the need for special insurance cover. You’ll also need to check with your car rental company whether or not this option is actually possible.
Do you have any unusual stories to tell us about car hire? Were you aware of all the rules we mentioned? If you have any other tips or just want to tell us what you think, please leave us a comment below!