Hiring a car should be a stress-free process, but Which? research shows that’s not always the case.
Half of the 8,924 Which? members we questioned ended up paying more for their car hire than originally quoted, thanks to fees for things like additional drivers, extra fuel and insurance being added on collection. This is despite the vast majority of drivers (83%) saying they would rather pay a single price upfront.
Incredibly, 5% of those questioned said that after returning the car, money was taken from their credit card without their knowledge to cover the additional charges. So, how do you avoid being stung?
Could joining a car club save you money? Read our guide to car clubs to find out.
1. Make in-depth comparisons
Car hire can be bought directly or through a broker. But take care: different companies include different things in their advertised prices, so make sure you’re comparing like with like. Be sure to shop around, check what’s included and look out for hidden extras – don’t just compare the advertised rates.
2. Check the insurance
Excess charges can be extremely high. They can be reduced with extra insurance, but this varies between companies and can significantly increase the overall cost of your car hire. Before you book, find out the applicable excess and ask how much it will cost to reduce your liability. If the excess charges are too high you may be better off taking out a separate insurance policy to reimburse you if you do end up having to pay an excess. Insurance companies that offer excess cover policies include Dailyexcess.com, iCarhireinsurance.com, Insurance4carhire.com, Questor Insurance and Worldwide Insure.
3. Check the small print
Car hire terms can be difficult to find and to understand. Ask for help if you’re unsure about what you’re agreeing to. Before you book, check the cancellation terms. Some companies allow cancellations at short notice at no cost, others will not be so generous. Find out what to do in the event of a breakdown (call the company if you need to) and ask what happens if the car is damaged but it’s not your fault. Ask for a call reference number or the name of the person you spoke to.
4. Don’t forget tyres and windscreens
Even if you’ve bought all the extra insurance on offer, you may not be insured for damage to tyres, the windscreen or the undercarriage of the car. Ask if you can purchase extra cover. If you’re buying separate insurance from another company, check that as well. On collection, check the condition of all tyres, including the spare. Inform a sales person if you’re unhappy.
5. Ask about the deposit
Deposits can be large and some companies take money from your account as a deposit – not just an imprint of your card. Don’t get caught short. Ask how much the deposit will be and ensure you have enough credit on your card to cover both your deposit and all your other holiday spending.
6. Check the fuel policy
Fuel policies can vary between different car hire companies. The best allow you to drive the car away full and return it full. Paying the rental company for fuel can often be more expensive. Before you arrive, find out if the car will have a full tank on collection. If you need or want to return it full, make sure you leave enough time to fill up at the end of your trip.
7. Check the cancellation policy
Many car hire companies will charge a premium for renting to drivers aged under 21, and certain higher performance vehicles will be restricted to those over 25 years old. Some may not rent to people over 70 years old or may charge a premium for older drivers.
8. Find out what happens if you’re late
Delays are common. And while some companies will wait for a delayed flight, others won’t. If they do wait, some will charge you extra. Check with your car hire company before you book what will happen if you are delayed. Check also if you will be able to collect your car outside of office hours.
9. Follow the drop-off procedure
You could be charged for damage caused to the car even after you drop it off, particularly if you leave it out of hours. Where possible, return the car to a manned desk and get a receipt for its safe return. If you have to drop it off out of hours, make sure you follow the company drop-off procedure carefully. Take photos or video footage of the car to prove you left it in good condition.
10. Check your credit card statement
Car hire companies take a copy of your credit card so that they can charge you for any damage caused. If there is some damage, your credit card may be charged without you being told first. Always check your statement when you return home –
and challenge anything that you are unhappy with.