The government’s announcement that UK holidays can go ahead from 4 July — but that public transport should be avoided — has led to an increase in car hire bookings.
A third of all drivers, equivalent to more than 10 million people, will take to the roads this weekend, according to the RAC. It looks set to be one of the busiest weekends for traffic in recent years.
But coronavirus has made hiring a car even more of a minefield. Not only is there a gulf between the best and worst companies — the top provider in our 2020 survey earns an outstanding 94%, while the worst only manages 44% — but you also now need to consider how clean your rental car is and whether you can freely cancel the booking without losing money.
Find out which are the best and worst car hire companies.
Best car hire companies in the UK
Hiring a car isn’t cheap, with the average UK rental costing £44 a day, so the last thing you would want is to run into problems or be faced with hefty additional charges.
Sadly, that’s all too common. One in five people had an issue with a recent rental car and one in four experienced unexpected or unexplained charges, according to our annual survey of more than 2,200 recent rental drivers.
You can dramatically reduce the risk of encountering similar problems by using one of our recommended providers.
Excluding companies that don’t operate here, our survey reveals that Which? Recommended Provider (WRP) Enterprise is your best bet for hiring a car in the UK. Impressively, it earns four or five stars in every category of our survey, including for the clarity of its additional costs and fuel policy, condition of its cars and customer service, all of which contributes to an impressive level of customer satisfaction.
With an average rental cost of £38 a day, it’s not the cheapest company, but it’s still cheaper than the worst car hire company operating in the UK, which charges an average of £43 a day, despite scoring lower than Enterprise in most categories.
Enterprise has also introduced a comprehensive 20-point vehicle hygiene check, which is carried out after every rental, as well as installing plexiglass screens and one-way systems in kiosks. And if your plans do change, you can cancel any booking for free up to 48 hours before you’re due to pick up your vehicle.
If you don’t have an Enterprise office nearby, try looking for other options with Zest Car Rental. Because it’s a broker, it compares rental prices from a range of providers to help you find the best car at the best price. And, for the eight year in a row, we’ve made it a WRP, so you can rely on it to offer transparent prices and outstanding customer service. Like Enterprise, bookings through Zest can be cancelled for free up to 48 hours before pick up.
Find out how good other popular providers are by reading our car hire brokers comparison.
Am I allowed to rent a car during lockdown?
From 4 July on, you can hire a car for overnight stays in the UK, whether in a second home, to visit friends or family or for a holiday.
The only exception to this is if your region is placed under local lockdown, as is the case in Leicester at the moment.
If you’re travelling to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, additional local restrictions may also apply.
Is hiring a car safe?
Hiring a car is likely to be safer than using public transport but that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free.
The transmission of COVID-19 can ‘definitely occur’ in a car, according to the government, so avoid sharing a car with someone outside your household (or support bubble).
Even then, the virus’ ability to live on surfaces for a prolonged period of time means you could be at risk of contracting the virus from previous renters. For this reason Enterprise has committed to disinfecting cars after every rental, as well as minimising contact, and disinfecting pick-up and drop-off kiosks.
Which car hire companies make you queue?
While car hire companies have introduced new cleaning measures in their vehicles, it remains to be seen how kiosks will cope with the high anticipated demand over the summer.
Customers of Enterprise were the least likely to have to queue according to our recent survey.
Can I cancel my car hire booking for free?
Even after restrictions have been lifted you might want or need to cancel your car hire reservation. You might be told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, for example, or your destination may be placed under local lockdown.
The good news is that, whether you booked through a broker or with the hire company directly, many rental car reservations can be cancelled for free. The important thing to check, though, is how long before pick up you can cancel without having to pay a fee.
Often it’s around 48 hours before, which could potentially be an issue if you’re told to self-isolate the day before you pick the car up. But some companies, such as Avis, have waived all cancellation fees on bookings before September.
Should I use Zipcar or another car club?
Car clubs, such as Zipcar (owned by Avis) and Enterprise Car Club, are an increasingly popular way of hiring a car if you live in a major city, because they save you the effort of going to your nearest car hire kiosk.
Once you’ve registered with a club, you can simply find a car in your local area and then book and unlock it through an app on your phone. Depending on your provider and booking type, you can then either drop it back off in the same space when you’re done, or drop it off at a location of your choosing (provided it’s within the company’s eligible zone).
Usually, you pay by the hour, making it a convenient if you need to hire a car for a day out and don’t want to take public transport. But it’s less to likely to be cost effective for a longer-term rental, so you’ll probably still want to go for a conventional car hire for your staycation.
Read our car hire tips to make your rental run as smoothly as possible.