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Updated: 26 Apr 2022

How to get cheaper car hire in 2022

Car rental prices are soaring. Here's how to slam the brakes on your spending
Guy Hobbs

If you're planning to rent a car this year, you could be in for a shock. A perfect storm of increased demand and an acute shortage of new cars has led to skyrocketing prices. But for the savvy traveller, there are ways to keep costs down: 

1. Book your car hire early

Don't leave booking your car hire to the last minute. With demand so high, you should get your rental locked in at the same time as booking your holiday. This is especially true if you plan to travel during peak periods or in a high-demand country like Italy, Portugal or Spain. The graph below shows that last summer people who booked their August rental in July paid 26% more than early birds booking in May. And by August many locations had completely sold out. This year, with fewer travel restrictions anticipated, prices are likely to rise even faster, and we could see even more acute shortages. So don’t leave it too late.

2. Book with a recommended company...

There are providers that will take advantage of this unusual market to ramp up prices to extortionate levels. Which? vets car hire companies and brokers, not just on the customer experience, but also on their pricing transparency and the way they have behaved during the pandemic, so you can trust them to offer a fair price.

For car hire in the Canary Islands, we recommend AutoReisen rent a car. For UK bookings, Enterprise rent-a-car rates highly. And for bookings in the USA and elsewhere, its sister company Alamo is a top performer.

See all of our Which? Recommended Providers for car hire.

3. ...Or use a small/local car hire firm (via a trusted broker)

Local agents are always likely to be cheaper than the big brands. They have fewer overheads, lower marketing costs, and they have offices in cheaper locations (outside of the airports and main transport hubs).

When we compared prices for a week’s hire in Tenerife (23-30July 2022), global brands (Avis, Europcar, Hertz, Sixt) averaged £247 for the cheapest car. But AutoReisen, which only operates in the Canary Islands, was just £154. That’s a saving of £93, with a better brand.

We would never tell you to book direct with a company you haven’t heard of, though. Book with a trusted broker like Zest Car Rental and you will mitigate against the risk of the unknown. Zest regularly vets its car hire companies, only partnering with those that maintain consistently high standards of customer service.

4. Pay in advance

When you book online, most rental companies give you two choices: pay now, or pay at location. In the current climate, you should pay (or at least put down a deposit) when you book. Not only is it usually £20 to £50 cheaper for a week’s rental than paying at the rental desk, it’s also safer. 

Guaranteeing a rate helps guard against unscrupulous companies cancelling your booking in order to take a more valuable one as rates rise. We’ve already heard from one Which? reader whose booking was cancelled last minute, leaving them to pay turn-up prices (three times the original rate) at the airport.

5. Choose off-airport hire

Based on booking data from early in the year, the locations with the highest demand are those based at airports - particularly Malaga airport in Spain, Faro airport in Portugal, Paphos airport in Cyprus, and Orlando International Airport in the USA. 

If demand is high, then prices will be too. When we checked prices earlier this year, the cheapest rate Enterprise had for a week's rental from  Malaga airport was £548. But when we changed the pickup location to Malaga train station, we found a car for £249.

Even in normal times, airport hire usually comes at a premium because car hire companies pay higher taxes to be there. Off-site offices are cheaper to rent, and many firms offer a free shuttle service.

6. Check the fuel policy

With petrol prices as high as they are, it's important that you don't pay for any more fuel than you actually use. A full-to-empty fuel policy, sometimes known as ‘pre-purchase’, will bump up the price of your rental. It’s touted as convenient, because you won’t have to find a petrol station before returning the car, but you’ll pay through the nose for a full tank. And unless you squeeze every last drop of petrol out of your rental before handing it back, you'll lose out. 

It’s far smarter to opt for full-to-full (where you pick up and return the vehicle with a full tank). However, even this isn’t without its pitfalls. Forget to refill and you could face a hefty fine. 

7. Avoid 'too good to be true' prices

Unfortunately, you will have to accept that car hire is expensive this year. If a company is offering rates that look too good to be true, they probably are. Even before the pandemic, sneaky charges were a common issue with some companies. After two years without customers, it’s likely that those same companies will to try every trick in the book to claw back income.

In our recent survey, 13% of people told us they were charged more than they had been quoted, and the average additional charge was £101. The most common disputed or unexpected charges were for damage to the car and refuelling, but others included admin fees, an over-70s surcharge, extra mileage, and late drop-off. 

Book with a Which? Recommended Provider to help avoid bill shock. Just 2% of people who booked with Enterprise rent-a-car, for example, were surprised with additional fees.

8. Don't buy car hire insurance at the rental desk

Insurance from car hire companies is overpriced and poor quality when compared with the policies offered by third parties. See our guide to finding Car hire insurance explained

The top-rated excess reimbursement insurance from Questor costs just £24 for a week’s hire in Spain. By contrast, Europcar’s own ‘protection package’ cost £137 for an August booking. 

It’s a money spinner for car hire firms, which is why they are so keen for you to buy. A third of customers told us they felt under pressure to buy additional insurance at the rental desk, even though pressure selling is illegal. 

Be aware that if you purchase standalone insurance, your hire company will insist that you leave a hefty (refundable) deposit, and you’ll have to pay an excess if you have an accident. But you can claim it back from your insurance later.

9. Ditch the extras

Car hire companies charge over the odds for extras like satnavs. Instead, download a free app, such as Navmii, to your mobile, which can access maps offline without eating up your data.

Car seats are also pricey, not always in a great condition, and they rarely come with installation instructions. Taking your own car seat solves these problems. And some airlines, including Jet2and easyJet allow you to take one for free. Alternatively, you can sometimes rent car seats at the airport for a fraction of the price.

If you need an additional driver, factor it in when you select a rental company. You’ll always pay more if you don’t mention it until you get to the rental desk. Canary Islands specialist AutoReisen always throws in an extra driver for free with online bookings. Zest also offers a free additional driver in many locations.

Three steps to save on car hire

In July 2022, a week’s hire of a Peugeot 208 in Malaga was £948 with Hertz – including zero excess insurance and a sat nav. However, by following these three steps, we brought the price down to £611 (£587 for the same vehicle, plus £24 for third-party insurance) – a 36% saving.

1. Book and pay early

  • Reserve online and pay the full amount before you reach the kiosk  
  • Saving: £86 

2. Ditch the satnav

  • Download free navigation app Navmii instead  
  • Saving: £104

3. Avoid excess waiver cover

  • Standalone insurance (£24) will save you money  
  • Saving: £147