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26 May 2021

Best and worst car hire companies

Which car hire company should you use for your next trip? Our survey of thousands of Which? members reveals which car hire companies are rated the best and worst
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Which?Editorial team
Car hire comparisoncar hire company comparison 442207

Even in normal times, deciding which car hire company to use when you're travelling abroad or in the UK can be tricky because hidden charges can make it difficult to compare the deals on offer.

But during the pandemic, you also need to consider hygiene measures, and how likely you are to get a refund if your trip is cancelled or disrupted. To help you steer clear of shoddy service, we asked thousands of Which? members to compare car hire companies they had used over the past two years. 

Companies were compared on a range of criteria, including the clarity of information provided on extra charges, insurance, and terms and conditions, as well as the process of picking up and returning the car. 

Which? readers also rated the car hire companies for value for money, and told us how much their rental had cost in total, so that we were able to show you the average price you can expect to pay for each car hire company.

Only the top performing car hire companies that also met our Covid refund requirements and pricing transparency tests are eligible for Which? Recommended Provider status. 

Car hire suppliers rated

   The bookingThe experience
WRPSupplier (sample size)Avg price per dayClarity of extra chargesClarity of final hire costDescription matching realityValue for moneyCustomer Score
Auto Reisen (76)£11
96%
Cicar (40)£16
91%
Alamo (137)£31
83%
Enterprise (274)£38
80%
 Hertz (212)£30
70%
 Avis (344)£31
69%

Best UK car hire 

Enterprise is the only car hire provider with hundreds of branches in the UK that holds the coveted Which? Recommended Provider status, and its response to the pandemic gives you some idea why. 

Many of Enterprise’s UK offices provide kerbside pick-up, so there’s no need to worry about social distancing. 

The company’s new rigorous cleaning protocols between rentals impressed in our 2021 survey – 90% of you rated the cleanliness of your car last summer as good or excellent. 

Enterprise has also ditched its fees if you’ve paid in advance but have to change plans. There’s no charge for cancellations and amendments right up to the collection date for some bookings. For the rest, you can cancel for free up to three days before pick-up.

Book with: Enterprise rent-a-car

Best USA car hire 

For car hire in the USA, readers have rated Alamo the best. Every element of the booking process was rated five stars, including the important ‘clarity of final hire cost’ – something no other multinational company achieved. 

And if you check in online, you won’t even have to go to the desk. Instead, you go straight to the car park, choose a vehicle from your category and drive off - great for social distancing. 

With five-star cars, fuel policy and customer service, it ‘gets the basics right’. And, like its sister company Enterprise, it has scrapped its fees for amendments in light of the pandemic. There’s no charge for cancellations and amendments right up to the collection date for some bookings. For the rest, you can cancel for free up to three days before pick-up.

Book with: Alamo

Goldcar reviews

At the other end of the table, Goldcar's results are nothing short of a car crash. The low-cost arm of Europcar earned itself a dreadful customer rating.

Goldcar's headline-grabbing rates may look tempting, but a third of people received unexpected or unexplained charges from the company after their hire ended. Many reported the company took money from their credit cards without prior warning after they’d returned to the UK. 

When a company offers cheap rates but scores so badly on value for money overall, you know something’s not right. 

With reports of long waits at the counters too, there’s nothing that redeems this company.

Flexible car hire during Covid - how to book safely

When we asked Which? members about their experience of getting refunds for car hire that was cancelled because of Covid, the response was very positive. 

Many of you booked your rental without paying anything up front. This can be a good idea as it means there's no need to claim a refund if your plans are disrupted, but it will cost you more. We found that pay on collection options are around £20 to £50 more expensive for a week's hire. 

But our survey found that even those who had chosen the cheaper, 'non-refundable' rates mostly got their money back - 79% of people told us they got a full cash refund. These were mostly received quickly. No-one waited more than three months for a refund. 

If you are booking now, make sure you choose a company with a flexible policy. All of our Which? Recommended Providers offer fee-free cancellation with a full refund up to a few days before collection, for any reason. 

Covid-safe car rental

Many of us might choose car hire over public transport this year to reduce the risk of infection. The good news is that when we asked Which? members about their recent car hire experiences, they reported glowingly on the health measures firms had taken.

An impressive 92% of people said they were confident that the rental company had done everything it could to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Some companies have moved to totally contactless, or at least open-air pickup, with pre-arranged time slots to avoid crowds. But even those customers who had to enter an office reported that numbers were limited, with two-metre markers on the floor, sanitiser stations and plexiglass screens. The only downside is that card terminal cleaning between customers can slow the pick-up process down.

Crucially, Which? members told us that in the vast majority of cases the cars themselves were 'spotless' and 'freshly sanitised'.

How we research car hire companies

In January 2020 we asked 2,282 Which? members to complete an online survey about their experience of using a car hire company in the past 12 months. 

In January 2021 we asked a further 843 Which? members about their satisfaction with Covid safe measures and Covid refunds, in order to strengthen our recommendations.

You can have your say on what we research and help us achieve change by joining our online panel of members, Which? Connect.