Hiring or renting a car abroad and in the UK

There are lots of reasons you might need to rent a car – you’re on holiday, you don’t currently have a car, you have friends visiting and need a different type of vehicle, and many more. No matter the reason, there are similar things you need to watch out for to make sure you’re getting treated fairly and getting the best deal.

Finding a hire car

It can be tempting to just go to the first place you find, but to get the best deal you should use more than one comparison website.

It is also important to do some research into the type of car, its features and the type of rental service you need before making a decision.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been working to make prices clearer on car rental price comparison sites. 30 leading websites now carry transparent prices for more than 1,300 car companies in over 10,000 destinations, so you can be more confident that you won’t be hit with hidden charges and unexpected fees. Source.

Make sure you book your car hire early as well because it’s usually cheaper than walking in on the day.

We also recommend the following websites for comparing hire cars:

  • Zest Car Rental - This site is known for its clarity on extra charges, fuel policy, showing total costs and for its customer service.
  • Auto Europe - This website is known for being transparent when it comes to fuel policies, showing total cost, ease of opt out of additional extras and its flexible policy on cancellations.
  • There are a wide range of comparison sites that will check car rental providers, brokers and travel agents such as Skyscanner, Kayak and TravelSupermarket.

Top tips for comparing car hire deals

You’ll also need to make sure that what you’re getting suits your needs. Think about things like:

  • Fuel policy – in general choosing a ‘full-to-full’ fuel policy, which means you drive the car away with a full petrol tank and return it full, will work out cheaper than other options. Other ways could cost you more eg a pre-purchase fuel policy. With this you get a full tank of fuel with the car, but do not get a refund for any fuel you didn’t use. If you won’t drive far, you’ll be wasting money, but it saves you having to hunt for a petrol station. A good car hire comparison site will let you filter by fuel options, so if the option you want isn’t there, don’t be afraid to choose a different one.
  • Sat nav or GPS devices – These are useful but at £70 to £110 for a week’s hire they’re not good value. It doesn’t cost much more to buy one, and you could get a sat nav app for your phone for free.
  • Mileage limits - If you’re planning to cover a lot of miles, check if the booking comes with unlimited mileage. If you’re crossing borders, whether national or internal (US states), make sure you’re still covered by the insurance given with the rental, and that you won’t get charged additional fees.
  • Check fly-drive, and hotel packages - Some websites give extra discounts if you’re hiring a car with flights and a hotel as a package. Just because they’re discounted when booked together doesn’t automatically make them the cheapest though. Package holidays do offer extra protection via ATOL though.
  • The extra driver fee, if you need it - Book in advance if two or more of you want to split the driving, otherwise it could cost you more if you leave it until you pick up the car.
  • Size of car – Double check the vehicle you’re renting will be large enough by looking at leg room for passengers, the boot size for luggage and so on. Changing or upgrading the car at the last minute will often cost extra.
  • Child seat costs - Child seats are compulsory in Europe for under-threes, and in some cases booster seats are required for children up to the age of 12. Make sure you get the cost including the car seat, to compare the full cost of your hire car.
  • Snow chains - In some locations snow chains may be a legal requirement and there could be charges for them. Check so you won’t be stung with unexpected extra costs.

Before you go to pick up your rental car

Car hire excess insurance

You could look for excess insurance for peace of mind before you pick up your car. Getting it a few weeks or even months before your trip could save you a lot of money.

Brexit and car rentals

There are likely to be some changes to the rules around travelling when the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019. You can find out more in our Brexit section, or visit the GOV.uk website.

Buying your excess insurance in advance also means you don’t need to use a credit card to leave a large deposit with the rental company. Sometimes the deposit can be between £500 and £1,200.

While it’s only a deposit, if you need to claim on the insurance the money is taken from your card, and you need to claim back what isn’t used to fix any damage from the insurer. It means you could be left with a large credit card bill to pay without yet having the money back to pay for it.

The credit card will usually need to belong to whoever made the booking too, so always double-check the T&Cs if this might be a problem. If you don’t have a credit card some firms could force you to take their insurance because they don’t accept deposits on debit or prepaid cards.

If you rent cars several times a year, an annual excess insurance policy might be even cheaper.

DVLA code

You’ll need to request a DVLA code before you pick up your car. This lets the rental company see your driving history to check for things like points.

It’s best to do this a week or so before your booking so it’s ready, but the code is only valid for 21 days, so don’t get it too early.

To apply for your code you’ll need your Driving Licence number, National Insurance number and postcode.

Picking up your hire car and avoiding damage charges

When it comes to collecting your rental, there are a few things you should remember to help make sure things go smoothly.

Is the car the one you booked?

Make sure the car is what you booked – if it’s smaller than the one you booked or of lower quality, stand your ground. The rental company should give you the car you booked or a similar one. If they can’t do that, you should be compensated and refunded the difference, and should not have to pay for an upgrade if a suitable vehicle isn’t available.

Having a copy of the booking you made to hand can help to get your case across. If you’re not treated fairly though, make a complaint to the company.

Avoiding complaints over damage charges

This is the number one problem for people hiring cars. There are ways of reducing the risk of coming into problems with this though.

You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to look the car over inside and out thoroughly. Report any defect, even if it’s tiny, and make sure it gets noted on the pre-rental inspection form. This is the form that shows the condition of the vehicle – you’ll get a copy, so make sure you keep it safe.

When you first get your car it’s a good idea to take pictures or videos of the defects you see on the car as extra proof.

Paying with a credit card can also be a good last line of defence against disagreements with car damages. You’ll need to spend at least £100 to get the protection.

Don’t be pressured into buying insurance if you don’t want to

There have been reports of rental companies making people feel pressured into getting their excess insurance. You don’t need to buy it from the company.

If you feel really pressured, you should make a complaint to the rental company, taking note of the name of the sales adviser you were dealing with.

You might also want to think about whether you can walk away and hire a car from another provider.

If walking away isn’t an option, pay for the additional insurance (so you can get the car you booked), but write on the contract that you object to the payment and reserve the right to complain and ask for your money back.

Returning your car

This is where your hard work picking up the car can pay dividends because you have lots of proof of the condition of the car. This should help stop companies trying to lay the blame for damage with you.

It’s best to still check the car inside and out for any fresh damage. Regardless of the condition of the car, take photos or videos of the car’s condition. If you accidentally left a small scratch, for example, you don’t want to be overcharged for repairs. A rental company will find it a lot harder to charge you for over the top repairs if you can prove the damage was minimal.

Then, return the car with plenty of time to spare so you have time to try and sort out any disputes. It’s best to return the car clean to avoid unexpected cleaning charges.

Dealing with problems

Sometimes, you can take all the right precautions, but still have some unexpected charges.

First, you should get in touch with the rental company and ask them why they’ve taken charges. If the charges are for damages, ask for proof of the damages and a repair bill.

You should also supply evidence that shows why the charge is not correct.

If you still have issues, you can make a claim on Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, as long as you paid by credit card.

If you paid by debit card, you may be able to use the chargeback process to make a claim.

If you’ve repeatedly tried to get a resolution through the rental company with no success, you can also escalate your complaint through organisations whose job it is to deal with these kind of issues.

Go to the BVRLA Conciliation Service, run by the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), for car rental disputes within the UK.
If you’re a resident of the EU and renting in a different EU country, use the European Car Rental Conciliation Service, run by the BVRLA on behalf of Leaseurope.
You may also be able to go to the ABTA Alternative Dispute Resolution Service, run by ABTA Ltd, the Travel Association, because some booking agents belong to this service.

Alternatives to car hire

There are other ways of getting around instead of hiring a car that might save you money:

  • booking a taxi - you can use RideGuruopens in new window to try and get a rough idea of costs
  • using public transport - if you’re heading to a city for example, it may be easier to get around
  • hiring a bicycle
  • borrowing a car or car sharing

Comparing the cost of these alternatives to the cost of your rental will help you decide which is the best option for that situation.

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