Car rental abroad

Ten essentials to avoid being ripped off

1. Booking online and in advance can be cheaper. Choose a car which will fit all of your luggage as well as your travellers. Be prepared not to get exactly the model you ordered but don’t be fobbed off with something not of a similar quality/size. The rental firm may upgrade you – and shouldn’t charge you - if what you selected isn’t available.

2. Rental firms make a lot of money out of selling you extras, especially expensive insurance. Generally the car is covered should the worst happen, but you are usually liable for the first £1,000 or so of any claim, called the excess. At the desk, the rental firm will often try to sell you an overpriced policy to cover this – which you may find doesn’t cover tyres, windows, the interior or the wheels. Avoid the cost by buying a far cheaper and more comprehensive policy in the UK before you go. Providers include Questor*, Insurance4CarHire and Reduce My Excess.  

3. With or without its insurance, the rental firm is likely to demand credit card details for a hefty deposit. Make sure you’ve got a card which can stretch that far and is in the name of the lead driver. That person will also need a DVLA code (obtainable online and valid for 21 days) to give to the rental firm so their licence can be checked.

4. Some cost saving tips: (a) It may be cheaper to take your own child seat even if the airline charges you for it. (b) Adding other drivers bumps up costs so keep the number of those who can go behind the wheel limited. (c) There’s no need for expensive sat nav. The car may already have it and, in Europe at least, data roaming is now free in most countries on most networks so use Google Maps instead. Alternatively you could download other map apps before you go.

5. Beware another common ruse: petrol. Try to arrange a deal where you return the car with a full tank. You will pay much more if the rental firm does the refilling.

6. Before you drive off, check the car for existing damage, particularly to the underside. Ensure it is marked on a form or detailed in a log book and get the rental firm to sign it. Take photographs too, dated if possible. You might need a special (and usually cheap) app to do this on your phone.

7. Check that any legally required equipment (such as a hi-vis jacket, breathalyser or warning triangle) is in the car as you may be charged for its absence when you return.

8. Read the contract carefully and question anything you don’t understand then and there. You may have signed up for insurances you don’t need and it will be difficult to contest later.

9. When you return the car, stick around for the checks and keep a copy of the receipt for the petrol. Get the all-clear that there’s no damage or take more photos to prove you returned the car dent-free.

10. Brush up on the driving rules of your destination. Speed limits, permits, environmental certificates and crash protocols may all be different to UK: know before you go.


More stuff:

  • Go Compare has a beginners’ guide to car hire here
  • More information about getting a DVLA code here
  • An exhaustive guide to the car rental process is at Money Saving Expert.


Last updated 1 May 2018.