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How to avoid being ripped off when hiring a car on holiday

Conor Pope’s guide to the dos and don’ts of renting a car at home or abroad

The first thing you should do is book early, but we fear that if you have yet to organise a car for a holiday on the horizon, that ship has sailed. At least now you can ask yourself if you really need to spend hundreds of euro on a car which might spend days parked outside your accommodation.

Could you use public transport and taxis instead? Apps make ordering cabs anywhere in Europe pretty painless, and even if you are spending €30 a day on them, it would still work out much cheaper than car hire, while wikivoyage.com can tell you what you need to know about you destination’s transport options.

If a car’s a must, maybe you could book it for half the time you’re away and use it for the big shop, the sightseeing and the rest. In doing so, you might also be able to avoid the airport pickup surcharge which can add as much as 30 per cent to the cost.

Always pay attention to the T&Cs, and not just the bottom line. Work out how much extras – booster seats, additional drivers and the like – will cost, and Google the car hire companies you are considering to see how they rate when it comes to customer service. Two minutes research could save you endless heartache if it allows you to avoid a company with an appalling record.

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Walk away from full-to-empty fuel policies. Car hire companies typically charge way more for fuel than garages, and you won’t use all the fuel you pay for. Full to full is the way to go – and don’t fill at the last fuel station before the airport. They’re not mugs and you’ll pay a premium for not being more organised.

When collecting your car you’ll be asked if you want extra insurance. It might suit some people but super collision damage waiver insurance is dear – up to €30 a day. Instead, take out an annual policy at home that offers full cover with an Irish insurance company. Make sure you have enough capacity on your credit card to stand a hefty deposit.

Ask about breakdown procedures and put the emergency number into your phone. Check the clutch by putting the car into fourth gear and depressing and slowly, releasing the clutch while stepping on the accelerator. If it releases fully without the vehicle stalling, there is a problem. Make sure it doesn’t become your problem by asking for a different car.

Return the car when the rental company is open and have it inspected carefully. If you do have to return the car outside working hours, take pictures and video of the car when it has been parked in the designated area. Mail the pictures to yourself. And remember to keep an eye on your credit card to ensure that no sneaky charges are added in the days and weeks after you get home.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor