Hiring a car on holidays? Here’s how to avoid getting ripped off
The car hire game can be fraught – don’t get caught out by unscrupulous practices
‘If you must return the hire car outside working hours or are in a mad dash to make your flight, take pictures of the car when it has been parked in the designated area.’ Photograph: iStock
Hiring a car can be very handy and can enhance your enjoyment of your holidays. But it is also fraught with danger, with potential rip-offs around every corner. As the summer season starts, we thought we’d offer some dos and don’t to get you through the summer unscathed.
Do book ahead
When it comes to saving on your holiday car needs, your journey starts before you even leave home. If you are parking at the airport book your spot online and in advance. The daily rate for advance bookers in the short-term car park in Dublin Airport is just over €30. It is €40 for those who leave it late. The price differentials in the long-term car park are not as substantial but they still exist.
Don’t do it automatically
Asking yourself if a hire car is necessary for you to have the best holiday? Or are you just hiring out of habit? And will the car just sit idle outside your tent while you spend your days splashing about in a campsite pool? Depending on where you are going, car hire can easily add about €500 to the cost. But could you spend that cash more wisely if you picked a destination where car hire was unnecessary, somewhere you could rely on taxis and public transport?
Do your research
Spend five minutes before you leave home researching the public transport options in your destination. Learning how to use public transport in other countries is fun and allows you to be smug when meeting folk at top tourist spots who have got there on overpriced open-top buses. Go to wikivoyage.com and you will find out virtually everything you need to know about the transport options in your destination city. It has never been easier.
Don’t forget taxis
Ordering taxis across Europe has never been easier, either. The MyTaxi app – which has replaced Hailo in Ireland – works in many EU countries and removes the need for you to make contact with taxi dispatches in France, Italy or Spain.
Do shop around more
You can just google “car rental Spain”, but you are better off visiting the sites that make it their business to look for the best deals, such as skyscanner.ie. It searches dozens of car-hire companies as well as brokers and travel agents and allows you to filter the search results based on fuel policy, air conditioning, transmission, pick-up, car size and a lot more. Small brokers can cost less. Check out the big players’ websites too – they frequently have deals that can’t be topped – and it is handy to have an agreement with a big player should something go wrong.
Don’t forget to check and check again
Once you have found yourself a good car and sorted out the paperwork, you need to check the car inside and out for any damage. And then check it again. Make sure to mark everything on the rental agreement, and you will have to get a staff member to sign it. It is a hassle, but if you spot some damage and choose to ignore it, there is little you will be able to do to stop the car-hire company blaming you for the damage after the fact and taking the money from your credit card.
Do check the clutch, too
How do you do this? Put your rental car in fourth gear, depress the clutch and slowly let it out while stepping on the accelerator. If it releases fully without stalling, there may be a problem. Make sure it’s not your problem by asking for a different car.
Don’t be a mug when it comes to fuel
Putting petrol in a diesel car or vice versa will do untold damage to an engine, and no amount of insurance is likely to cover you for that. And remember companies that make you pay for a full tank of petrol and return the car empty are chancers. Not only will they charge you twice the price of petrol at garages nearby, you will almost never get to use the fuel you pay. Returning a car with an empty fuel tank is impossible. If you can fit 60l of diesel into a car you might get as much as 900km on a single tank. So if you only plan to drive to a campsite an hour from the airport and then to and from a supermarket a few times, you are effectively going to give the car-hire company half a tank of fuel for nothing. What you want is a company that offers a full-to-full policy: that way you only pay for what you use.
Do keep an eye on upgrade charges
Some car hire firms will try and sneak upgrade charges on to the paperwork if they can’t provide you with the car you have paid for. To make sure this does not happen, read all the documentation put in front of you in the airport before signing anything. This can be challenging if you have screaming children hanging out in the sweltering heat, but it is worth attempting.
Do not take out super collision damage waiver insurance when you are picking it up. It’s almost always spectacularly bad value for money. Typically the cost of car rental includes insurance cover for major incidents but consumers have to pick up the tab for minor ones. Depending on the car-hire company and the contract in place, a holidaymaker could be liable to pay the first €500 of damage done to a car or as much as €2,000. But excess insurance can cost almost €30 per day which, in some instances, can be more than the actual car hire. Instead of buying super collision damage waiver insurance in an airport, take out an annual policy at home that offers full cover with an Irish insurance company. Blue Insurance and the AA offer cover on to their policies at a fraction of the cost it would cost overseas.
Find out who you need to call if your car lets you down by breaking down. Put that number into your phone. It is much easier to get all these details when you are in the airport than at on a deserted roadside in the wilderness of Andalusia.
Don’t forget the rules of the road
We’re not talking about the rules of the road at home, obviously, but wherever you find yourself. What side of the road do they drive on? Which side of the motorway is the fast lane? What is the speed limit? What are the most common road traffic signs? That kind of thing. Oh and work out how your hire car works before you leave the airport. The time to establish how you switch from manual to automatic transmission is not when you are stuck in second gear on a motorway.
Do fill up
The time to think about this is not when you are pulling in to the airport but before you set off for it. Google Maps will tell you where the fuel stations are on your route.
Don’t return the car late
Make sure the car hire company is open and make sure you have the car inspected by an employee who looks competent, and make sure to get the fact that the car is being returned in good working order in writing and signed by a rep from the company.
Do record everything
If you must return the car outside working hours or are in a mad dash to make your flight, take pictures of the car when it has been parked in the designated area and use your phone to record a 90-second video. Mail the pictures and the footage to yourself.
Don’t take your eye off your statements
Car-hire companies have an annoying tendency to add charges to your credit card weeks – even months – after you get home, so you will need to be vigilant to make sure fuel payments and excess charges and the like are returned.