If you thought you faced one scam after another when trying to book cheap flights then prepare yourself because the car rental market is far more unscrupulous. At least all the airlines have the decency to publicise their extra charges before you complete your booking. Let’s begin by looking at the options available to you for finding the best car hire deal online.
Car Hire Brokers
Car hire brokers DO NOT OWN any cars but act as intermediaries between the car hire company and the holidaymaker. They earn a living from commissions they get from the car hire companies for finding them customers. There are literally hundreds of car hire brokers online so it’s a good idea to refer to a price comparison website to find the best deals.
Price Comparison Websites
Rather than searching through countless car hire websites you can now visit a single price comparison specialist and they’ll save you hours by doing all the searching for you. All you need to do is input your destination and travel dates then click the search button. Their search technology then ‘scrapes’ search results from a large number of car hire websites and returns the best rates for you.
Start your search for cheap car hire by looking at Discover Cars which provides results from numerous suppliers in many destinations.
Car Hire Companies
Car hire companies OWN their own cars which they rent out to holidaymakers from their offices at airports and in popular holiday resorts. They include household names such as:
- Sixt – http://www.sixt.co.uk
- Avis – http://www.avis.co.uk
- Alamo – http://www.alamo.co.uk
- Budget – http://www.budget.co.uk
- Europcar – http://www.europcar.co.uk
- Hertz – http://www.hertz.co.uk
By all means check their individual websites for quotes but more often than not you’ll find that you can rent their cars cheaper through the broker websites.
When you arrive at your overseas airport you’ll often see people standing in the arrivals hall holding a card showing their cars for rent. These are independent local operators many of whom have their own websites that you’re unlikely to come across as search results are dominated by the well known names. To find out if there are any local car hire companies that are highly rated by visitors go to Tripadvisor.co.uk. In the search box at the top enter your holiday destination then hit the search button. Now in the left hand column you should see a link to “Travel Forums”. This is a great place to find out what others are saying about your destination. You can also sign-up for an account then ask a question in the forum and you’ll often get an answer from the local destination expert.
Completing Payment for your Rental Car
Once you’ve found the best possible deal you’ll be required to complete the online booking of your car hire in one of two ways:
(1) Payment is made in full in Pounds at the time of booking.
(2) You only pay a small deposit at the online checkout in return for a car rental voucher. This voucher tells you which car hire company you’ll be collecting your car from at your destination and it must be presented in order to collect your car on arrival.
It’s usually a good idea to pay in full at the time of booking because you are then protected against extra charges added on to your bill before you can collect your car.
Beware of Extra Charges
Once you arrive in your destination you’ll head to the office of the car hire company where you’ll have to deal with the paperwork formalities to collect your car. The charges you can expect to pay include any outstanding balance, a fuel charge and maybe a small top-up insurance to cover things like tyres, windscreens and the underside of vehicle (things not covered by the Collision Damage Waiver).
This is where you need to have done your homework before committing to a particular car hire quote as a few of the more unscrupulous operators will attempt to add on additional fees before handing over the keys. Here are some of the main extra charges to look out for:
Extra Insurance and Insurance Excess
When you get your car hire quote it usually includes at least a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) which covers damage to the vehicle in the event of an accident. It will also include an “excess” which is the amount you’d have to pay before the insurance policy covers any damage to the car. This “excess” is typically around £500. On arrival you will be asked if you want to take out an additional insurance to provide more comprehensive cover in the event of your car being damaged or stolen. If you take out this additional policy it gives you fully comprehensive insurance and reduces your “excess” to zero.
You can reduce the cost of extra insurance by taking out a separate ‘excess insurance policy’ before you travel and refuse to take out the car hire company’s policy when you arrive. This specialist type of insurance covers the policy holder rather than the rental vehicle. If your car is damaged or stolen whilst you’re abroad you’ll pay the excess to the car hire company with your credit card then reclaim this expense when you get home from your ‘excess insurance policy’. If you rent abroad for more than a week a year this could well be worth looking at. Companies offering such policies include:
- Insurance4carhire – http://www.insurance4carhire.com
- iCarhireinsurance – http://www.iCarhireinsurance.com
- Reducemyexcess – http://www.reducemyexcess.co.uk
A very handy website is Moneymaxim.co.uk where you can compare such insurance excess providers to find you the best deal.
The fuel policy operated by car hire companies varies according to the supplier and is probably the biggest complaint amongst holidaymakers. For the rental companies it has become a significant source of additional revenue. The most common fuel policy nowadays seems to be that you collect the car with a full tank and return it empty. This usually means being charged more for the full tank of petrol than could physically fit in the tank at current petrol prices. Then when you return it you often find that you can’t use the full tank so they can effectively sell the same petrol twice!
Some companies will provide you with a half full tank and tell you to bring it back empty but the best option if you can find it is to collect your car with a full tank of petrol then return it full. This way you know you’re paying the market price for your petrol and not being subjected to the profiteering of the car hire company.
The most common additional charges that might be added on are for an additional driver, for the mileage you cover, for child seats and for one-way rentals. You should check carefully when you get your original quote to see whether these are included or not.
Car rental quotes should include VAT so you should not see this added to your total on arrival. Again you need to check when booking so that this doesn’t become another added cost. Any airport taxes and surcharges should also be included.
Exchange Rate Adjustments
Some companies will provide you with a quote in Euros then charge you in Pounds when you come to make the final payment. The exchange rate used tends to be below the market rate and some will add insult to injury by adding on what they call an “exchange rate mark-up”. In other words they choose to convert Euros to Pounds on your behalf at a non-competitive exchange rate then charge you for the privilege! It’s much better to get a quote in Pounds and pay in Pounds before leaving the UK. If you must settle the balance whilst abroad and have the option of paying in Euros or Pounds always choose Euros otherwise the car hire company will do the exchange rate conversion for you at a worse rate than your bank will.
Deferred Credit Card Charges
Many holidaymakers have had quite a shock when they’ve returned home only to find that the car hire company has added extra charges to their credit card bill. When they query these charges they are usually told that it is because of damage to the car. To avoid the likelihood of this scenario be sure to check the car very carefully on arrival and make sure that any marks are reported before you drive away. On returning it some people take photos of the car to prove that it is in the same condition as when they collected it.
If you do run into such a problem and cannot resolve the dispute with the car hire company you should contact your credit card company as they are obliged to accept liability in such circumstances provided the rental cost was over £100. Details of such liability are set out in section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
Other Money Saving Tips
- Flight, Hotel, Car Hire Combos
Some of the big online travel agents will offer special deals on car hire when you book it in conjunction with a hotel and/or a flight.
- Sign-up for Newsletters
The majority of car hire brokers and car hire companies issue regular newsletters announcing upcoming special offers. It’s not a bad idea to get yourself a separate email address specifically for newsletters. This way it doesn’t interfere with your personal mail.
- Cashback Websites
There are numerous websites online that earn a commission when sales go through their site. They then pass this commission on to the customer. Two of the UK’s main cashback sites are Quidco and Topcashback. Take a look to see if they’ve got any special offers from car rental companies.
Do you Really Need to Rent a Car?
Quite simply the biggest way to save on car rental is to not rent at all. If you can cope with the inconvenience of public transport it’s well worth looking at what alternative transport options are available from the airport to your final destination.
If you must rent, especially for your summer holidays, it’s usually a good idea to book as early as possible as rates tend to rise significantly as the peak summer months approach. This has been particularly true during the last few summers as cashflow crises at car hire companies has reduced the availability of rental vehicles at peak times.