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A Guide to Car Rental

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What You Need to Know

  1. In many countries you’ll need a international driving permit in order to drive.
  2. If you’re driving abroad be sure to thoroughly research the rules of the road.
  3. You can save money on collision damage waivers by insuring against excess payments with a third party provider.
  4. If you’ll need to leave a deposit, make sure you have sufficient funds on your credit card when you arrive.
  5. Try and avoid ‘return empty’ policies, as they’ll bump up your costs up considerably.
  6. Be sure to note down all existing damage on the rental agreement and get an employee to sign it before you leave.
  7. Booking in advance can lead to big savings, but be sure to check the cancellation policy in case your plans change.
  8. If given the choice you should opt to pay in the local currency, as it will usually work out cheaper.

Sometimes when you’re planning a trip, whether it’s for business or pleasure, you’ll need the freedom of having a vehicle of your own in order to meet the demands of your itinerary. Here we run you through the ins and outs of car rental, providing all the information you need to avoid any unnecessary hassle or expense.


Obviously, if you are hiring in the UK you’ll be fine as long as you’ve got a valid license (though it must be applicable to the type of vehicle you’re renting). Your UK license will also be recognised throughout the European Union. However, in many other countries, including the United States, you’ll need to get an International Driving Permit, which you can purchase form the Post Office, the AA or the RAC, before you travel.

It should go without saying that you need to make sure you take time to learn the rules of the road in the country you’ll be visiting to avoid getting into trouble. Don’t take anything for granted, as some regulations may take you by surprise. As well as obvious considerations such as speed limits and which side of the road you should use, you need to look into issues such as whether your satellite navigation system is legal and what items you are required to have with you in the car when driving.

If you are planning on taking the vehicle into a different country than the on it was hired in, you will need the permission of the rental agency and may need additional documentation. For example, to take a car rented in the UK into Europe you’d need a Vehicle on Hire Agreement.

On picking up the vehicle, as well as presenting your license, you may need to provide additional identification, such as a passport or a utility bill. Once you’ve picked up the car and the paperwork is handed over, be sure to hold onto it until a while after your trip is over in case of disputes (more on this down the article.)

Consider the Excess

In order to make meaningful comparisons between the value offered by different car rental firms it’s important to consider the excess that you’d be expected to pay if you were to have the misfortune to be involved in an accident.

In many cases these excesses can be quite considerable and there is a very good chance you will not want to run the risk of being liable to pay them. If you want to negate, or at least bring down the excess for damage or theft, the rental company will offer you top up insurance for a one off payment, normally in the form of a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). This can work out to £10-£20 a day or more to cover against an excess of up to around £2,000. It’s possible that you won’t find about this extra cost until you are picking up your vehicle, so be sure to make enquiries before booking.

You should be also be sure to press for information regarding exclusions, as there can be some surprising caveats limiting your cover. You don’t want to pay a hefty premium only to be stung with repair costs regardless.

It is possible to cover yourself against excess costs with insurance pre-bought from a third party insurer, and in some cases this may be both cheaper and more comprehensive. That said, the big names in car hire do often have online offers that make can make them as cheap as an independent broker, without the hassle of involving an extra company in your arrangements.

Bear in mind that if you do choose to save money by going with a third party, the staff at the front desk may attempt to sell you insurance anyway. They may even go as far as to imply, or state explicitly that your insurance isn’t valid. If you’ve already got a policy, don’t give in to this pressure.


If you are going to go without the rental firms insurance (as would be the case if you buy cover from an alternate provider), you will need to leave a holding deposit. This will usually be between £300 and £500. This will be pre-approved on your card in preparation for the eventuality that you’ll need to pay it. This means you need to have the funds available when you arrive to pick up the car. Otherwise, you may have to end up having to take the expensive CDW anyway.

After you hire is over, be sure to check your bank statements to ensure any monies owed have been returned and that you haven’t been unexpectedly charged for anything. Whilst disputes with foreign car hire agencies can be hard to resolve remember that, if you pay by card and the transaction is for more than £100, then under section 75 of the consumer credit act, the card provider is equally liable for ensuring you aren’t being hit with phoney charges. (It may actually be the case that you have to pay with a credit card, as many hire companies don’t accept debit cards.)

Return Empty Policies

In recent years some car hire companies have adopted a policy of providing the car with a full tank of petrol and asking that it be returned to them empty. This gives them license to charge you for a tank of petrol and, unfortunately, it’ll usually be a premium rate. You will not be refunded for any petrol in the car when you return it so, if your rental is short term, this ploy could double your costs.

You will get better value by going for a rental firm that supply a full tank and request the car is returned with a full tank. This way you know you are only going to pay for as much fuel as you use and you have the freedom to look for the station providing the most competitive price. Most of the industry’s bigger names will not operate ‘return empty’ policy. Hertz car rental, for instance, have no such clause in their agreements.


You may find that you are offered a car hire ‘deal’ from a partner company that you have bought something else from, for example the airline your flights are with. Generally, you’ll be able to get better value by simply going to the firm of your choice direct or using a specialist broker.


Be sure to check if there are any mileage limits as part of the conditions of your arrangement. If you’re going for an extensive road trip, it may be better to avoid any such caps. If there is a limit, be sure to keep an eye on the distances you clock up and endeavour to understand how you’ll be charged if you do go over.

Note Down All Existing Damage

Make sure you thoroughly document the condition in which you receive the car, including any minor bumps and scratches, as you’ll want to ensure they can’t be pinned on you. Write down everything you find, mark it down on the rental agreement and get it signed by an employee at the desk to guarantee against any possible disputes.

Be On Time When Returning

When returning the vehicle arrive with plenty of time to spare. This will help you avoid penalty charges. To speed things up, bring the car back clean enough to be inspected. Ideally, you want to be present when the vehicle is looked over so you can confirm that there is no damage.

Other Extras

You can often save money by bringing items such as a satellite navigation system or a kid’s chair with you rather than renting them as extras, even if you have to pay excess baggage charges on your flight.

Book In Advance

It pays to get in early when it comes to car hire, getting in early can save you a bundle. Make it one of the first things you arrange when you start making travel plans. Of course, you don’t have a crystal ball and you if book six months in the future, you are leaving yourself open to the possibility that things will change before the date of your hire comes around. Be sure you are familiar with the cancellation policy of the company you’re dealing with.

Extra Drivers

If more than one person is going to drive the car make sure this is part of the arrangement from the start as it will be more expensive to add an additional driver at the point of pick up.

Pay Using the Local Currency

When paying for car hire abroad, at some point you may be given the opportunity of making a payment in pounds or the local currency. If you go for your own currency then the seller has the chance to set their own conversion rate (known as dynamic currency conversion), which will not usually be favourable.

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