How to Save on Car Rental and Avoid Getting Ripped Off | Money

Renting a car can be fraught with financial pitfalls. Do it right and you should come out of the experience unscathed. If you get it wrong, the bill can run into the thousands.

Do not book direct

It’s tempting to automatically log into the Hertz or Europcar site to make your reservation – but third-party or broker sites almost always offer a cheaper price.

This week Holidayautos.com quoted £217 for a busy week in May from Malaga airport using Delpaso. This is compared to the wanted £335 Hertz.

Guardian Money recommends broker Zestcarrental.com – which scores well with Which? users – while Rentalcars and Ryanair Car Hire also offer access to offers from various companies and can be good value for money.

If there are two of you driving or you are not between the ages of 25 and 70, factor that into the price comparison as most companies charge more for additional and younger or older drivers.

If your flight is late at night, check that the rental company will still be open when you land.

Get the right options

Unless you really only do 100 km over the whole week, opt for unlimited mileage.

Go for a full-to-full fuel tender – it’s much easier and you won’t be landed with an unexpected refill charge at the end, assuming you send it back with a full tank.

Always pick up the car at the terminal rather than outside the airport. The latter is usually cheaper, but you could find yourself traveling for miles and it can take hours.

Avoid the cheapest two-door car; instead, go for four. It’ll only add a few pounds, but you’ll get a better value car.

If you need additional options, such as booster seats, take that into account when comparing prices. Zest offers free boosters on select rentals.

Do not just go for cheap

Holidayautos and Zest rate every supplier, and we would always pay a little more to hire a better rated supplier.

Our £217 quote to Málaga from Delpaso comes with some caveats. The company is not in terminal and is rated 5.2 by customers. For £251 you can hire from Firefly, which scores 7.2 and offers terminal pickup.

An added benefit comes when you arrive at the airport. Most people who choose the cheaper option often find themselves facing large queues at the office.

Paying that extra £20 can mean a quicker getaway – invaluable if you’re traveling with grumpy toddlers.

If your flight is late at night, check that the rental company will still be open when you land. Photograph: Stephen Barnes/Transportation/Alamy

Take out “additional” insurance

Over the years, Guardian Money has recommended that readers purchase additional insurance from a standalone provider.

When you rent a car, liability insurance is automatically included with some coverage of the car itself. Hires usually come with a £1,200 deductible: that is, you pay the first £1,200 of any damage you cause.

Car rental companies will offer you a ‘super collision free’ – in car rental jargon – which reduces this excess to zero, but will charge a hefty daily fee that adds up quickly. It is preferable to buy from a specialized insurer who sells independently.

Insurance4carhire.com was a long-time favorite – its annual European cover now costs £46.99 but its daily cover for short rentals is very expensive.

We prefer Reducemyexcess.co.uk, a cheaper alternative that is equally well-regarded. Buy annual European cover for £40.55 for the year or £18.50 for a week. You must purchase it before the start of the rental. Daily cover starts at £2.31 per day.

Buying this way is always cheaper than buying it from a car rental company, plus you get better insurance (e.g. tires and glass will be included).

If you damage or misfuel the car, or if it’s stolen, you pay the car hire company the agreed excess – usually the £1,200 – and then collect it back on this policy when you return your house.

Don’t forget to check that your license is still valid and if the rental company needs the numeric code showing endorsements.

Rent cars at an airport.
Rent cars at an airport. Photography: Tihana Bajic/Alamy

Ignore the sales model

Arrive at the rental car office and the excess insurance – or that “super collision insurance” – hard sell will begin immediately. Just say no to everything.

You don’t even have to tell the rental company that you’ve already purchased cover, just say you just want the car under the terms of the original policy – and you’ll pay for any damage you cause .

They will tell you towing charges are extra and the theft is not covered. Smile and ignore everything. If you’re offered a free upgrade to a larger car, let them know in writing that it’s free, or better yet, decline.

The company will authorize the car rental excess on your credit card, so you must have sufficient credit to do so – most card providers will allow you to increase your limit for a week or two, if necessary . It must be a credit card – not a debit or prepaid card – and usually in the renter’s name.

Check the car

The biggest mistake most people make is leaving without checking the car first. Don’t believe the rental staff when they claim there is no damage, as there almost always is.

Examine each panel, remembering to look under the bumpers. Note all possible scratches and blemishes on the vehicle condition report that forms part of the agreement.

Check the windshield for small cracks and the wheel hubs for scratches. Is the spare wheel there, has it been used, is it inflated?

Look carefully at the edges of the exterior mirrors and doors. Take photos of the car from all angles and any existing damage. You can also take a video at the pick-up location.

Above all, have the rental company representative sign the form – even if it means a long walk back to the terminal. If it is too dark to properly inspect the car during pick-up, note this on the form and inspect it the following morning, notifying the car rental company of any damage.

Photograph the report and email it to the rental company. If the car looks like it took part in the Paris-Dakar rally, check the oil and fluids.

Don’t let him down and run

When your trip is over, arrive at the drop-off location with some time to spare, a full fuel tank and a clean interior.

You might think a quick vacuum is all that’s needed, but you could be charged £45 or more if the car hire company has to do it. Beach sand should always be removed. Have the car inspected while you’re there, if possible, and validate.

car rental sign
When your trip is over, arrive at the drop-off location with some time to spare. Photography: IJzendoorn/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you return it when the rental office is closed, take photos and videos of the vehicle to ensure that damage does not add up later during its inspection. If you caused damage, complete the forms and keep copies as you will need them to claim it from the insurance.

Keep all documents safe for several months after you return home and monitor your credit card statements carefully to ensure no additional charges are incurred.

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