Car Hire - pitfalls, do's, don'ts and booking
Car Rental - before you book:
Book in advance the general rule is the earlier you book the cheaper it is likely to be; you will also have a larger choice of vehicles.
If you've left it late watch out for 'on request'/'booking pending', which means your "booking" is only provisional. You may have to wait 48 hours, before availability and ability to proces your booking is confirmed (see section on Brokers, below).
Insurance: are Third Party Liability, Theft and Collision Damage Waiver included? Most countries outside the EU do not include any insurance. In the US you may need to buy Supplemental Liability Insurance and Collision Damage Waiver (CDW); normally sold at the car rental counter ($20 to $30 a day).
Better Insurance: standard policies can be basic. There may be an excess of up to £4000/$6000; and you may be under/un-insured for travel to other countries/states. Consider taking out a better policy, or one to cover the excess (SCDW).
Documentation - identify what documentation is required to collect the car. You may need other proofs of address/ID in addition to your driving licence.
Fuel - full tank on pick-up: some companies make you pay for a full tank on commencement of journey. If you are not going to use a full tank then it may be cheaper to book elsewhere.
Mileage: most agreements allow unlimited mileage; but some do not, and make high charges for "additional" mileage. Estimate your mileage, and if appropriate choose an agreement with unlimited mileage.
Additional Drivers: most companies charge an additional fee for extra drivers. The online booking form should provide information on this.
Child Booster Seats for under 5's are mandatory in many countries; and in some, for older children, or those under a certain height and weight. Hire companies will make a daily charge for these seats.
Age: the minimum legal age hiring a car is typically 21; but most companies will only rent to over 23's or over 25's. At the time of writing, Hertz will hire to over 19's in parts of Europe. Those over 65/70 may also have problems renting a car.
Terms and Conditions: obtain, read, save/print, keep.
FAQs: read the comparison/broker/car hire websites' FAQs - they may help you identify some of the issues below and provide other useful information.
Collecting the car:
Don't be hurried, read everything before signing e.g. extras declined may have "slipped" back into the agreement; and that extra offered at reception may not seem so cheap when you see the price is per day.
Inspect the car inside and out and ensure ANY damage, scratches, marks, or breakages are recorded on the vehicle-condition report. Ask to view the car somewhere well lit so you can inspect it properly. Take time-stamped photos/video of any scratches etc.
Fuel: If the car is supposed to be delivered with a full tank of fuel, ensure the gauge indicates full.
Breakdown: Ensure the rental company provides an emergency number and advises you of procedures to follow if the car breaks down. A 2007 AA survey found that 30% of Mediterranean hire companies failed to provide a telephone number, and half did not provide a car manual.
Mandatory Emergency Equipment: Make sure the car has all items required by the law of the country you are driving in. If not, ask the rental firm to provide them. The above AA survey found that only 40% of multinationals and 21% of local companies equipped their cars to fully meet legal requirements. Requirements for some countries can be found on this AA page.
Returning your car. Car Hire Problems and Scams.
Fuel - full tank on drop-off: many companies require you to return the car with a full tank of petrol, and charge you a fortune for refueling if you don't.
Take photos and record the mileage on return.
Attend the inspection and ask for a copy of the final report. If nobody inspects the car, write on both copies: "Staff declined to inspect vehicle".
Keep paperwork and receipts (even for top up oil you purchased!) so you can dispute charges later. Some people report extra credit card charges months after the hire.
Skip the background take me straight to the Booking and Price Comparison links.
You can book direct via the car-hire company/agent, via a price comparison engine, or through a broker.
Brokers / "booking engines"
Examples include Carhire3000 and ArgusCarhire. The majority of customers may get a good deal. I was going to suggest a particular booking engine here (it is used by some major travel websites); however, further investigation identified customer dissatisfaction and problems. See this archived lawpundit blog for a good explanation. n.b. the major airline mentioned in the link appears to no longer use the car hire engine mentioned.
A "broker" introduces an extra layer to the booking process where things can go wrong. Your initial contract is with the "broker" not the car rental agent. You may think you have a firm booking, but the "broker" may negotiate with the rental agent after your booking so the car may not be available, at the quoted price, or at all. The rental company has no obligation to you if it never received your booking or the booking does not include what you expected. It can turn you away or offer you a car at whatever price it likes.
are companies such as Avis, Budget, Dollar and Hertz. When you book a car through an agent you may still be one step away from the company providing the car. The Avis badged hire company you use may be a franchisee of Avis. However, the franchisee normally has to abide to certain standards otherwise it is in danger of having the franchise withdrawn, so there should be slightly less risk of problems than booking through a broker.
Price Comparison Sites:
My understanding of a comparison site is one that compares prices of agents and brokers; and provides a link to the company providing the deal you want - so you can book directly with them.
With one exception all the "comparison" sites I have found are brokers, or involve completing a booking form on their website and agreeing with their T&Cs i.e. entering into a contract with them (extract from one T&Cs "Offers shall not be binding, in particular with reference to price, delivery time and further specifications of the Car Rental Contract.") - sounds like a broker.
This leaves CarRentals as my clear choice for car rentals. It searches 50 companies including agents such as Hertz & Budget as well as "brokers" such as Ebookers for best prices according to your specification and dates.
Click the offer you like and you are taken directly to the booking part of your chosen companies own website to book. Your contract is with your chosen company, your booking confirmation is from them, and all correspondence is between you and the company.
If you want to exclude brokers select one of the agents i.e. the big car hire brands you know, from the search listing. Of course you could still have problems, but at least you will be able to deal directly with the agent and there will be no additional third party involvement to complicate matters.
Edit 18 Feb 2011. (UK residents only) Another comparison site with click throughs to car rental sites: Travelsupermarket - it "only" searches 20 companies, but some of these are different to those covered by CarRentals.
Where to book?
96.1% user recommendation at ReviewCentre.Com (checked 29 June 2012).
Genuine price comparison of 50 car hire agents & brokers including Hertz, EasyCar, Economy Car Hire and Budget.
We believe Carrentals provides you with a brilliant service, and have chosen to affiliate with (advertise) them.
Travelsupermarket: (UK residents only) searches 20 companies but some of these are different to those covered by CarRentals.
Avis.com and Avis.co.uk are not included in the above CarRentals search. If you are hiring for a holiday abroad in the UK/US check both sites as one may be cheaper than the other; but ensure you compare like with like e.g. insurance included, amount of CDW etc. You will have to pay in dollars at Avis.com and pounds at Avis.co.uk.
Brokers (see our comments above):
Note: the above comparison sites search major well known brokers. Others:
carrentalbookers.com (we haven't gathered any information on this link yet)
Record Rent a Car car rental broker for Spain
Car Hire Insurance Excess Protection, as suggested by TimesOnline (UK residents only):
Please let us know if you have any suggestions for reputable car rental agents not covered by CarRentals price comparison.
Hiring in Spain?
We think you should be made aware of an interesting article in the Money Section of the British Newspaper Saturday Guardian 19 Feb 2011.
Its headline was "Surprise car hire charges drive holidaymakers to despair. Customers of Spanish firm Goldcar have found huge amounts taken from their credit cards after flying home."
Good and Bad Car Hire Companies
If you are aware of any press articles commenting on car hire companies (good or bad) then please let us know and we may mention them above.
Please ensure you provide full details of the media publication including date and a means to check out the article e.g. page number of newspaper and headline, or a web address. Please note: We are unable to publish complaints by individuals as we do not have the medias resources to verify claims made.