Renting a car whilst on holiday can mean the freedom to plan your days with trips out and provide the convenience to visit the local supermarkets at ease without depending on hotel run tours or expensive taxis. However, it can also be a source of great stress and concern before, during and after what should be the most relaxing time of your year.
If you’re on a tight budget then no doubt you’ll want to shop around for the cheapest deal, but beware. Put most budget car rental companies into Google and you’ll be flooded with hundreds of dreadful reviews about invented damage, extra charges, unauthorised payments, long queues and poor quality cars. I rented a car on a recent holiday to Majorca and my naivety in doing so caused me a great deal of stress and worry, brought on by my fear that the same thing that had happened to the hundreds of disgruntled review writers would happen to me too.
Below are my tips to help you rent a car on your holiday with the peace of mind that you aren’t going to get fleeced:
1) Decide whether you really need a car.
Whilst renting a car can be a good option, there are lots of other modes of transport available to you. If you don’t think you’ll actually be using the car that much is it really going to be cost effective or worth the hassle to hire one? Try to find out how much a local taxi would cost you and compare that with the cost of a rental (remember to factor in the fuel, insurance, car seats etc). Try looking at
HolidayTaxis.com to find airport transfer options. Generally these will be cheaper than booking a rental but obviously that’s just to the airport and back and any trips during the holiday will cost you extra.
2) Book Direct with the Rental company.
I used a broker website to make my booking and it caused a few issues. Firstly, with some brokers you don’t know who your booking will be with – I booked through Economycars.co.uk and ended up with ‘OK rent a car’. Search for reviews of them and you wont be short of some pretty disturbing reading material. Needless to say I contacted Economy cars and asked what else they had to offer.
Secondly, I booked the ‘enhanced insurance’ for an extra £70 through the broker as I wanted the peace of mind that I’d be fully covered for every eventuality, only to be told when picking up my car that that insurance wouldn’t cover me and that to purchase their own ‘enhanced insurance’ would cost me another 100 Euros. Why Economycars offer this insurance when the firm they work with wont honour it God only knows. I didn’t purchase the extra insurance as I didn’t want to pay twice but then stressed all week about whether any tiny scratch would cost me dear.
Additionally, if you purchase the brokers insurance and not direct with the rental company you are still likely to have to cough up for the excess if you do cause any damage and then claim it back from the brokers insurance. Not necessarily an issue but for a time you’ll be out of pocket and then you have the hassle of having to submit your claim. If you have the rental companies insurance you shouldn’t have to pay anything further.
If you want to find a cheap deal, I would suggest using a comparison or broker website to see which companies provide what you want for less and then visit their own websites directly. Or, if you do book through the broker, just pay for the rental and wait to purchase the extra insurance when picking up the car. At least then you will know that the insurance you are buying will cover you.
3) Pay for the extra insurance:
This is just my recommendation – if you don’t want to fork out for it then don’t. In my case not having it caused me to worry about using the car all week and wishing I hadn’t bothered renting it at all. Check the terms of the insurance cover you for any scratches to the bodywork as often that is where they will try to charge you if it doesn’t. If bodywork is not covered make sure you check the car for any damage (preferably with an attendant) and take photos of it. Make sure all damage is recorded on the paperwork – your copy and theirs! Make sure you are with the attendant when they check the car over on its return.
4) Do read the reviews, but don’t let them put you off too much.
Ultimately, if you research any budget rental company you’ll find mostly poor reviews. It’s quite rare that someone will go out of their way to put a good review of a car rental company on the internet so try not to be totally put off. A lot of the reviews regard extra charges and in particular paying up front for a full tank of fuel, and at a marked up cost too. Whilst this is annoying, if you are prepared for it it’s not so much of a shock. A lot of the rental companies in European holiday destinations employ this tactic, seemingly to squeeze more money out of their customers. To be fair it is less hassle than driving around trying to find a petrol station when you are anxious just to return the car in time to catch your flight home. So if you know you’re going to be using most of the tank it can be beneficial. Some companies offer a full/full policy on fuel although you may have to pay for this privilege and some refund the remaining fuel in the tank. As an example, ‘Goldstar’ charged me 116Euros (£92) for a full tank of diesel. I returned it with half a tank left for which they refunded me £30. Now that’s not quite half of 92 but I was so shocked to even get anything back I decided to let that go! I assume they employed some kind of ‘refilling charge’.
Another tactic some companies employ, is upgrading you to a bigger car (bigger fuel tank therefore higher fuel charges) or a diesel car (extra daily charge). If this happens to you then you can try to decline the “helpful” upgrade – Unfortunately if they tell you there’s no other option then there’s probably not much you can really do – short of demanding to see the manager and threatening to walk away its quite possible their attitude will be one of ambivalence so it may just be easier to factor it into the amount you are going to have to pay when renting the car – its not likely to cost you much more than £10-20 so you may feel that its just not worth the aggravation.
5) Prepare for a long wait if travelling at peak times.
Whether based in the airport or a shuttle bus away it’s likely that if you book through a budget car rental firm you’ll be either waiting for a shuttle bus or waiting in a queue at the terminal. If you do find yourself at the back of a long queue, keep an eye out for a second desk. At Majorca airport I was at the back of a long queue at the Goldstar desk when my eagle eyed wife noticed the desk had two sides – we swapped sides to the desk in the arrivals hall and I joined a queue just two people deep – from the 20 or so in the queue I had just left. For info, some of the more expensive firms had much shorter, if not non existent queues.
6) If you can afford a bit more, go to a more reputable company
If you can afford to go for a more reputable company then its worth it to avoid a lot of the aforementioned problems. Factoring in all the extra charges, it might not turn out that much more expensive.
7) If your son tells you his stomach is hurting whilst driving along a windy mountain road – pull over when you can and get him some air!
This one I learned from personal experience! It might just save you a charge for an internal clean.