Holiday car hire: 10 ways to avoid being ripped off
The secret to saving money on car hire is to buy the basic package only. Car hire firms make all their profits by selling you the add-ons, which are usually absurdly expensive. In particular, ignore pressure to buy their collision damage waiver (CDW) or "super" CDW insurance, which will cover the "excess", usually £500-£1,000, not covered by the basic insurance. Instead, arrange your own cover independently – see step three.
Use online agents such as holidayautos.co.uk, argushire.com, auto-europe.co.uk to check hire prices first, but also look on the sites of the major players, such as Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar and Sixt. They often have special offers making them just as cheap as the brokers, and booking direct has its benefits if there are problems later.
Keep to on-airport operators – not only are they more convenient, but "cheap" off-airport deals can be a false economy when the car turns out to be a dud. Hire deals organised by airlines such as Ryanair's link with Hertz are rarely better value than using a broker or going to the hire firm direct.
2. Bring your own satnav and child car seats
We tested the cost of hiring a satnav for a week in Italy with Hertz and were asked for €97 (£78.50) for one week. In Spain, Europcar wanted £77.
This is a waste of money. You can buy a new satnav that covers both the UK and Europe for around £50-£60.
Child seats are more tricky. Hertz wanted £78.50 while Europcar asked for £74, and £60 for a booster seat. But if you are flying with a charter airline such as Monarch, it is free to take a child seat with you. Booster seats cost as little as £8 to buy in the UK, indicating just how overpriced the car hire deals are.
If you are flying on a low-cost airline such as Ryanair, check the additional baggage cost when booking. Ryanair charges £10 each way for a child car seat, so even with this extra cost it can still make sense to bring it along.
3. Save £100 by buying excess insurance
When you rent a car, the price generally includes insurance cover for a major crash, write-off, etc, but leaves you with the bill for the first £500 to £1,000. If there are any small scratches or scrapes, adding up to, say, £500 worth of damage, it means you have to pay it in full. So the car hire firms try to persuade you into buying super CDW insurance to cover this first £500-£1,000. But they charge as much as £150 for a week, compared to the £33 cost of buying it independently.
Insurance4carhire.com is an independent insurance company that will sell you an annual excess policy for Europe for £49, or £4.75 per day for shorter rentals.
Unlike the car hire firm's own policies, its policies cover damage to windows, tyres, undercarriage and the roof, and the rest of the car up to £2,000 per single claim. If you damage the car, you pay the car hire firm the agreed excess and then reclaim.
Readers who have claimed say customer service and claims handling is quick and excellent.
icarhireinsurance.comis another firm in this area. Its annual European policy is £40 a year, but is not quite as comprehensive.
4. Ignore the sales patter at the collection desk
This is where you need to be strong. Don't be persuaded to buy insurance you have already paid for (above). When you fill out the rental agreement, the local agent will try to sell you their super CDW that reduces the excess to zero. They will tell you that your insurance isn't valid (it is) and they will try to sell you windscreen wheel, tyre, and undercarriage insurance (if you bought from the likes of Insurance4carhire, you will also have this).
Assuming you have a policy, don't fall for it. We get lots of complaints about this, and the car hire firm is under no obligation to refund you because you bought two policies – nor is the agent you hired the car from. If you paid twice, it's your mistake.
When you refuse the extra cover, the rental firm will "pre-authorise" a sum to cover the excess on your credit card – typically £600 or so in the local currency. This is normal and allows the firm to charge your card the excess if you do have a crash. They will also charge you for the fuel if appropriate.
You will need enough available credit on your card to handle both.
5. Check the fuel policy, the mileage and other extras
Before you hand over your credit card details, look
up the company's fuel policy. If you are driving a long way, does your rental limit the mileage in any way? If you are under 25, is there a surcharge?
A growing number of firms (for Spanish rentals in particular) now insist on a full-to-empty fuel policy on rentals of more than three or four days. You pay for a full tank of fuel and then bring it back empty, which is fine in theory, but if you aren't using the car much you'll end up paying for three-quarters of a tank of fuel you didn't use.
Renters on the small Spanish islands report it being impossible to use a full tank of fuel. Even the big firms now adopt this policy. The only way round it in Spain for those on a week's holiday is to go for a series of short rentals. Elsewhere, such as Italy, it is less prevalent, but starting to appear.
6. Note all damage, and video or photograph the car
This is the key moment. Before you leave, go round the car and look foranydamage and mark even minor scratches on the rental agreement. Don't leave anything off. Same for the interior. Check the spare wheel is there, inflated and undamaged. Check the car is full of fuel if it supposed to be, and record the mileage, if it's restricted.
Once you have marked all the damage on the sheet, get someone at the rental desk to sign it – even if it is a long walk or drive back to the desk. If you don't there is nothing to stop the firm arguing that you caused the damage at the end the rental.
Once signed for, there can be no dispute. Take a video or digital pictures of the car (especially any pre-existing damage) as extra proof.
7. Photo the car on return and keep the paperwork
Assuming you have done no damage, and have filled it up (if required), park it up and then take digital photos of each panel of the car, the wheels, the mileometer, and other shots.
Hand the keys back to the person at the desk. If late at night post them through the letter box. Be wary if approached by someone in the car park claiming to work for the car firm. One reader faced a lengthy battle after his car was stolen in this way.
Lastly, keep hold of the paperwork. Don't throw it away, thinking the rental is over – it's not.
8. Keep an eye on your credit card statement
Check your credit card statement a few days later to make sure promised fuel payments and excess charges are returned and keep an eye out in later statements that no extra payments have mysteriously materialised.
9. Fight any additional charges
If you have wisely bought excess protection, simply claim from the firm in question. If the claim is spurious, pass this on to them and let them sort it out. If you bought the car hire firm's policy (why?) and the claimed damage is not covered – it rarely is – then it is time to go into battle.
Send a copy of the photos you took, and talk to the company. Some, particularly those in Spain, will ignore you. Take it up with the agent you made the booking through. They may help. If the hire firm has a UK presence, contact the offices here.
Ask for evidence of repairs that were supposedly carried out.
If you don't get anywhere and know you are innocent, raise the dispute with your credit card provider. The card firm may again try to ignore it, but they are in the UK, and will be easier to tackle. It will then be up to the car hire firm to prove its claim is valid.
10. So which car hire company do you go with?
Shop around, of course, but one firm that we get relatively few complaints about is Holiday Autos. It has the advantage of offering a one-stop shop in that you can buy its basic rental – it also offers Insurance4carhire's excess insurance in the same booking – albeit branded as its own total damage excess waiver.
Just remember you've already paid and don't pay again at the rental desk. The downside to using Holiday Autos is that to ring it you must pay 10p a minute. It charges to add an additional driver – €23 for a week's rental in Spain – compared to Europcar's £60. Holiday Autos' baby seat charges aren't excessive either. It is part of lastminute.com, so you have a big parent company to complain to if things go wrong.
Category: Auto Insurance