Car Rental: Tips Everyone Should Know

Hiring a car is a common occurrence, from added holiday flexibility to booking a special vehicle for a once in a lifetime occasion. However, for many of us unfortunate enough to fall foul of small print or an unexpected accident, it can often be a very stressful experience and leave us well out of pocket. Here are some quick tips to help avoid some of the more common issues that can arise and cost you extra money.

Don’t leave it until the last minute to book!

While these days many people book holidays and events at the very last possible second, often to secure a great deal or superb discount, car rentals don’t usually follow this pattern – in fact this is one of the big “no no” things when renting a vehicle. Where possible, make sure you book your car or van as far as possible in advance, as this will usually give you the best price. Also make sure that any extras you need, for example a satnav system or additional drivers, are also arranged at the earliest opportunity.

Rental firms are under no obligation to offer you a discount should you turn up on the day wanting to rent a car; moreover, booking in advance should make sure you get both the size and style of car you need. There’s little point being forced to pay for a 7 seat people carrier or flashy sports car, the only options available, when you really needed a small family vehicle. I fell foul of this once when hiring from an airport outlet – not only was I charged a hefty sum for booking on the day, I ended up with the last car available, something not really suitable for my needs.

Make sure you get the car back on time

If you return the vehicle after the designated drop off time, you’re likely to be faced with a penalty – often as much as a full day’s additional rental cost. This can be enforced even if you’re 5 minutes late! Make sure you know the correct return time and aim to get there half an hour earlier just in case of an unexpected delay. Check local radio traffic news or online to make sure there are no accidents on your planned route.

If there is a problem, for example a road closure or accident, and you may be delayed then get in touch with the company as soon as possible and explain. While this may not necessarily guarantee you a grace period or avoid any penalty, many companies will be sympathetic.

It may sound strange but it’s also not a great idea to return a car too early! For example, you may have hired a car for a week but your plans change and you decide to take it back after 3 days. The company is under no strict obligation to refund you if you have signed a contract, and this might even cancel out any special deal you got for the period you originally booked for. In this case it’d actually be better to leave the car parked up safely until the previously-arranged return date. Of course there could be a change in circumstances meaning you have no option but to return the car, so contact the company and explain your reasons rather than just dropping the car with them out of the blue.

Inspect the car properly

Many customers return vehicles after a rental period only to be told there is damage to the bodywork, paintwork or interior, which will require extra payment. If you haven’t thoroughly inspected the vehicle prior to taking it off their premises, you are opening yourself up to this. Most companies offer a “walk round” before you drive away, allowing you – and them – to see the car’s condition and note any dents, scratches or marks that may already be present. These are recorded on your documentation and will be checked when you return the car.

If there is significant damage when you receive the vehicle – or any interior fabric tears for example – we’d recommend taking your own photographs on your mobile phone or camera; these will bear a time stamp so in the case of a dispute you will have evidence to back up your case. Don’t sign the paperwork until you’re satisfied that everything you have spotted has been documented.

Should there be any damage incurred while you’re in possession of the vehicle, then you’ll almost certainly face costs unless you took out an extra policy or paid a premium to cover you up to a certain limit; if you’re hiring the car for a long period, it’s probably worth doing this, even if it means you pay a little extra up front. Of course, the best way to avoid nasty charges is to drive safely and not have any incidents! There’s an article here we found that can help with that .

Damage waivers and policies

If you do wish to pay a little more up front for a better damage waiver, then we recommend doing so; the extra 50 pounds may save you hundreds if you aren’t covered for the unexpected bump or break-in. Note that the rental company will also consider damage to tyres and interior scuffing as damage in just the same way as bodywork, so make sure you look after the vehicle inside and out. One really silly way to incur charges is to take it back full of rubbish or with spillages or food stains inside – you’ll be charged to have the car valeted and cleaned. Don’t consistently drive the vehicle onto kerbs and mark the tyres. Just use a little common sense in your driving habits.

Don’t break the law!

One of the ways rental drivers often face an unexpected bill is by incurring a speeding fine or by parking illegally. If a fine is passed on to the rental company after you’ve returned the car, not only will you be liable to refund the company, they will almost certainly add an administration charge on top of the fine, leaving you further out of pocket. Just because you’re driving someone else’s vehicle doesn’t mean you are less liable for driving penalties.

There are many other ways in which car rental companies may try and charge you extra, from breakdown cover to hire of car seats. With some careful planning, following the tips here, and by applying some common sense, you can ensure that your rental is a pleasurable experience and doesn’t leave you angry and out of pocket at the end!