How to secure the best car hire deals

Handy advice to ensure you don't pay over the odds when abroad

Ever miss the convenience of your own car when you’re away on holiday?

There are all sorts of reasons why hiring a car abroad makes sense. Maybe you are fed up of those expensive packaged tours and want to do a bit of exploring on your own. Maybe you have a family in tow and would rather be in charge of your own transportation rather than face the hassle of airport transfers or public transportation.

Or maybe you are just one of those wander-happy people who finds it impossible to resist the lure of the open road, who hates to be chained to one single hotel in one samey resort, and longs for the freedom to drift wherever the tarmac takes you.

Whatever your reason for wanting your own wheels, it is worth giving some thought to car hire before you set off. Compared to flights and accommodation, hiring a car tends to fall down the list of priorities when planning a holiday. But with the potential for hidden charges to rack up and, if you’re not careful, getting ripped off with an old banger by the occasional unscrupulous hiring firm, it’s better to be prepared.

Car hire can seem expensive, but if you know where to look, there are some fantastic deals to be had. Here is a rundown of how to sniff out the very best car hire deals to help accelerate your way to holiday happiness.

Book in advance

Unlike booking things like flights, you will not get last minute bargains when it comes to hiring a car – remember, you are bound to a fixed location, so you don’t have much choice but hire what is available. Car hire prices rise steadily the closer to pick up date you get, and if you leave hiring a car until you land, you will end up paying considerably over the odds. The simple message is, book as far in advance as possible.

Shop around

If you’re looking to compare prices, we particularly like Holiday Autos – not only do they partner with the likes of Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Europcar and alike, they also offer Quidco cashback. Quidco also works with the above brands to offer cashback directly…it’s definitely worth doing your research as there are savings to be had.

Use local knowledge

The problem with comparison websites and brokers is that they do not offer comprehensive coverage of every car hire company available, simply because many companies choose not to pay the commissions these sites ask for. So while shopping around on comparison sites is useful, you cannot always assume you are getting the best deal available. This is especially true when it comes to smaller, local firms who can often undercut the bigger names, but do not have the resources to get their names out there. If you are visiting friends or relatives abroad, ask them for a recommendation. Otherwise, use the likes of Trip Advisor’s forums to search or ask for recommendations from other holiday makers – as broker listings are not allowed, you can be confident of getting some very honest answers!

Size doesn’t always matter…

Although the size of vehicle you hire will obviously have to have a minimum number of seats to carry everyone in your party, don’t always assume that the smallest possible represents the best value for money. For example, if you are a family of five looking to hire a car, you might be surprised that searching for five seaters only could be doing you out of a better deal. Prices are determined by demand – five seaters are by far and away the most popular size vehicle to hire, so sometimes you can get a much better deal on something bigger.

…but age does!

Just as car insurance premiums are heavily affected by the age of the driver, so is the cost of car hire. The short of it is, youth is penalised – if you are under 25 and want to hire a car abroad, you are going to pay through the nose for it. If you have a mixed age party, let the oldies do the driving – even adding an under 25 as a second driver will hike the rate up to eye watering levels.

Check the small print

Yes, yes, no one ever does – but when you hire a car, it really is worth breaking the habit of a lifetime before you buy. Car hire quotations are notorious for including all sorts of hidden costs that could potentially lead to you paying way more than you were expecting. The big one to look out for is fuel. Firms will offer to supply a car with a full tank, and let you return it empty, as long as you pay up front. The problem is, many will be adding upwards of 20 per cent onto the price of a full tank – and this won’t be included in the initial quotation. Look for a deal where you can fill the tank yourself and return it full.

Insist on the car you reserved

A common scam of the more unscrupulous car hire firms is, when you arrive to collect your vehicle, to tell you that the one you booked is unfortunately not available, so they have found you a replacement instead. What they don’t tell you is the new car is considerably more expensive – and they intend to charge you full whack. All you need to know is, if you have booked a certain car at a certain price, you have entered into a contract with the company. They are therefore obliged to supply you with that vehicle, or at the very least offer an alternative at the same price.

Get your own insurance

By law, all hired cars have to be insured by the hire company to be able to go on the road. The problem is, the excess is usually set so high that you have got virtually no chance of getting a pay out in the event of accidental damage, injury or theft – and the liability falls on the person who hired the car. Car hire firms will offer additional insurance, but these are usually expensive. You will get much better deals if you take out your own insurance from the likes of Insurance4carhire – who also offer cashback!

So there you have it – overall, the key to getting a great deal on your holiday car hire is to think ahead and give yourself plenty of time to search out the best deals. Use a combination of comparison and broker sites and recommendations from people you know or those found on travel forums to find the best possible prices. But don’t just judge a book by its cover – if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check out all the terms and conditions, and make sure you know exactly what you are liable to pay for.

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Paul Newham

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