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Common car hire traps: how to avoid surprise costs at the rental desk

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Brits collectively fork out millions of pounds more than they were expecting on car hire but there are ways to drive down the costs.

The competition watchdog has come down hard on car hire firms in recent years, ordering them to make pricing clearer for consumers who are often left surprised by extra costs heaped on at rental desks.

For those who are hiring a car for the summer holiday, either overseas or at home, here are 10 top tips to ensure you get a good price both before and after collecting the keys:

Book in advance

Paying to hire a car in advance will not only save you money but it could also mean there is a wider pool of cars to choose from. Research from TravelSuperMarket reveals you could end up paying double the price if you hire a car in the arrivals hall or at your hotel rather than booking in advance.

Bring your own sat nav

Consider taking your own sat nav and child seat to avoid paying extra for these. Research from found that extras can add £500 to the overall cost of car hire. If you do decide to get them from the hire firm, make sure you pay in the local currency rather than sterling as a poor exchange rate may be applied.

Check what you’re driving

Check the car for pre-existing damage and ensure the car rental firm marks anything down. Take photos when collecting and returning the car – and don’t delete them after the trip. This is especially worth doing if you return the car before the rental firm is open and you do a key drop. No-one wants to receive a bill for damage they haven’t caused.

Check the insurance provided

Check if you have to pay locally for insurance and breakdown services as the cheap price you first spot may not be all it seems. Be aware that prices sometimes state they include “full insurance” but there’s actually an excess – the portion of any insurance claim you must pay yourself – of anything up to £2,000.

Drive down the insurance excess/collision damage waiver

Most car rental firms impose an excess which can run into several hundred pounds. An excess is the amount you have to pay in the event of a claim, rather than the whole cost of repairing damage caused to the car hire itself. However, there are insurers which specialise in providing cover for the insurance excess (rather than getting it through the car hire company) which allows you to claim the money back if you’re charged. The good thing about arranging cover yourself is that your policy will usually cover parts of the car (such as windows, tyres, the underbody and roof) that are specifically excluded by car hire companies. And it’s much cheaper. TravelSuperMarket says drivers can be charged £20 extra a day for the cover while buying in advance can cost £20 for the week.

Watch those wheels

Damage to wheels, windscreens and undercarriage are usually excluded from standard insurance, as detailed above. If you damage the car and it’s not covered by the insurance, ask to see a breakdown of charges and a repair invoice, so you know you’re not being overcharged.

Check the fuel policy

Find out what the fuel policy is before booking. Do you need to return the car full or empty? A major issue for motorists is the ‘full to empty’ fuel policy where you pay upfront for a tank of petrol and return it empty. This may seem attractive but may mean you’re charged an inflated price for petrol you won’t actually use. Instead look for car hire firms that allow you to return it with the same amount of fuel you had at pick up or full-full, TravelSuperMarket advises.

Check the rules on mileage

Another one to watch out for is on the mileage you’re allowed to cover under the rental agreement. Make sure you stick within this limit or choose a car hire agreement with unlimited mileage to avoid large charges. For instance, Thrifty charges 15p per mile after offering an unlimited mileage in the first 28 days and Europcar’s T&Cs state excess mileage of 15p per mile applies to each mile driven over 90 miles per day on rentals of 28 days or more.

You may be asked for a code

When hiring a car abroad, the hire company may ask for a hire code from the DVLA to check whether you have any penalty points on your licence (this is in light of the paper counterpart of your licence being abolished in June 2015). You can get a code from the DVLA’s website where it’s valid for 21 days. You must remember to take your driving licence with you as the hire company won’t release the vehicle without this, regardless of the code.

Consider getting personal accident cover

Another thing to think about is whether you need personal accident cover. This should be available as an extra from the car rental firm but it’s usually cheaper to make sure you’re covered for driving a hire car by your travel insurance.

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