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The best and worst car hire firms revealed

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Car hire prices have doubled since 2019 in some holiday destinations. Auto Reisen, Cicar and Alamo come recommended by holidaymakers – but Goldcar was given the thumbs down.

A survey by Which? has revealed which car hire companies have come out on top and which were ranked as worst performers. It also compared car hire costs.

The consumer champion analysed data from broker Zest Car Rental and found that a week’s car hire in August will cost 77% more on average this year compared with 2019. While prices are marginally lower than last year, continuing high demand and depleted stocks mean prices have settled at levels above those seen before Covid.

Which? looked at figures for more than 8,000 rentals in nine holiday destinations including Italy, Greece and Spain. Three of the nine destinations have seen prices double, or more than double, with prices up 100% in Cyprus, 106% in the UK, and 126% in Italy. A week’s car rental in Italy in August has increased from an average of £209 in 2019 to £473 in 2023.

The most expensive country for car hire is the USA, where a week’s rental will set you back £546 on average, up 92% since 2019.

The best car hire firms

The consumer champion also carried out a survey of almost 2,700 Which? members, asking them to assess car hire firms and brokers based on a range of criteria, including clarity of extra charges, age, mileage and condition of the car, customer service and value for money.

It found that travellers to the Canary Islands are particularly well served, with the islands home to the only two car hire firms to be awarded Which? Recommended Provider status this year: Auto Reisen and Cicar.

Both achieved customer scores of 91% and were awarded five stars in categories including the clarity of extra charges, how easy it is to opt out of those extra charges, the clarity of the final hire cost, customer service, and how well the description matched reality.

Household names Alamo (72%), Enterprise (72%) and Hertz (71%) came in joint third and fifth places respectively.

Sister companies Alamo and Enterprise both received largely favourable reviews from respondents. Alamo was generally cheaper than Enterprise, with customers paying almost £100 less a week on average.

The worst car hire firm

Goldcar has been one of the Which? survey’s worst performers for years, and again found itself at the bottom of the table this year with a customer score of 54%.

Despite having some of the lowest prices available, with an average price per week of £245, the company scored just two stars for value for money. It also received two stars for the ease of opting out of optional extras, and for customer service, with multiple respondents commenting on pressure selling techniques used to encourage customers to purchase extra insurance at the rental desk.

A statement from Goldcar, said: “Pressure selling is not acceptable. With regard to insurance cover, we offer our premium cover to provide a seamless process should damage occur during a customer’s rental.

“A customer, of course, has the right to choose to buy their cover separately, however, if this is the case they will be charged for any damages that occur during the rental and will then need to claim the costs back from the chosen provider. This is explained to all customers at time of rental.”

The best car hire brokers

Which? also surveyed travellers’ experiences of using car hire brokers. Unlike comparison sites, which simply scrape prices to find the cheapest options, brokers negotiate their own deals, and often use smaller or local suppliers that travellers might not find elsewhere. They also offer tourists an added layer of protection, as they’re able to assist in the event of any issues with the supplier.

Zest Car Rental was the only broker to receive the Which? Recommended Provider badge. It achieved a score of 87%, and received full marks in four out of seven categories, including the clarity of extra charges, and customer service.

Auto Europe was also rated highly, with a customer score of 82%. At the bottom of the survey was DoYouSpain.com, with a score of just 55%.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Travellers this summer can expect to pay much higher prices for car hire than before the pandemic, with strong demand and a continuing shortage of vehicles pushing up costs. While there are deals out there, people should avoid the firms with the cheapest headline prices, because too often they will later be stung by hidden charges.

“Only use a reputable broker or hire firm, so you can ensure you’re getting the best possible service for your money. Paying in advance, if you can, often works out cheaper overall and helps secure your booking. We also recommend taking out third-party insurance before you travel, as in the past we’ve found hire companies selling inferior policies at the desk at vastly marked up prices.”

Why you may want to book car hire last minute

Another survey, this time by icarhireinsurance, earlier this week found it was often cheaper to book rental cars at the last minute rather than in advance.

The car hire excess insurance firm found that the average weekly car hire price for summer had fallen from £578 if booked in January to £518 if booked now.

Barcelona saw the biggest saving for last minute bookings. Back in January, it cost an average of £590 to book for the week in summer. But now, it comes in at £434 – a £154 (26%) saving.