There are times when hiring a car makes a lot of sense. You may be going to a wedding and don’t want to roll up in the battered van you use for work, or you may be going on holiday and fancy exploring the area around your destination.
Whatever the reason, before you find the ideal vehicle for you, it’s a good idea to think about the logistics, costs and process of hiring a car.
Firstly, check if you actually can hire a car. Are you old enough? Do you have points on your driving licence that may affect the company’s decision? Have you ever been disqualified? How long have you held a full licence?
In most countries, the minimum age for hiring a car is 21, and you must have held your licence for at least one year. Some companies add further restrictions to this caveat, by associating age with the ability to hire a specific size or type of car. So, at 21, you could hire mini or compact vehicle, but you won’t get your hands on the steering wheel of a premium or luxury car until you reach 25.
Young male drivers are particularly susceptible to receiving endorsements. Something as ‘everyday’ as 3 points for speeding shouldn’t affect the ability to hire a car, however, if the offence is more serious, such as failing to stop after an accident, you could have trouble finding a hire company happy to loan you a vehicle. The same goes for two or more periods of disqualification.
The Rules of the Road
Once you have established you are able to hire a car, start thinking about how you are going to use it. If you plan on using it in your own country, you should already know the rules of the road. If you are travelling in another country, you should go out of your way to find out all you can about driving there.
For example, French authorities hide speed cameras in unmarked police cars and are keen to reduce speeding in the country. According to this website, you will most likely find a speed camera in a Renault Mégane or Peugeot 206 (with very clean windows). And you will only notice it when it’s too late.
The biggest points to consider are speed limits, appropriate insurance cover and the legality of your car. If you hire a car in Spain, it will be road-legal for that country. But if you hire a car from the UK and drive to Spain, you might find the lack of the required warning triangle and reflective jacket a bit of an issue, especially if a situation arises where you need them.
The AA has an excellent (European) country-by-country guide, check it out here.
If you’re a foreigner driving in the US, you may need an international driving permit. While is it not a legal requirement, the US government recommend obtaining one before travelling.
Establish the Cost of Hiring a Car
The best way to research the cost of hiring a car is to get online and do some digging. Before you make your booking, think about your specific requirements.
Here’s a few questions you might like to ask yourself:
- How many miles will I cover?
- How much legroom do I need?
- Will my luggage fit in the boot?
- Do I need a baby seat?
- Do I need a Sat-Nav?
- Would hiring a diesel car be more cost-effective?
- How much is the insurance excess?
- Do I need a roof-rack?
- Are there any surcharges or penalties?
Answering yes to a lot of these questions will significantly increase the cost of hiring a car.
If everything is within your budget, you’re good to go. But don’t forget to thoroughly work out the costs and penalties for each aspect of your hire. For example, is there a mileage surcharge if you do more than 1,000 miles, and what happens if you lose or damage the hired Sat-Nav (you might be charged £300 or more!).
In the UK, we don’t have many toll roads. In Europe and the US, however, the situation is quite different – they are much more commonplace than you might think. Clocking up miles may also be mean clocking up toll fees. Do your research before you travel and budget for the cost of tolls.
Don’t Leave the Booking Until the Last Minute
If a car is essential to your trip, don’t wait until the last minute to book it. When you make a booking online, you will be sent all the appropriate paperwork by email. Go through it with a fine-toothed comb and check all the details are correct, especially the pick-up and drop-off dates and times. If you notice any errors, contact the hire company straight away and have them fixed.
Collecting the Hire Car
Usually, when you pick up a hire car, somebody from the company will inspect the vehicle with you and make a note of any damage such as dents and scratches. Make sure you pay careful attention at this time and point out anything that may cause a problem when you return the car. You really don’t want to pay for damage caused by somebody else just because you missed it during the inspection.
If you’ve asked for additional equipment such as a baby seat or roof-rack, it should come with the car, and you could hardly leave without it!
Picking up a hire car can often take longer than anticipated. Allow yourself plenty of time for paperwork, problems and getting yourself and your party organised and into the vehicle.
Most companies provide a list of phone numbers for emergencies and to contact them.
Allow yourself time to get used to the car. Especially if you’re driving on the opposite side of the road. It’s hard to not feel stressed and under pressure when you merge from an airport in a hire car. It’s a normal feeling, but you will soon get used to the roads, and once you hit the motorway, it gets a lot easier as you only have to drive forward and make decisions about which exit to take!
Returning the Hire Car
Make sure you return it on time, to the place specified in the rental agreement and in the same condition as when you picked it up. Failure to do these things could end up costing you more money.
Allow more time than you think to make the return journey – you could get lost, caught up in a traffic jam or even break-down. These things can and will happen. And always fill up the car before you reach the drop-off point as fuel there will cost you more.