Save money on car hire by following our tips on booking, collecting and returning a rental car – it can make a big difference between cheap car hire and a pricey ride.
Don’t forget that while some car rental firms may have lower headline prices there may be extras to pay and they may not perform well in our assessment of best rated car hire companies.
Booking your car hire
Try car hire brokers
Using a car hire broker can make price comparison easier as you can look at different firms on one site. However, each price will not necessarily include all the same things, so check before booking.
Some brokers also get special deals with suppliers, but be aware that brokers have different levels of control over what their suppliers sell you and you may find yourself being offered extras when you thought you had paid for everything.
Check out the top rated car hire brokers.
Know the insurance options
Make sure you understand what is included in the insurance that the car hire company is offering you. If it has high excess charges and you don’t want to take out their top-up super collision damage waiver policy you may be better off taking out a separate policy for the extra cover.
If you’re only using the hire car for a short time, a daily excess insurance policy will be cheapest, but if you hire a car for longer, or more than once a year, an annual policy could be best.
Do check that the policy covers you for all areas of the car, including its tyres and windscreen.
Our researchers sift through pages of reader feedback to find the real issues affecting holidays, flights and car hire to help you avoid the rip-offs. Find out more about Which? Travel
Check the fuel policy
Picking up the car with a full or half-full tank is generally the most economical option, but some companies ask you to pay for a full tank and return it empty, with no refunds for unused fuel. We frequently hear complaints from people who feel they have been ripped off by this policy and suggest you avoid it.
Book your hire car early
Online and early booking discounts are plentiful, so if possible book up to three months in advance. You should also see which car hire companies were rated top by Which? members.
Check age restrictions
Many car hire companies will charge a premium for renting to drivers aged under 21, and certain higher performance vehicles will be restricted to those over 25 years old.
Some may not rent to people over 70 years old and some may charge an extra fee for the youngest and oldest drivers.
Sat nav and GPS devices can be useful but at £70 to £80 for a week’s hire they are not good value. It does not cost much more to buy one, and you could get a sat nav app for your phone for less. Check out our Best Buy sat navs.
Mileage limits and one way fees
Check what fees are included as some firms apply one way charges if you drop off your hire car at a different location to where you collect it. Most rentals have unlimited mileage but some do apply a limit, so double check.
Collecting your hire car
You may be offered an upgrade to a bigger car. This is fine as long you are not asked to pay more. Generally the offer will be made because the size of car you booked is no longer available.
This is the car hire company’s problem not yours – they have a legal obligation to give you what you paid for. If they don’t they are in breach of contract. So if they give you a bigger car it has to be at the same price.
If you get a smaller car than the one you paid for, you should get a refund for the difference.
You will almost always be asked to take out extra excess waiver policies. If you know you are covered for everything you want, resist the hard sell. We have had reports of customers who have bought third party insurance being told it is not valid. If you know you are covered stand your ground and don’t buy something you don’t need.
Before you drive away make sure any damage on the car is recorded on the paperwork the company has given you and take your own digital photos of the car.
Point out any damage that is not recorded and make sure you get an employee’s signature agreeing to the record.
Returning your hire car
Make sure an employee checks the car for new damage with you and get a signed receipt saying there was nothing extra to pay.
If you have to return the car with the same amount of fuel as when you picked it up, make sure you do or the car hire company will refill it and charge you above market rates. You won’t know how much until you get the bill.
If you find any unexpected charges are taken from your card, ask for an explanation and supporting documents from the company. If you are not happy with the explanation tell the company the money has been taken ‘under protest’ and inform your card company about the dispute.
If you paid by credit card you could make a claim against the card provider under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If you paid by debit card you can ask your card company to use the chargeback system to reverse the payment and give you your money back.