Every industry has its dirty little secrets: restaurant food that’s almost past its ‘use by’ date will often end up as the ‘Special of the Day’; the water glasses in your hotel room may well have been wiped clean using the same cloth that’s just been used on the toilet; and the free MOT you’ve just booked will almost always lead to an inflated repair bill when your car fails.
Car hire companies are just the same; here are the seven things they don’t want you to know.
Seven car hire scams to avoid
1. Booking on a weekend can be cheaper
A lot of people book a hire period to start on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning – and a lot of people never turn up to collect them.
This leaves cars sitting in the car park over the weekend that aren’t generating any income, leaving plenty of bargains to be had for the canny motorist prepared to spend a few minutes phoning around to see what deals can be struck!
2. There are discounts available
We’re British. That means we don’t like to haggle, something the guys and gals at the rental desk rely on.
So, while you might not feel comfortable asking for a cash discount (although that’s always worth trying!), why not ask for a free upgrade instead?
They can only say no but if it’s done with good humour and a cheeky grin, you’ll be amazed at how often it works.
Is there an upper age limit on hiring a car?
3. Insurance is incredibly profitable for car hire companies
Car rental companies generally make more from selling insurance cover than they do from actually hiring the cars – and the employees are paid accordingly, giving them a huge incentive to scare you into buying unnecessary cover.
So be savvy, and arm yourself with details of the insurance cover you already have through your travel insurance policy, home cover, or through your credit card or bank account.
Don’t automatically tick every box on the rental agreement and never make an insurance decision at the counter…
4. There are great deals on older cars
While the car rental companies might try to direct you towards a brand new car, do you really need one? Many car hire firms also cater for the budget-conscious market, offering older cars for hire at huge savings.
If I was crossing the ‘States, I’d want a new car, of course, but for zipping around a city for a couple of days an older car would suit me just as well.
Is it better to pre-book your car hire?
5. Ignoring the airport can get you a better deal
Airport franchises are expensive. Very, very expensive, which means if you venture further afield there might be bargains to be had, even from the big names.
Most airports have very good public transport (not to mention more taxis than you can shake a stick at) and a 10-minute ride might take you to a car rental company that is significantly cheaper than the ones at the airport.
Of course, it’s a trade between value and convenience but at least knowing there are other options lets you decide where you want to sit on that line.
6. You don't always need to hire a car
Most cities have better public transport than they do roads, so be sure you actually need a car before going to the expense and inconvenience of hiring one.
Don't get ripped-off when hiring a car. Read our tips...
7. Don’t be afraid to complain
I am not suggesting for a moment that you make up a spurious complaint but if something has gone wrong, no matter how small, tell someone. If the person on the sales desk doesn’t resolve it to your complete satisfaction, ask to speak to a manager.
Most large firms will go to extraordinary lengths to resolve a customer complaint, but they can only do that if they know about it.
If you don’t get satisfaction at the time, persevere; consider leaving a balanced but accurate review on Trip Advisor or use social media to raise your concerns. The consumer has far more power now than at any time in history, so use it to make sure you are getting exactly what you’ve paid for.
Alternatively, you could use the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA)'s government-approved Conciliation Service to get your complaint resolved; this is for transactions in the UK, but there’s a similar organisation called the ECRCS which deals with cross-border disputes in Europe.
Special offer for Saga readers: Our exclusive deal with Hertz includes a free additional driver (and a 10% discount).
For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles.
Get your quote for Saga Travel Insurance today – and don’t forget to add your Hire Car Excess Waiver Insurance too.