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How to hire a car

Carlton Boyce / 04 January 2016

The basic things you need to know about how to hire a car and some useful tips to avoid being ripped off or caught out by hidden charges.

Couple driving in the sunshine
If you want a convertible car to make the most of the holiday sun then you should book one!

Do you remember when hiring a car abroad meant struggling with a foreign language and an unfamiliar currency as you did battle with an unscrupulous salesperson who seemed determined to fleece you for as much money as possible in exchange for the smallest vehicle on their fleet?

Thankfully, those days are long gone. The internet has brought a wealth of car hire companies together, all fighting for your business before you even leave the comfort of your own home.

While some unscrupulous car hire companies do still exist, with some careful planning and a bit of forethought, hiring a car at home or abroad needn’t be a battle!

Read our tips for driving abroad.

Do your research

As the old military dictum puts it, time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. So do your research; Google is your friend here, and it’s worth identifying half-a-dozen potential car hire companies before deciding which company to book with.

The cheapest company is rarely going to provide the most comprehensive cover; some budget companies might leave you dangerously exposed in the event that things go wrong – or they might lure you in with a very cheap quote before trying to snare you with hidden extras when you collect your car from the desk.

Seven secrets the car rental companies would prefer you not to know.

Decide on what you need – and what you’d like

If you want a convertible car to make the most of the holiday sun then you should book one! But do you really need a seven-seater, four-wheel-drive SUV if there is just the two of you, or would a more compact car like a VW Golf do the job just as well?

It’s all too easy to get sucked into unnecessary upgrades when the increments are so small, but money saved here might be better spent on a couple of memorable meals while you’re away…

Is there an upper age limit for car hire?

Who is going to drive?

Some companies charge extra to add a second or third driver, so it makes sense to decide who is going to drive, and when. 

If the second driver is only there as a back-up and is reluctant to drive on the wrong side of the road anyway, it might be worth considering just having one named driver and pocketing the saving.

Or, you could book with Hertz as a Saga customer and add a second driver for free!

Seven tips for getting a better deal on car hire.

Decide who to book with

Booking your hire car through a third-party might look like a sensible move, but you need to clarify exactly who is responsible if things go wrong. The last thing you want is to be between the booking agent and the hire car company as they slog it out to decide who is going to sort out any problems you might have.

If in doubt, I recommend booking direct. It might cost you a little bit more, but isn’t it worth paying a few extra pounds for total peace of mind?

Get your driving licence code

The UK government has done away with the paper element of your driving licence, the very piece of paper that car hire companies used to check what vehicles you were entitled to drive and to see how many penalty points you had on your licence.

This means you must now get a special code or printout that enables them to go online to check directly with the DVLA. It’s a straightforward process, but you do need to do it before you leave home.

The resulting code is valid for 15 days, which means that you will need to find somewhere to go online to produce another one if you’re away from home for more than a fortnight.

Of course, you could always hang on to your paper driving licence. I have, and it’s tucked away with my passport, just in case…

What are the benefits of pre-booking car hire?

Understand what insurance you really need

You will need to take an insurance policy out to cover the hire car while it is in your care. That much is obvious. But do you understand what you’re paying for if the sales assistant tries to sell you Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). Or Supplemental Liability Protection, or Personal Accident Insurance, or even Personal Effects Cover?

It’s always worth checking what cover you already have on your home insurance policy, holiday travel insurance policy, or through your credit card.

Seven car hire rip-offs to avoid.

Read the small print

Always read the small print. The better companies will only have sensible, necessary clauses that are easy to find, read and understand. The shadier outfits will try and hide their small print making it impossible to predict exactly what you’re paying for – and, more importantly, what you aren’t.

Pay with a credit card

There are two very good reasons to pay for your car hire using your credit card. The first is because you automatically get extra protection (as long as the amount you pay is at least £100 of the total car hire bill) as the credit card company is then equally liable. So, if the company goes bust, or there is another dispute, you’ve got two outlets through which to resolve it.

The second is that there is a delay in the credit card being charged and you having to settle the bill. This gives you some breathing space in the event there are disputed charges.

Five reasons to book a hire car for your holiday.

Collecting the car

When you first collect your car, please make sure you check it for damage. 

If there is any, no matter how small, go back to the customer service desk and insist that it is recorded on the form. If you don’t, you might find yourself being charged for it when you return the car.

I always take a photograph of the damage too. If you do it with a Smartphone it will automatically record the time and date too, giving you an extra level of protection in the event of a later dispute.

Saga readers can get a 10% discount plus a free additional driver with Hertz.

Familiarise yourself

The chances are you’ve never driven this model of car before, so take 10 minutes to make sure you know how everything works. In particular, make sure you know how to turn on the lights and wipers – and tune the radio before you hit the road.

Driving while fumbling to retune to another station is going to lead to an accident, especially if you have to contend with being on the ‘wrong’ side of the road as well.

If you follow our tips on how to avoid being scammed you will be able to book with confidence, knowing that the only extras you’ll have to worry about will be whether or not to order a starter at dinner!

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.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.