Renting a car to take on holiday, whether in the UK or abroad, can add a significant amount to your holiday bill.
But there are steps you can take to make sure you get the best deals and to avoid the headache associated with unforeseen costs.
TIP 1: Pre-book the car and pay in advance
Booking ahead of time will save you money especially during peak summer holiday season.
There are no last-minute bargains to be found at the airport, if you wait until then you will have fewer options, which allows the car hire firms to charge a premium.
Since the economic downturn, car hire companies have stopped increasing fleet numbers. This meant last-minute prices during last summer went up to £400 for a week's hire of a 'group A car', due to limited supply, which compares to just £150 for the same rental a couple of months previously.
Paying in advance will give you leverage to bargain when it comes to picking the car up.
If the car hire firm don’t have the model you've requested and the model offered is of a lower grade, ask for a refund for the difference in cost.
However, if the model offered is an upgrade insist on not paying the difference.
TIP 2: Petrol tank fill-ups
Think about how much petrol you are likely to use. Car hire firms follow three different policies: to provide the car with a full tank and expect it returned with a full tank, to provide it with a full tank and take it back empty, or to ask customers to pay for what is used.
Watch out for companies that insist on filling the tank and then charging their own inflated price for petrol, which can cost as much as 40% more than at the petrol pump.
Bear in mind too, that you might not use a complete tank of petrol so if you are expected to return it empty you will have lost money.
The company won’t offer a refund in this instance, so you could stand to lose out up to £40.
If you’re not given the option to fill the tank, don’t be afraid to question the company and if you have to return the car with a full tank make sure it is filled to the brim, otherwise the company might try to charge you ‘refuel’ costs, which could add up to £45.
Filling the car yourself means you will pay only the pump price and the car-hire firm can’t add costs.
TIP 3: Don’t get caught out by small print
When collecting your car read all the documents to check what is and isn’t included in the terms of insurance cover and what the excess is for damage.
The excess could be a considerable sum and the company might offer to sell you top-up insurance to reduce it to zero.
However, it could be cheaper to buy excess waiver insurance from an independent specialist company like icarhireinsurance.com.
It is always worth looking for alternative providers, but be sure to take a copy of your policy document with you when picking up the car as proof to the company that you have cover.
TIP 4: Watch out for additional charges
Pay close attention to what is included in the rental price. Some rental companies charge extra if you can’t return the car to the same branch, if you are leaving the country or if you are under or over a certain age.
Car hire companies can also charge excessive prices for hiring a child car seat. Check the terms and conditions of your contract if you are pre-booking one since there could be no guarantee it will provide one.
It could be easier to take your own child seat or buy an inflatable toddler seat that can be easily transported. Here Rachel Lacey shares her nightmare experience with car rental.
TIP 5: Inspect the car at pick-up and drop-off
When you pick the car up, take a good look at the paintwork, tires, windscreen and lights for any damage. Also get into the car and check all the controls work while you are still at the car hire company to make sure everything is in working order.
Report any faults to a member of staff or if the car park is unmanned call the customer service number.
Try and drop the car back to the hire firm when the car park is manned. If this isn’t possible, take plenty of photos paying particular attention to wheels, windscreens and lights.
These photos will be your proof should any damage occur between you dropping the car off and a member of staff checking it.
If the car hire company is a member of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association unresolved disputes can be referred to its conciliation service, details are available at bvrla.co.uk.
Alternatively, for disputes with European car companies, get in touch with the UK European Consumer Centre, run by the trading standards institute.