How to steer clear of rip-offs when hiring a rental car, as prices rise in 2023


Renting a car means negotiating a bumpy road. 

Hidden fees, insurance excesses, hour-long waits at desks — not to mention price hikes this year.

So what’s the issue? Car rental companies sold off vehicles during the pandemic and there is now a global shortage.  

Inflation and a weak pound don’t help, either. So here’s our handy guide to the dos and don’ts of car rentals and how to get the best deals.

WHEN TO BOOK

Here’s our handy guide to the dos and don’ts of car rentals, including the best times to book 

Renting a car today from Madrid Airport on February 25 for seven days with Avis costs as little as £112.20, while booking the same car for September comes to around £351 and for next February it’s £415. It’s a similar trend for other rental companies including Enterprise, Sixt and Hertz when comparing prices in spring and autumn.

However, booking late comes with risks, with fewer cars available, especially larger ones. And prices are always higher during school holidays and peak season, so if you’re travelling at those times, book early, ideally three to six months in advance.

Prices paid for at the desk rather than online are always higher. For example, Avis charges around an extra 10 pc, Enterprise does the same, Hertz approximately 15 pc.

WHO TO BOOK WITH

According to Which? (which.co.uk), Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz and Avis top the list of international rental brands. Sixt comes in second-last and budget brand Goldcar is bottom of the league.

Brands were rated on clarity of extra charges, final hire cost, description matching reality, and value for money.

GoldCar scored two out of five stars on value for money, despite it having seven days’ rental from March 17-24 from Mallorca airport for £45.66. The same dates with Enterprise are £123.92 and with Avis, generally the most expensive brand, £155.84.

The cheapest prices can mean long queues at the desk, as everyone has had the same idea. But there are ways around this. Many rental companies have loyalty schemes, which require a free sign-up and offer benefits such as queue skips and reduced prices. The Avis quick pass (filling in details online) also saves queues.

Third-party booking websites, such as Zest Car Rental, are useful to see how prices vary.

Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz (above) and Avis top the list of international rental brands, according to Which?

Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz (above) and Avis top the list of international rental brands, according to Which?

LOCATION, LOCATION

It may seem mad to decide where to go on holiday based on how costly it is to rent a car. But it helps to know where to avoid.

According to a survey by Zest Car Rental, the U.S. is the most expensive destination for UK travellers to rent a car for a week, coming in at an average of £537.

Cheapest are Cyprus, Portugal and Greece, even though average prices for seven days’ rental have almost doubled since 2019.

Auto Reisen and Cicar operate only on the Canary Islands. Seven days’ rental with Auto Reisen over Easter (April 4-11) is still £169.27 from Tenerife South Airport.

DREADED EXTRAS

It may seem mad to decide where to go on holiday based on how costly it is to rent a car. But it helps to know where to avoid. 

Frequently cited as the worst firm for slapping on extra charges is Goldcar, which customer reviews website Trustpilot (trustpilot.com) has given a 2.6 rating (out of five) based on 39,907 reviews.

Two common issues are having to pay for extra insurance and huge deposits not being fully returned. It is reported that the company tries to charge for pre-existing damage as well as exceeding mileage, which is usually unlimited. Customer service is often uncontactable.

Avoiding extra charges generally means avoiding cheap rental prices that seem too good to be true.

It’s wise to take the basic, free insurance with a rental company and then shop around. For example, Europcar charges an extra £117.73 for its medium insurance package and £190.87 for its premium service. This is based on a car rental from Pisa Airport from April 4 to April 12.

Third party insurance with Chew Insurance would cost £52.53 at most for 31 days, and includes such extras as personal accident coverage, vehicle rental cancellation, lost keys, misfuelling, getting locked out of the vehicle and theft of the car.

Another tip is never to pay extra for a sat-nav, as many modern cars have them already and apps such as Google Maps and Waze are free with a smartphone.

Avis charges £76.62 and Sixt £73.85 (for rental from Amsterdam May 1-8). Always top up with fuel before returning a vehicle.



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