Renting a vehicle is a staple element of the popular fly drive holiday, but unscrupulous practices by car hire companies are leaving thousands of travellers with a sour taste, not to mention slimmer wallet.
Problems stem from car hire companies aggressively selling add-ons or charging hundreds or thousands of pounds for damage that may or may not have been caused by their customer.
Car hire firms make their money by charging you for add-ons. All car rental in Europe must by law include third party cover to protect you against damage you might cause to property or people and most will include theft and accidental damage – albeit with a high excess of up to £1,000. However, check the small print. Our own research has revealed that SIXT car rental includes only third party cover as standard. This means that if the car is stolen during the rental period you will owe the company the cost of a brand new car.
Every car hire company will push their own collision damage waiver (CDW) policies, which can also be referred to as a loss damage waiver (LDW). These typically cost from around £20 per day, but vary depending on the level of excess. Generally, the greater the cost of the CDW or LDW, the lower the excess you will pay in the event of damage to the car. With the average excess between £500-£1000, the car hire companies will do all they can to upgrade the CDW insurance to cover this amount. On top of this, car hire firms will try and sell you protection against damage to tyres or the windscreen.
You can protect yourself against the cost of the CDW and tyre / windscreen cover by buying a policy from Insurance4carhire.com is an independent insurance company that offers an annual excess policy for Europe for £39, or £3.99 per day for shorter rentals. The policy covers the excess on damage and theft up to £6,500 per year, damage to the windows, undercarriage, roof, tyres and headlights not otherwise covered by damage waivers from car hire companies, towing costs associated with mechanical breakdown, misfuelling and key cover.
Euro car hire checklist
- Check what is included in the rental before you buy. Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the sharp practice of even large, well-known companies. For example, SIXT will include a basic protection against theft and damage if you rent one of its vehicle for use in Britain, but will only include third party cover if you are renting in Europe.
- Consider buying your own insurance to safeguard against any excess you may be charged – try Insurance4carhire.com. If you take this route, careful not to upgrade your CDW at the collection desk as you will effectively be paying twice.
- This one is important. Before you leave with the car it is vital that you make a note of any damage on the rental agreement. Pay particular attention to scuffs on the wheels, minor scratches on the bodywork and tiny chips on the windscreen. Also check the recorded mileage of the car, the fuel gauge reading and that the spare wheel is in place and inflated. If in doubt, take photos that you can refer to later. Make certain that the damage sheet is countersigned by someone at the check-in desk.
- Keep all your rental paperwork in case of disputes and check your credit card bill to ensure all fuel deposit and excess surety payments have been returned.
- Save money on accessories. Hiring a satnav for a week from car hire companies usually costs more than it does to buy your own satnav with European roads included. Car hire companies charge over £70 for the use of a child seat for a week and around £60 for a booster seat (an item which costs less than £10 to buy). Furthermore, they can be reluctant, or completely unwilling, to offer guidance on how to fit these seats so far better to bring your own if you can. Charter airlines rarely charge extra for carrying child seats and even low-cost airlines tend to limit the fee to around £10 each way.
ETA travel insurance
- ETA Travel Insurance offers generous cover for medical expenses, baggage, lost passports, personal accident and delayed or cancelled journeys with an excess of only £50
- ETA Travel Insurance is an Ethical Consumer Best Buy. We are 100% carbon neutral, and every policy sold helps fund campaigning for sustainable transport by our charity, the ETA Trust
- Our emergency helpline is based in Britain so you can rest assured that our English-speaking support team is on standby to help you 24/7
- Business travel covered as standard