Survivors’ guide to hiring a car on holiday

hiring a car abroad

Renting a vehicle is a staple element of the fly drive holiday, but unscrupulous practices by car hire companies are leaving thousands of travellers with a sour taste, not to mention slimmer wallet. Here we have compiled warnings that we have received from our own members following their travels to continental Europe.

Insurance hard sell when hiring a car on holiday

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 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.

Beware the brokers

We have become used to dealing with brokers such as moneysupermarket, but beware those dealing with car hire. We heard the following from a customer of Holiday Autos: “I booked a 5-seat car for myself and my family months before our holiday and received an email from Holiday Autos to confirm. However, 4 days before the trip they sent me an email saying it was only a 4-seater. I tried emailing them back to ask what was going on, but received no reply. I tried to call the rental desk in Sicily, but nobody answered. It was so close to my holiday I had to cancel and book with Hertz, which cost me £750 more. Holiday Autos accept no financial responsibility for their mistake.” 

In this case, the hirer cancelled the booking at the eleventh hour because Holiday Autos will not issue a refund within 48 hours of the booking. However, if the hirer had simply turned up at the hire desk with the original agreement for a 5-seater car, Holiday Autos would have been in breach of contract had they not provided the correct car.

Do hire cars on holiday include safety equipment?

Hire cars around Europe are routinely supplied without the safety equipment required by local laws. This equipment can include the high-visibility vests that drivers in France are obliged to carry for the driver and all passengers. If in any doubt, and to avoid the prospect of a hefty fine at the roadside, check whether your provider includes this equipment.

Do your homework

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 If you take this route, careful not to upgrade your CDW at the collection desk as you will effectively be paying twice.

Check your car for damage

When you collect your hire car, there’s a good chance you’ll be tired, hot and bothered, but this piece of advice 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.

hiring a car abroad

Don’t forget to check your car for damage

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.

Driving to France?

The ETA Guide to Driving in France is a free e-book packed with information and advice for anyone planning a driving trip across the channel.

Download your free copy here.


ETA travel insurance

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