Like any new experience, renting a car for the first time can be exciting – and a little daunting. Discover what fellow drivers wish they’d known before they drove their first hire car, so you can enjoy all the freedom without the hassle.
1) That cash and debit cards don’t work for deposits
‘I thought the card was for proof of ID, I didn’t realize that the staff would need to put a deposit on my credit card, so I was refused the car at the rental desk.’
Car rental companies will want to hold a security deposit from your credit card while you have their car. A few companies do accept debit cards, but most will need a credit card in the main driver’s name.
2) That free insurance doesn’t cover everything
‘A branch fell on our rental car and scratched the window. I thought the basic insurance would cover the cost, especially because it wasn’t our fault! But, it turns out things like the wheels and windows aren’t covered. In the end, we had to pay out almost £400 to fix it.’
Though many car hire deals come with some basic protection, it’s always worth checking what’s covered before driving away with your car. You can choose to buy additional insurance if you would like to have fuller protection.
3) That the deposit can be big
‘I thought I had paid for everything online before picking up my car, but when I got to the counter, they wanted to put $2000 on my credit card as a deposit. My card has a limit of $3000, but I used most of it on flights so I had to take additional insurance to be able to pay a lower deposit.’
Before they hand you the keys to your rental car, you’ll have to leave a deposit. This is to cover the cost of any damages or issues that happen during your rental. Deposits can be substantial, especially if you hire an expensive car.
4) That the car won’t wait for me
‘My flight was delayed by 3 hours but I thought everything would be fine. When I landed, the rental staff told me they had given my car to someone else. I had to book a new car and it cost me way more than I expected. At least the hotel was fine, they do keep your room for the full dates you’ve booked.’
Rental companies will not hold your car indefinitely, even if you’ve paid for the car already. If you’re running late to pick up your car, let the rental company know.
5) That a Golf might not be a Golf
‘I’d never booked a car before. The only car I’d ever driven was my parents’ Golf, so that’s what I booked. But they gave me a Ford C Max and said it was the same category. It was much bigger than a Golf! I’m still not sure how I ended up with it.’
When you hire a car, you’re not booking a specific vehicle. Instead, you’re selecting any car from a group of similar-sized vehicles, which is why it says ‘Or similar’ next to each car.
6) That finding the rental desk can be tricky
If you book online, you should get a confirmation email and/or voucher with instructions on how to pick up your car. You should find information on the name of the rental company you’re looking for, how to find the rental counter and the local phone number in case you need to get in touch.
7) That you might need an International Driving Permit
‘I didn’t realize I needed an international driving permit to hire a car in Brazil. I thought my British license was enough.’
To drive in certain countries, you’ll need an International Driving Permit. Your terms and conditions should explain whether you’ll need one or not. The good news is that an International Driving Permit is quite cheap and easy to get hold of before you leave home.
8) That fuel matters
‘I never thought about the fuel – I didn’t know I had to worry about it. I returned the car with the tank half full and had to pay for the missing petrol, as well as a penalty fee for not bringing it back full. I was then told that rental companies charge more for fuel than at the pump. It cost me so much money.’
There are several types of fuel policy in car hire, although ‘Full to full’ is the by far the most common (and considered the fairest). Your car’s terms and conditions will tell you what your fuel policy is and what you need to do to avoid extra fees.
9) That it can cost more to drive further
‘We booked a car last year to travel around Italy with friends. We didn’t realize the car had limited mileage and we’d have to pay 10 cents for each extra kilometer over the limit. Luckily, a friend spotted it at the last minute and we changed the booking to one with unlimited kilometers. We didn’t even think that mileage could be limited for a rental!’
If you’re not planning on driving far, choosing a car with a mileage limit can be cheaper than one with no limit. However, if you’re not sure of your plans, it’s always worth going for a car with unlimited mileage even if the deal is a bit more expensive upfront. This is because fees for extra miles/kilometers quickly add up. When a car has a mileage limit, it should be made clear online. If you’re unsure, you can check whether your car has a mileage limit in its terms and conditions.