How to search and book
Child car seats
Insurance & Excess
How to book a hire car
Always book car hire in advance as it's almost always more expensive at the airport and even online the costs rise as you get closer to your holiday dates. During peak times in popular destinations it's sometimes almost impossible to find availability so if you are sure that you want to hire a car get in there asap!
My favourite places to search for a hire car are Travelsupermarket for the huge range of options it usually throws up and Zest* for their easy to use website and their great customer service. Zest also has the best FAQs I have ever seen - they know everything there is to know about car hire! There are of course many other options some of which are listed in the Useful Links section.
Once you start to search there are a few key things to bear in mind:
Vehicle collection - On airport or off airport?
Most search results will state where the collection point is. Do take note if the collection involves a shuttle rather than the vehicle being available at the airport. This might make the price much cheaper but it can be a hassle after a long flight to travel to a car rental location and this feels even more painful if you're not expecting it! Just be aware what you are agreeing to.
The majority of fuel policies involve collecting the vehicle full and returning it full. Some policies just state that you return with the same amount of fuel that you left with (just make sure when you leave the depot you have enough fuel to get you to where you need to go). Beware of fuel policies which are 'full to empty' as this involves being charged for a full tank of fuel (probably at an inflated price) and bringing it back empty which is really difficult to do. Even if you don't bring it back empty you still pay for the whole tank - not a bargain!
Whatever you choose to do, if you are required to top up the fuel before you return the vehicle make sure you do this otherwise you will be charged for the fuel and an admin fee on top. Some car hire searches allow you to specifically search for 'fuel policy' options.
Currently driving in Europe with a UK licence is accepted. For some countries you may need an international driving permit. These are easy to obtain from the Post Office and all the info you need is here.
Most hire companies insist that you have a credit card in the main drivers name and you must present it when you collect the vehicle. The reason for this is so that they can take a preauthorisation which means they can ring-fence an amount of money in case you damage the vehicle. Providing this is usually non-negotiable so don't get caught out if you don't have a credit card - a debit card will not do.
A sat nav can be really useful and we've been amazed that ours has been able to guide us to some of the most remote places we have asked for direction to. Having said that hiring one with a car is usually really expensive so either take your own, but first make sure you have the correct maps loaded, or use your phone - both iPhone Maps and Google Maps allow you to download data so you can access it offline.
Child car seats
Keeping the kids safe while driving is one those holiday essential items that you need to plan for in advance. Remember that when you book car seats with your hire car most companies state that it is a provisional booking subject to availability so you may not get exactly what you think you have booked. It's also important to factor in the cost as some hire companies charge more than it would cost to buy a new seat.
So what are the options?
Hire car seats with the car but book in advance as the car hire cost will be cheaper and they will reserve a seat for you. There are mixed reports about how good the seats are and many companies will not fit them for you. To make sure your child is safe check the structure of the seat under the outer fabric, make sure the seatbelt and the straps are not twisted and ensure the locking mechanism is secure. If the seat is not secure in the seatbelt get help from the hire company. This option can be eyewateringly expensive for longer hires as some companies charge per day.
Take your own seat with you - this sounds more of a hassle than it actually is and will often be free! It also has the benefit of your seat being familiar to you and you can use it in a taxi to the airport. Many airlines let you take car seats free of charge - here is a handy link which lists popular UK airlines and their rules on luggage (including car seats & pushchairs) for children and babies.
Child car seat laws
Laws about child seats vary from country to country. If you want to check the child seat laws in the most common holiday destinations follow this link.
Things that might help:
Insurance and Excess
Most car hire fees include basic insurance as part of the cost however many companies will try and sell you extra 'excess insurance' which reduces the cost you will have to pay up if you have an accident. This is usually charged at a daily rate and can be as high as £25 per day which really adds up. The excess due if you have an incident can be frightening so it's temping to pay up and feel safer knowing that if something goes wrong you'll be covered. Many extra insurance policies also cover tyre, roof and windscreen damage which also isn't usually insured with basic cover so do check out exactly what and what isn't insured before you agree to anything.
Whatever insurance option you choose make sure you check the vehicle over carefully when you collect it and make the company aware of any damage or problems before you leave the depot. Remember to check for dents and scratches as well as making sure the lights, tyres and windscreen are in good order. Similarly, on return check the vehicle over with the rep present if possible and if not take photos. If you leave the vehicle unattended out of hours you will be responsible for any damaged caused to it during this time.
You have 3 choices when faced with whether to buy excess or extra hire insurance:
Buy it from the car hire company when you hire
This is the easiest, but most expensive, option. The hire company should not insist on any up front payments to cover the excess and they will manage any claim if an incident occurs. If you take this option make sure you are aware of exactly what and what isn't covered.
Buy it from an independent insurance company
This is a much cheaper option and you can purchase insurance for a one-off trip or annual cover. Check out Moneymaxim for lots of information about different types of extra cover. The downsides to taking this route is that you may have to leave a larger Credit Card deposit and if there is an incident you will have to liaise between the insurance and car hire company. You may even have to pay for damage up front and reclaim it later. Money Saving Expert has more information about this and discounts for excess insurance policies.
Don't buy it and take the risk
It's your choice and if you think that you are a good driver, even abroad, and you've got the funds to cover the excess if anything should happen then go for it! Do make yourself aware of the excess amount on the car hire policy and if you are involved in an incident, especially if it wasn't your fault then be meticulous in taking down details, taking photos and getting witnesses if possible.
Travelsupermarket.com - lots of choice of hire cars and very competitive prices. Also has flights, hotels and other holiday related stuff!
Zest* - one of our favourite hire car companies with great customer service and really clear, easy to use site, packed full of all the information you need.
Holiday Extras* - great site dedicated to all those extra holiday things you might need to book such as car hire, airport parking, transfers, airport lounges to name but a few.
www.kayak.co.uk - clean, simple site for booking car hire as well as flights, hotels and more.
www.momondo.co.uk - compares the best offers on car hire, flights, hotels and package holidays.
www.expedia.co.uk - car hire, flights, hotels and plus some nice extras and a 'things to do' tabs with some great ideas.
www.opodo.co.uk* - clear and useful with online booking for car hire, flights, hotels and lots of handy extras.
Skyscanner* - despite the name it does car hire too!