Some people fear being taken for a ride when they hire a car. Rental companies have a reputation for hidden fees and scare tactics. Find out how to enjoy renting a car without falling foul of dodgy practices.
1) Trickery on new damage
When you return your hire car, the rental company might claim that some damage on the car wasn’t there before your rental and that you will have to pay for repairing the damage.
Tips for avoiding trickery on new damage
- When you pick your car up, the rental company staff will usually go through a ‘check-out form’ with you. This form includes notes on any damage already in the car before your rental starts. Before you drive away, check that there’s no more damage to the car apart from what’s written in that form.
- Take photographs of the car when you pick it up, and also when you return it. If you’re not in a rush when you drop it off, wait for the rental company agent to check over the car and get a copy of the ‘check-in form’ that they’ll complete.
- If something happens to the car while you have it, report it as soon as you can so there’s a record of it.
- To find out more, see Insuring your rental and Pick up & drop off.
2) Trickery with fuel policies
When you book your rental car, the deal will come with a specific fuel policy. For example, the most common is ‘Full to Full’, which means you refill the tank before you take the car back. Another is ‘Full to Empty’, which means you pay for a tank of fuel at the counter and can return your car as empty as you like.
When you arrive to pick up your car, the rental counter staff may offer you a different fuel policy. If you’re booking your car on the spot, you’ll be offered different fuel policies to choose from.
Tips for avoiding fuel policy trickery
- Fuel policies each have their pros and cons, but in general, Full to Full is a fair policy. So if you have that, there may not be any benefit to changing it.
- If you booked online, check your car’s fuel policy before you get to the counter. That way you’ll be confident whether or not it’s right for you.
- To find out more, see What is a fuel policy?
3) Trickery with mileage limits
Some car rental deals come with limited mileage. The limit might be shown as a number of miles/kilometres per day or per trip. If your deal has a mileage limit, you’ll have to pay an additional fee for every mile or kilometre you drive above that limit.
Tips for avoiding mileage limit trickery
- It’s obvious, but it all depends on how far you’re planning to drive. Deals with unlimited mileage tend to be a bit more expensive, while deals with limited mileage can be cheaper, although the limit can be as low as 15 miles per day on some cars.
- If you’re using the car for a few journeys such as going from an airport to your hotel, or you’re visiting a small island, a deal with limited mileage might work for you.
- If you want some freedom, or haven’t planned your time, unlimited mileage is undoubtedly a better option.
- To find out more, see Does my hire car have a mileage limit?
4) Hard-selling extra insurance
Insuring your rental car can be confusing. Most of the time, the deal you choose will come with basic cover as standard. Extra insurance is not a legal requirement, it’s entirely your choice whether you buy it. (To find out more, see What’s the best way to insure your rental car?)
Rental companies will offer you additional waiver cover or insurance. It will always cost money, and none is legally required. It is entirely up to you whether you buy it or not. For example:
Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW)
Each rental company sells its unique version of Super Collision Damage Waiver. It usually covers car parts that basic damage insurance doesn’t, such as wheels or mirrors. If you buy SCDW you might be liable for a smaller excess or be able to leave a smaller security deposit at the counter, or no security deposit at all.
Standard car rental cover won’t include medical treatment following an accident. Rental companies might offer you insurance to cover these costs. This is particularly common when you rent a car in the USA or Canada, where it’s usually called Personal Accident Insurance or PAI.
Insurance for fines
If you get a traffic or parking fine, the rental company will charge you an admin fee on top of the actual fine to cover their expenses. Sometimes they offer insurance to cover that admin fee. If you buy the insurance, you’ll only pay for the traffic fine, without the admin fee on top of it.
Tips for avoiding an insurance hard-sell
- Think about what level of insurance you’re comfortable with. Check what cover you have with your car. If you decide to buy extra insurance, comparing prices online can be cheaper and less stressful than making the decision at the rental counter.
- If you have travel insurance, check if it includes any car rental cover. You might be able to avoid doubling up.
- Check if your credit card comes with insurance for rental cars. You might find you’re already insured that way. This is common in the USA.
5) Hard-selling car upgrades
Rental counter staff might offer to upgrade your car to a bigger or better model.
It’s common for the counter staff to give you the cost of the upgrade as a daily price, leaving you to work out the total upgrade cost for your whole trip.
Tips for avoiding an upgrade hard sell
- You probably chose the right car for your trip when you booked your rental. If you were confident in your choice then, have your needs changed? If you’re driving in a city, for example, getting a bigger car can actually be more of a hassle. If you’re going on a road trip, a bigger engine is likely to need more fuel.
- Take a moment to work out the total price of the upgrade, and remember that this is on top of what you’ve already paid. Decide if you’re happy to spend more of your trip budget on the car than you planned.
- To find out more, see Offered a rental car upgrade? Find out if it’s worth splashing out.
6) Hard-selling a prepaid toll service
You’ll pay a fixed price for this service at the start of your rental, to cover the cost of any tolls you go through with your hire car. It is usually offered at the rental counter when you arrive to pick up the car.
Tips for avoiding a prepaid toll service hard-sell
- Do a little research before you set off, so you get a sense of how much tolls cost where you’re going. Then you can estimate whether paying a fixed rate for all tolls is a good option, or whether it will end up more expensive than paying as you go.
- If you’re travelling somewhere with extensive tolls (for example the USA especially Florida, and many mainland European countries) and you know you’ll use plenty of them on your trip, these prepaid services can use useful.
- To find out more, see What are toll roads and how do I pay the tolls?