Five ways to steer clear of car-hire problems on holiday

Hiring a car on holiday can be a whole lot of trouble if you are not careful.
Hiring a car on holiday can be a whole lot of trouble if you are not careful.

Every summer millions of Brits sit behind the wheel on far-flung destinations across the world.

Yet there are many financial bumps in the road if you do so, but I hope these tips will navigate you through it.

1. Book car hire early, and even if you’ve left it late, book as early as you can.

The earlier you hire your car the better. Walk in during the summer holidays, and if they’ve capacity you’ll usually pay around £40 a day for a small car.

Yet book a few weeks early, even for August and it can be as little as £13 per day in Malaga or Tenerife.

And if you can book months ahead, even better, like Dave, who emailed his thanks for the info: “Booked four months ahead, got 10 days for £296 for a decent-sized car. Just before I went, checked and price had gone to £900.”

To find your cheapest, use as many comparison sites as you’ve time for including www.kayak.co.uk and www.carrentals.co.uk. Then once booked, double-check the details with the car firm.

2. Beware stealth fuel charges on hire cars.

Some firms try and make you pay for a full tank of fuel, then ask you to “return it empty”. If you’re not likely to drive far, this can mean €100 extra charge.

Instead use the fuel policy filter on most comparison sites and look for ‘full to full’ policies.

3. Avoid the ‘and you need insurance’ hard sell when you pick the car up.

Hire a car and basic insurance is covered with it. Yet when you get to the desk, there’s usually a hard sell.

I’ve countless times heard the person at the desk say: “Hey señor, you need excess insurance too – if not and there’s a problem, you pay €1,000”.

And it happens. Someone recently asked me about £1,000 excess they were charged for gearbox damage.

The problem is the excess insurance is usually exorbitant, often up to £20 a day. Instead you can get a standalone policy before you jet off for a fraction of the cost.

Go to comparison site www.moneymaxim.co.uk or better www.mse.me/carhire which also lists special discounts.

The savings can be large, as Glyn tweeted me: “Thanks @MartinSLewis, I followed your guide & got a week’s car hire excess insurance for £13. Rental company wanted £12 per day.”

Yet even if you get one of these policies, the person at the car hire desk will often try and pooh-pooh it.

They will make you leave €1,000 deposit which any costs are taken from (you then reclaim this from your insurer).

The deposit must be on a credit card (not a debit or prepaid card) in the name of the person who booked.

I’ve seen people forget their card and offer their partner's card instead, which is then refused, meaning they must double pay for insurance.

4. Officially you should have a DVLA code to hire a car.

When hiring a car in the UK or abroad you need to request a ‘personal code’ from www.gov.uk/viewdriving-licence to show when picking up the car, so it can check for points.

In practice though many firms don’t ask. In a twitter poll of 1,700 people only 3% said they were asked for the code abroad, 14% in the UK.

Each code is valid for 21 days from the date you obtain it and it can only be used once.

5. International driving licences are recommended outside the EU.

If you’re driving in Europe, you can use your UK driving licence.

Outside Europe around 140 countries either require or recommend you to have an International Driving Permit.

That includes the USA, Thailand and India (a full list is at www.theaa.com).

The fastest way to get it is at the counter at selected Post Office branches (costs £5.50), or you can get it from RAC (£8) or the AA (£8.50) by post

* Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com.

To join the 12 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.