As a big road trips enthusiast and four-wheel passionate, I often chose to rent a car during my travels. But driving “on a contract”, especially if in a foreign country, was not always fun and games. There obviously pros and cons, up and downs, simple and more complicated circumstances but most of all there are some tricks agencies use that only experienced “roadies” know about, and believe, it’s better to learn them by hearsay than after experiencing them first hand.
Here are the most crucial things to keep in mind when choosing your agency and car, ordered step by step.
Choosing an online offer and a provider
The thing we usually do is to choose a website were to find the most appealing offer. First rule: don’t rent on the airline website. After booking your tickets, you’ll be asked if you want to book a stay, rent a car or buy an insurance. As you don’t book a hotel through the airline site, you shouldn’t rent a car after buying your tickets.
My reason to not recommend this way is simple: whatever is the price (which is 99% the same as on expensive websites or higher), the rental conditions won’t be clear at all, you won’t be provided enough information and could end up reading the exceptions to offered terms only after spending your money.
Search instead for websites comparing different offers (like Kayak) or, if you prefer to be 100% sure about the online provider, choose the one with the best opinions and support as you may need it during your rental.
My favorite at the moment is RentalCars as it has a clear and helpful support, a good extended policy and refund option. Thing is RentalCars may be more expensive than other sites functioning as the “middleman” in various countries, that’s why it’s important to compare them before choosing one, reading an opinion or two on a specific site won’t hurt too.
One website I don’t recommend at all is Vehicle Rent, despite their tempting rates, their Excess Refund policies is constructed in such a way that, if you happen to damage your car, you will be excluded from it because of a small detail. Here is an example: very often agencies will send you the invoice 30 days after your rental has finished, sometimes later. Vehicle Rent excess refund policy will rule out your case as they want to see the invoice not later than 29 days after your rental period has finished and, if obtaining the document sooner, don’t count on a quick reply from their side. This brings us to the next point.
Fortunately there are plenty of providers that offer competitive rates on their website so if you have heard good opinions about an agency or tried it and had a good experience, I recommend heading to their website or calling them to become more of a “regular” customer with all the advantages that come from it. Often local agencies from the middle price range will easily treat you much better if you make a direct reservation or even offer you an additional discount.
While speaking of providers let me also add a simple yet not always obvious factor: agencies that cost you less are always the most tricky, if you have a small budget, always read the opinions on the cheap agency, better to spend few more minutes on the internet and save hundreds of euros that to count on sheer luck, stress and most likely be tricked into fees and penalties.
To buy or not to buy additional insurance
Short answer: yes. Long answer: depends from who.
As you read in the previous example, buying an additional insurance from a intermediary like Vehicle Rent brings you more doubts than comfort. One thing you will hear often from agencies when picking up your car is that those websites policies are difficult to take advantage of, for once that is true. Many intermediary rental services construct their policies in a strict way adding here and there limitations that collide with the policy of the agency providing the car.
Buying an additional/full policy from the agency providing the car will definitely give you more stability. There are great agencies that provide such insurance at the same price of the website or even at a lower price. The most popular agencies like Sixt, Europecar or Hertz usually ask more, sometimes as much as half of your car price per day.
Before renting your car with, whatever is the intermediary you choose, call or write to the providers of the cars you are more inclined to rent and ask about the rate of their extra or full insurance. If the price given should be too much, choose a website with good opinions.
In my experience and as stated in the previous paragraph, among the clearest policies are RentalCars’, they are cheaper than the providers’ and they tend to be easier to fulfill.
Since it’s already the second time I am talking about RentalCars, I feel it’s important to stress that this article is in no way sponsored and I writing from my personal negative and positive experiences only.
But maybe after all this talking you may still be skeptic as to why buy an additional insurance at all. You are a good and responsible driver after all, you have years of experience and a quick reflex. The additional insurance is not just to be considered in case of accidents (whether depending on you or the other road users). It is useful when you are given a seemingly new car with a weak engine, transmission, gear or, most of all, a car with paint of dubious quality. Those are things you won’t be able to notice when picking up the car and, once you sign the rental agreement, anything fault that may emerge will be considered your fault. There are damages the agency won’t notice when giving a car, especially when in rush, and there are things that are considered normal (low quality parts or paint) but are easily damageable.
Let me give you an example: you may bump with your hip on the back of your car and happen to damage the paint with the button of your jeans (I kid you not, it happens) or rest your luggage on the bumper when loading, the paint might get easily off leaving a 10 cm scratch in nothing and cost you a fee for the damage plus the amount the agency takes to repair the damage plus the estimate (according to the agency) loss on potential rentals during the period needed to repair the car.
And what is a road trip if you have to worry at all times about the state of your car.
What car should I choose
We’ve talked about how to choose where to rent and if to buy an additional insurance and what to look out when considering the various options. Now it’s time for a more pleasant decision: what car to choose. First question for me is always big or small. Will you be driving off road, on the countryside or in the city? Is the city densely populated? Are the streets large and plain enough? Choose the size of your car basing on your destination, for example in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece roads are extremely narrow, a suv or off-road will require one maneuver after the other to reach the most popular tourist points.
Second factor: is the car I prefer allowed where I want to go? In Greece many agencies don’t allow small cars to go anywhere near the beaches, some exclude half islands from the area where you can drive due to the conditions of the road. Take it in consideration especially if you are considering renting a car to reach a more remote place.
It is obvious that smaller cars cost less and their extra insurance will be cheaper but will they consume less? Luckily for us there are many websites that compare fuel consumption in various models. Sometimes, even if more expensive at the beginning, a hybrid car will cost you less at the end than a normal one.
Once you’ve taken in consideration these factors, you can pass onto your other personal preferences.
Stating the obvious
I haven’t mentioned this earlier as it’s something you should always do when signing an agreement but on the internet we all tend to not give our full attention to the terms and conditions. First when on a intermediary or provider website and later, both when picking up and returning the car, always read the contract. The parts you should care the most about are the payment conditions, fees, table of possible damages, hours of pick up and return, policy of use, how to report a damage and report about the existent damages of the car (which I recommend to check before leaving the parking lot after pick up, in case you should find anything not stated on the agreement, take a picture and go back to the counter and ask to add these details).
If you are a pro-eco like me, you may ask yourself obviously if renting a car is Ecological in your case. First thing, if it helps you to stay healthier (physically and mentally), don’t feel ashamed or guilty about it, a trip should be pleasant, we all need to relax and feel comfortable. Second thing, is there any other transportation mean that will help you move around without too much stress? If yes, than consider using it as sometimes a car, despite the freedom and independence, it may not only be less eco but also less comfortable (parking spots, tolls and so on). In case there are other transportation means you can use, the third questions to consider is what types are they. Train/bus/bike? Those are definitely more ecological options. Airplane/ferry? Those will have a higher negative impact on the environment.
If you have the budget, consider a hybrid or electric car. Remember also that in many countries you can rent for a lower price scooters, quads and similar to move around.
To conclude I would like to give one last advise: if you haven’t rented a car yet, it may seem complicated but don’t worry, it is much easier than it sounds and it’s definitely worth it!