How to get a cheap hire car deal abroad
When hiring a car abroad there are plenty of potential pitfalls that can cost you money unnecessarily - here's how to get the best deal possible.
Hiring a car can be a great way to get around on holiday, but if you're not careful the extra costs on car hire contracts can drive you to distraction.
So how do you go about getting the best deal?
It's much cheaper to shop around and book a car in advance than when you arrive at the airport. Hertz, for example, charges a basic price of £239.05 if you pre-book a Ford Fiesta for a week in Ibiza but £262.44 if you leave it until you get to the airport.
In some destinations pre-booking is essential, otherwise you might turn up to find it's impossible to hire a car at all, let alone at a reasonable price.
When you arrive, insist on getting what you paid for. Many car hire firms will try and talk you into upgrading to a better car (for an extra cost, of course) or will attempt to give you an inferior car you didn't order.
If you don't get what you paid for, then the car hire firm is breaching the contract and you're entitled to claim back the difference in cost between the car you booked and the one you end up with.
Before you drive away, check the car thoroughly. If you find any damage, no matter how small, mark it on the car diagram with the contract and get a salesperson's signature agreeing to the damage.
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One of the biggest problems holidaymakers have with car hire firms is the level of excess they have to pay in the event of any damage to the car while it's in their possession. Forget the £200 or so that's standard on a car insurance policy - excesses on hire cars can be shocking: £500 or £600 is standard but you can fork out up to £1,000 on some models.
And don't expect the car hire firms to be particularly forthcoming about the level of excess either; researching excess levels for this article took more time than you'd expect.
Collision damage waivers
To reduce the amount you'd have to pay in the event of a claim, car hire firms offer something called a "collision damage waiver" (or CDW), either included in the price you're quoted or priced separately. From the name you might think this would waive your liability in the event of an accident. Think again.
If you hire a Mercedes S350 CDI through Hertz, the price includes a CDW, but you'd still have to pay up to £974 in the event of a claim. Opt out of the CDW and you could have to pay for the full value of the car - £48,000 or so - in the event of an accident.
To reduce the excess further, Hertz offers "super cover". However, you can only buy this when you arrive at your destination and there are no prices quoted online. This makes shopping around in advance tricky to say the least.
Other hire car companies use similar tactics and may refer to the extra cover as "super collision damage waiver" or "damage excess insurance". But don't assume this extra cover will get you out of paying anything if the car's damaged in your possession.
If you read the small print you're likely to find that this won't cover damage to certain parts of the car, such as tyres, windscreen or lost keys.
Research by protectyourbubble.com found that, for a standard four-door Ford Focus hired for a week in Europe, Hertz would charge £109.24 for super cover, bringing the driver's liability down to zero.
Rival Avis charges customers £108.50 for seven days' excess insurance. However, unlike Hertz, Avis' cover only reduced the excess from £850 to £100.
An alternative is to buy a separate policy before you go that will cover excess payments plus damage to parts of the car not covered by the car hire firm's policy. Protectyourbubble.com charges £3.02 per day or £21.14 for a standard seven-day car hire in the UK and Europe.
Different car hire firms have different policies regarding fuel, so make sure you know what you're agreeing to. In some cases you'll be expected to return the car with a full tank. Fail to do so and they could charge you well over the odds to fill it up again.
If you need to return the car with a full tank, check where the nearest petrol station is to the car hire return depot. And of course, find out if your car runs on petrol or diesel - get that wrong and you'll be charged for any repairs needed as a result.
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Watch out for extra charges on car hire contracts too. If you need a baby or child seat you'll need to pay more; €21 a week if you're hiring a car in Ibiza with HolidayAutos, for example. A satnav will set you back €21 a week too, as will adding an extra driver.
All this is assuming you're aged above 21. Some car hire firms won't hire to drivers under 21 - or even 25. Holiday Autos requires drivers to be 21, but they'll pay more than drivers aged 22 and over. As an example, hiring a Ford Ka in Ibiza for a week will cost £255 for a 21-year-old, compared to £170 for drivers above that age.
Extras cost more for young drivers too - €74.97 a week for a child seat or €97.58 a week for a satnav with Holiday Autos.
Returning the car
Most car rental agreements are made on a daily or 24-hour hire basis. Therefore returning your car late may add an extra day's rental to your bill. Check the time you have to return the car and make sure you're back before then.
On returning the car, wait while staff inspect it, then ask for a copy of the final report. If there's nobody there to inspect it, or if they don't have time, note this on the rental agreement.
When you hire a car, you'll be asked to leave your credit card details so the car hire company can bill you for any extras incurred. Many people hand back their rental car at the airport only to find a few weeks later that their credit card has been stung with hundreds of pounds in extra charges they knew nothing about.
Don't be afraid to challenge these charges if you think they're unfair. For example, ask for evidence of how much repairs cost. Some firms will try and bill you hundreds of pounds for a chipped windscreen or small scratch.
Please note that articles on MSN Money do not constitute regulated financial advice, which recommends a course of action based upon the specifics of your personal circumstances. The articles are intended to provide general personal financial information. We urge you to consult an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) before making any important decisions about your finances. You can search for an IFA in your local area. Any statement regarding financial services products and tax liability is based on legislation and tax practices as at 6 April 2011, which is, of course, subject to change. The value of any tax benefits or reliefs depends upon the individual circumstances of the investor. When investment performance is mentioned you should remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Where products have an underlying investment content, in many cases the value of the investment can fall as well as rise. For with-profit based investments, there is no guarantee as to the level of bonuses that will be declared, if any. Where mortgages or secured loans are explained do remember that your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other loan secured on it. All mortgages are subject to underwriting, status and are not available to people under the age of 18.
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