Top tips for hiring a car abroad

74% of you on my Instagram recently voted that renting a car abroad is “scary af”. Therefore, Chris & I have written our top 10 tips for renting a car abroad – to help you feel more informed and think about things that maybe you wouldn’t have considered before! Hopefully this breaks down some of the scariness, and opens the doors to some fantastic road trips ahead…

1. It’s almost always cheaper when you get there.

In our experience, the price of hiring a car is cheaper in person than it is online. When we visited Athens, we rented a car for £80 although online the same grade car was listed as £140 online. However, I understand this is a gamble for those plan-aholics like me! If you still wish to save a few pennies, try planning to rent from the city centre rather than the airport, if possible. In our experience this has always been a cheaper option.

You could also consider renting a car from the city and dropping it off at the airport. This will save on transfers and may balance costs. Your trips don’t have to end where they started!

2. Make sure you understand the insurances

As a bare minimum, ensure you have a collision damage waiver (CDW). A CDW limits the amount you are liable for in the event there is damage to the car – the same way your excess would work on your insurance back home. We would also check that theft is covered through your insurance.

3. Excess insurance vs. Third Party Excess insurance

Most car rental companies will offer premium insurance which means that you pay £0 in the event you damage the car. They can charge upwards of £15 a day for this. However, the benefit of this is that they will rarely try to find faults with the car upon return.

Alternatively, it can be cheaper to take out excess insurance through a third party. This means in the event you damage the car, you will personally pay the excess to the car rental company and then need to file a claim with your third party insurance. You’ll have to stump the cash upfront and potentially risk the insurance company not paying out. This type of insurance is typically cheaper, at circa £2 a day.

It’s almost always easier to get the insurance through the car rental company, if you can negotiate the price down when you’re there. Although, we have often got third party excess cover due to the price.

4. Under 30? Check the fine print.

It’s common practice (especially in countries like the US) to charge a “young drivers” fee which is sometimes not included at the time of booking. This can be upwards of £30 a day depending on provider.

5. Make sure you have a credit card that can be used abroad, with a high enough limit to block out the excess.

When renting a car without purchasing the providers own excess insurance, whichever card used in the transaction will have the maximum excess liable blocked on the card. You can only do this with a credit card – so it might be worth a conversation with your credit card company beforehand!

6. Lower your expectations

You will almost never get the car you think you’re going to get. For example in the US the Ford Mustang we thought we were getting, turned out to be a VW Beetle. In Athens the BMW 3 series we were promised, was a Mini Cooper. You can dispute this… we did actually get the Mustang in the end. But, just bear in mind the car type “brackets” when confirming your booking.

To add to this, we say that it is not worth paying for the premium level cars as you will likely not get one. It’s common practice (and perfectly legal) to only have 1 or 2 high end cars and swap them out for “equivalent” other models. They aren’t equivalent.

7. Research, research, research

There are three big things to research before you rent a car in another country: the company you’re renting from, the laws of the road in the country you’re driving in, and the terrain of the road you’ll be driving on.

It best to stick to the company with the better reviews, especially if its only for the sake of a little money. All rentals have bad reviews, but companies such as Interent should be considered emergency only (in our experience). We’ve had reasonably positive experiences with Hertz, Avis & Dollar. Comparison websites can be a good benchmark, but as a rule of thumb we would disregard the first 5 results in a search engine.

Research and understand the laws of road in the country you’ll be driving in. For example: what side of the road to drive on, when to turn right at traffic lights, and national speed limits. The French national speed limit changes depending on the weather, did you know that? Parking laws are also a good one to understand, friends of ours got stung in Miami where it is illegal to parallel park facing oncoming traffic.

Terrain of the roads you’ll be driving is a good to know. Are you driving in particularly mountainous/hilly locations? Are the roads to your accommodation all tarmacked? Is it predicted to snow when you visit? All of these questions should influence your choice of car for your trip.

8. Documentation

When you rent the car, you’ll be handed a bunch of paperwork which may seem overwhelming. You’ll be given a condition report of the car, and we would recommend not only checking that is correct, but also conducting a video walk around of the car. It’ll pick up anything that you may have missed by taking photos and may help you defend yourself if you’re accused of causing damage to the car which was there when you picked it up.

Check amount of petrol in the car matches that which is stated on your agreement. For example, your paper work will state that you need to return the car with the same petrol that was given – if your paperwork says the car is full but it’s on half a tank… You’ll be expected to pay for the full tank on return. Also, if you haven’t adhered to this upon return you’ll have to pay inflated petrol rates as you have broken the agreement.

When returning the car make sure you get a return receipt stating that the car had been returned and inspected with no damage. It’s better to have the argument when you are there, rather than them charging your credit card 3 weeks later about damage you were unaware of.

Keep all of the documentation for at least 3 months. Car companies can charge you once you’re back at home. If it has been wrongly charged to a credit card you’ll have to provide the documents to your credit card as evidence.

9. Be confident, calm & understanding

Driving in other countries can be really stressful. You’ll be experiencing strange road layouts, and also different cultures to driving. Under such stress – let’s be honest – you will probably make mistakes. It’s important to stay calm, and be as assertive as you can on the road – you might be nervous but remaining decisive means that you will be predictable to other drivers around you.

10. Chris & Stacey’s secrets

We have a little slogan: “Right is right, left is death!”, and you can always find us chanting it when we start driving in mainland Europe. Little fun ways of remembering the rules will make things easier, and add to the novelty of the trip! Another tip – make sure you bring an AUX cable. Not all rental cars are Bluetooth compatible, and what good is a road trip without a good soundtrack?

You should always leave the car rental place feeling like you understand the process. If someone isn’t being helpful it’s worth taking the business elsewhere. If you feel like it’s too good to be true, it probably is – remember you are essentially giving them free reign of your credit card!

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