Hiring a car for a trip sounds like a very simple thing to do, but people often tend to underestimate aspects that are actually fundamental and can lead to negative and unexpected surprises.
Car rental, a world to discover to save money
As a result of my now numerous fly-and-drive trips with rented cars, both for business and pleasure, I want to make you aware of the dark sides that can manifest themselves by making you waste money and create unpleasant inconveniences by renting a car.
It has to be said: someone’s experience always saves someone else.
How to rent a car – There are basically two ways to proceed:
- Hire a car directly at the agency’s counter upon your arrival at the airport, train station or at one of the many around the city.
- Rent online, on aggregators or directly on the sites of rental companies or airlines.
I usually prefer to leave having already booked my car rental for two fundamental reasons:
The first is to avoid problems and loss of time when I arrive and the other I will explain below.
I book online because I already know how much I will spend and I have already put the cost into my travel budget and then as I will say below I have the option of using prepaid cards, paypal or even bank transfer.
You cannot use prepaid or debit cards by renting the car directly at the Desk
Rely on price comparators.
the price of a car rental can vary even a lot from one company to another. In addition, sites such as Ryanair or Booking.com also offer the rental service.
I recommend relying on comparators. Like Booking for hotels, these aggregators allow you to enter the rental location, dates and times and do the research for you: they analyse the various prices of the companies and provide you with a list of possibilities. Once you have chosen, you can proceed to rent the car directly on these sites.
Or even on airline sites there is the possibility of renting a car directly and making a single payment together with the flight booking.
I have never had any surprises this way. At the time of booking, the costs are summarised precisely and the quote is sent to you directly by e-mail. Until a few days before the rental date, the quote can be changed or cancelled.
What is needed to rent a car?
- Valid driving licence
- International driving licence especially if you will be travelling outside Europe
- A credit card (NO prepaid | NO debit card | NO Bancomat)
The first thing you should know is that you will not be able to use a prepaid credit card, debit card or ATM card to rent a car at the desk.
Nowadays, renting a car without a credit card is practically impossible if you go directly to the counter of any rental agency.
However, it remains possible to book a rental car with a prepaid card if you rent online.
Beware of the Card Plafond.
If you book at the desk, remember that in addition to the cost of car rental, your card will also have to bear the cost of deposits and ancillary services.
Credit cards usually have a ceiling of EUR 1,500 per month, so consider raising that threshold before leaving or else.
Even if you book online, I suggest that you use a secondary credit card for the booking or do not make the payment in the same month as your trip to allow your credit limit to regenerate. You will need sufficient residual credit for the deposit.
How to Rent a Car: Credit Card is Indispensable
When you present yourself at the company’s desk, no matter how you have made your booking, you will be asked for a rental deposit as security, ranging from 400 to 1400 euros.
They will do this exclusively from your credit card: they will block the necessary amount, which varies depending on the rental time for possible damages, for fuel.v
It will be returned to you at the end of the rental period, but during the trip you will risk having your card unusable.
I speak to you from experience, and it has to be said: someone’s experience always saves someone else.
Check at the time of car rental the cost of the Deposit
Check carefully when booking online the cost of the deposit, which differs from company to company, because you risk running out of money for your holiday if you decide to pay for your trip with a single credit card.
Europcar, for example, asks as much as 700 euros, while Gold Car asked me for 1400, and all this in order to set up tricks that will drastically increase your rental costs if you have to pay locally.
If you have not maxed out, remember that the monthly credit of a normal credit card is EUR 1,500.
I personally have two credit cards. I use one for car rental and the other for travel expenses.
Credit cards debit the amounts on the 15th of the following month, so you will use the ceiling available on it.
Car rental with prepaid card
Renting a car with a debit card. It is almost never allowed to rent a car with a prepaid or debit card, so make sure you have a classic credit card with you.
Only once in Malta was I allowed to use it because I was paying the full cost of the car rental, but it is absolutely not accepted to make security deposits with a prepaid card or debit card.
Driving Licences and the Highway Code in Other States
It goes without saying that you will need a valid driving licence to rent a car, but ask before you leave if the country you are going to requires an international driving licence as I did in Australia.
In order to obtain an international driving licence, you will have to apply to the DMV in your municipality: nothing difficult, it is just a translation into several languages of your Italian driving licence, for which you will only owe the state a little money.
If you still have an old type of driving licence, some foreign countries may give you problems with renewal stickers. In this case, I recommend applying for a new licence or proceeding to make an international licence.
Who can drive a hire car?
The person paying for the vehicle and presenting the credit card must be the same person who will drive the car.
Additional drivers may be authorised: Each additional driver must present his or her licence, ID and pay a fee to be allowed to drive as well.
Find out about the type of driving in the country where you are going (right or left) and what the traffic regulations are.
Automatic or manual transmission
This is an issue I only face in countries with right-hand drive. Travelling with right-hand drive involves difficulties: not only do you have to use the gearbox with your left hand, but the configuration of the gears is the same as in Italy (top left).
To avoid driving your routes constantly in third gear, as happened to me the first time, you could opt for the automatic transmission to take away a ‘chore’. You will have many more to pay attention to in order not to make mistakes.
I advise you to find out as much as possible about the main features of the highway code of the country you are going to.
Travelling to countries other than the country of hire
If you go abroad and travel by car through other countries you have to inform the agency in advance, in case there are additional documents to be brought and of course a surcharge.
How much does it cost to rent a car?
To understand how much it costs to rent a car, one must take into account that there are several variables that affect the final price, I will try to summarise the main ones:
Driver’s age: the minimum age for hiring a car is 21. Drivers under 25 years of age pay an additional charge. This is related to the concept of ‘less experience behind the wheel’.
Presence or absence of additional drivers: in the case of long and high-mileage rentals it is advisable to include an additional driver. A daily fee will be charged for each additional driver.
Unlimited kilometres: Check whether your rental includes unlimited kilometres to avoid increasing the amount due at the end of the rental. Especially if you book online, the mileage should always be unlimited, but check.
Fuel: Car rental agencies mainly adopt two methods:
- Full for full where you are given the car with a full tank and have to return it with a full tank.
- Full for Empty where it is delivered to you with a full tank and you return it as is, but of course they charge you extra.
I recommend that you always fill up the tank, pay only for the fuel you consume and do not risk losing money on unused petrol.
Also to save a few euros try to avoid the last available petrol station in the airport area when you return, it is usually always the most expensive and in many cases it is automatic so it does not give you change!
Drop-off: i.e. if you rent the car at location A and drop it off at location B you will have an additional (high) cost, which you would not have if the route was from location A to location A.
This is very important when planning the budget. On the road has a big influence on the definition of the itinerary, be careful.
Rent a car cheaply
To rent a cheap car, I suggest going to car rental comparator sites. I usually use Rentalcars.com, after having a look at any offers on the car rental companies’ sites.
In alternative for a low-cost car rental one can take advantage of airline offers when booking online. I usually book my flights on Ryanair and the flight booking form automatically asks if you want to book a car for the chosen destination.
Choosing the right car for you
Car segment: trivial but I specify it anyway. A Smart car will certainly not cost the same as a Jeep. Above all, in the case of right-hand drive, a smaller car will save you another ‘chore’, so commensurate your car not only with the number of passengers and their comfort, but also with the capacity of the boot to fit all the suitcases.
Requesting or not requesting certain accessories: A navigator? snow chains? the baby seat? All optional with a daily fee.
Snow chains are also considered an optional extra, despite the fact that they are compulsory in Italy during the winter months and cars cannot drive without them. At the Bologna desk for example (I had to drive 200 km over the Apennines to return to Massarosa) I was told that this was not true, because if I only drove on municipal roads they were not necessary.
Insurance and deductible removal
When you make an online booking, the company has basic insurance cover on the car with a deductible of around EUR 1,500, any damage will be covered up to that amount.
It is possible to completely remove the deductible for carefree travel by paying a small surcharge per rental day. It can be provided by the comparator itself when booking online or by the rental company when collecting. I usually use comparators such as Rentalcars.
This insurance extension is never made – in my experience – by the rental company but by a third party.
In the event of damage you will still have to pay out of pocket, then make a claim to the broker with whom you contracted the insurance extension.
It might be a bit tricky since all these brokers are not Italian and therefore there might be problems with the language.
It is possible to use autonomous and dedicated travel insurance companies such as Questor insurance, a British company specialising in car rental cover.
Full protection has a daily charge.
Deductible included or not: very important to check whether or not you have chosen full protection.
In the event of lost keys, breakdowns, some mechanical parts, wheels, broken windows, car bodywork you will be covered by the comprehensive protection. You anticipate the cost, which you will be reimbursed later by the online comparator rather than by the rental company itself. With basic protection this is not the case, the deductible remains up to EUR 1,500 in the case of damage and up to EUR 3,000 for theft (values always to be checked when booking)
What to do if the deposit exceeds the credit card ceiling for car rental
Don’t worry, you can still rent a car, but of course it will cost you more if you have not foreseen this possibility.
For some cars, such as 6-seater vans, the deposit required is € 1600. In that case, do not take out insurance via the Internet, because you will most likely have to do it again when you check in.
Each agency taking advantage of the fact that the card does not cover this amount will propose its own insurance for full coverage and reduction of the deposit.
On my last trip to Sicily I had booked through Rentalcars.com with the company Sicily by Car. I had paid 67 euro to remove the deductible, but when I arrived at the desk my credit card did not cover the requested amount of 1600 euro.
I had to take out the company’s insurance, which cost 97 euros, and with that the card block was only 300 euros.
If you have paid in advance online, you can request a refund from rentalcars.com of the amount you paid with them.
When checking in at the car rental counter
Once you reach the place where they will give you your car, you will go to the car rental counter and give your booking reference. At that point, some paperwork will be formalised and you will also be able to add any optional extras not previously selected, such as an additional driver.
Present the credit card (in the driver’s name): it must have ‘remaining credit’. If you arrive at the rental car with a low monthly platfond, they will not be able to charge you the deposit and then you will be in trouble.
Check that they do not add another comprehensive protection: some companies try to sell you their deductible removal in addition to renting the car. If you have already purchased it via online booking, you will not need it. but they almost always tempt us.
Although the fuel filler neck is now different for petrol and diesel, make sure which type of fuel your car needs.
Check the correct amount on the contract
Fuel costs: some rental companies charge you the cost of a full tank along with the deposit. Don’t worry, this too will be refunded on your return. This practice is not always done.
Another thing to check is the type of car: If you booked online, you chose a car with the option ‘or similar’.
Check whether, if a different model is allocated, it is in the same price class.
Accessories for car hire
At the car rental counter they will also offer you accessories, first and foremost the satellite navigation system.
I would say that with the help of a mobile phone cradle you can do without with the help of dedicated apps such as Viamichelin, Google maps and Waze.
The only thing I would suggest is to bring a phone charging cable and possibly an adapter to put in the cigarette lighter to plug it in.
When the car is taken over:
Check the damage together with the company’s employee: when they hand over the car to you, they check the car and mark the damage already on the contract sheet (of which they will give you a signed copy).
I have learnt to always follow the attendant and I routinely photograph the whole machine to keep track of the damage already present. I also photograph all the scratches that the company does not mark on the delivery contract because they are too small and irrelevant. When we return, we do not know how the attendant collecting the car will behave.
Never forget to also check the roof
Almost all companies are serious, but I have also come across cases where they have cheated us. Don’t forget to also inspect the roof, a Malta A colleague of mine who was travelling with me was charged with a roof depression, which was clearly created before the hire, perhaps fraudulently, as the attendant came up with a ruler to point out that the roof was caved in.
A joke that cost him 250 euros. I always photograph the car, nothing will happen, but always better to be cautious. So far, I have never received any charges, let alone any litigation.
Check that the car’s registration papers are present inside the car.
Note down the contact details of your car hire company in case you need them during your trip and find out about the emergency numbers used in the country.
Note the GPS location of the rental and the opening hours: it may happen that the pick-up location is far from the airport and the shuttle will take you there. The directions are not always correct and you risk being late, better to prevent.
At the end of the rental return:
Bring the car to the check out area: there are some car rentals where the same check in desk also does the check out, so you will return the car to the same spot where you picked it up a few days earlier. Other car rental companies, however, have a detachment to take you to.
Wait for the attendant’s review: they will take a look at the car to see if there is any damage. I always follow the company officer, I want to be sure. If all goes well, they will give you the OK and the deposit will be credited back to you in a few days.
Have the OK signature put on your copy of the contract to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
I think I have said everything I know and answered all possible questions. Should you have any doubts that this article fails to clarify for you, feel free to post a comment so that it will be helpful for everyone.
Did you arrive late at the car rental or outside the time you had previously indicated? In all likelihood they will charge you extra. If you booked with the airline you travelled with, the agency knows the arrival times of the planes, so don’t worry: in this case the delay is not your fault.
What happens if I get a fine
Try not to get fines! Abroad, it will be very easy to get caught parking or driving a few kilometres per hour more than you should, so be very careful. Observe speed limits and watch out for signs. Where there is to be paid, pay. Where you can’t park, don’t park.
You will have to pay any fines you pick up on the way!
It may sound difficult, but if you follow these steps, you will not have any surprises.
For the rest, enjoy your road trip.
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