8 things to do when hiring a car abroad

Hiring a car while abroad can give you far more freedom. Whether you’re on a business trip or enjoying a family holiday, access to a car can help you get from A to B with minimal fuss. But hiring a vehicle abroad does need some careful consideration if you want to get the best price and avoid a huge bill.

It is often possible to hire a car last minute or even as you arrive at the destination, but you should avoid this if you can. You won’t know if you’re getting a good deal, so plan ahead and there’s a good chance you’ll save money. Plus, no one wants to be checking terms and conditions as they arrive in a foreign country, especially after a long day of travelling.

A bit of work before heading abroad can help you navigate the different variables and jargon. To help you avoid common pitfalls, here are eight steps to take.

  1. Shop around

There are hundreds of hire firms to choose from. Shopping around can secure you a better deal, and not just in terms of money. You want a pick-up and drop-off location that’s convenient for you. Or, you might have a specific car in mind that suits your plans. Comparing deals should be your first step when hiring a car abroad.

Always use a credit card to pay. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means the credit card company is jointly liable if anything goes wrong. This applies to goods or services you have bought costing between £100 and £30,000. Watch out when paying deposits in a different currency too. Currency fluctuations could mean you get back less than expected.

  1. Watch out for hidden costs

At first glance, some offers can seem like a great deal. But, once you’ve paid for hidden charges, it works out more expensive than alternative options. Hidden charges may include VAT, cleaning fees, servicing costs or a fee for extras such as child seats or a sat nav. Read the terms of the contract carefully so you’re sure what you’ll end up paying.

  1. Check if there any restrictions

Besides hidden costs, you may find some restrictions incur penalties. Being unaware of these could leave you out of pocket or affect your travel plans. For instance, is there a daily mileage limit? Or can you cross international borders or state lines?

These restrictions might have little impact on you, but it’s important to be aware of them. In some cases, switching to a different provider that doesn’t impose a restriction affecting you can save you money and keep your plans on track.

  1. Make sure you have insurance in place

Most hire firms will offer you insurance when booking with them. However, it’s often cheaper to arrange your own insurance. This include ‘care hire excess insurance’, which would you don’t have to pay any excess to cover damage to the car or if you’re involved in an accident. You can arrange car hire excess reimbursement insurance yourself if this is a concern.

  1. Review insurance extras

Jargon and acronyms litter car insurance-speak and documents. Figuring out if you could benefit from insurance extras can be confusing. Yet, they can be valuable depending on your plans and concerns.

For example, third party cover would provide compensation if you damaged someone else’s property or cause injury when driving. PEC (personal effects coverage) is another example that would provide you with cover for items left locked and out of sight in the car.

When you hire a car, the company will usually offer some insurance extras. Understanding what they mean and whether they’re necessary for you beforehand can reduce unnecessary costs.

  1. Make a note of the fuel policy

You won’t usually get a choice in refuelling, but you need to keep it in mind.

A ‘full to full’ policy is usually better value, but penalties can be harsh. You’ll need to take the car back with a full tank. If you don’t, you’ll likely incur a penalty and pay well over the odds for the fuel to fill it up. Keep the receipt when you fill it up before taking the car back in case of disputes.

A ‘full to empty’ policy means you don’t have to worry about finding a petrol station on the way to drop-off. But it usually proves a more expensive option as you’ll pay upfront for the full tank.

  1. Get a DVLA driving licence code

The UK scrapped the paper licence in 2015. Now you need to obtain a code from the DVLA before you travel if you intend to hire a car. To get a ‘check code’ you need your driving licence number, National Insurance Number, and the postcode where your driving licence is registered. The code will be valid for 21 days.

The code allows hire companies anywhere in the world to check your licence. Currently, 140 countries require this information before you hire a car.

You can create a licence ‘check code’ here.

Depending on where you’re travelling, you may also need an international driving permit (IDP). Keep in mind, the rules for driving in the European Union will change for UK citizens from 1 January 2021. Find out if you need an IDP here.

  1. Check the vehicle and equipment

Once you’ve got the keys to the car, it can be tempting to get on your way.

However, you should give the car a thorough check first. Make sure the record of any damage or defects is up to date, as you don’t want to be picking up the bill if they’re spotted later.

Don’t overlook the equipment in the car either, as some destinations have specific regulations around what you must carry. In France, for example, you must carry a breathalyser. A warning triangle, fire extinguisher or first-aid kit may also be essential where you’re hiring a car.

Finally, check with the hire firm what you should do in the case of an emergency. Make a note of contact details and keep them close to hand or in the vehicle.

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