11 Rental Car Tips & Tricks For Your Next Road Trip

Save money and stress on your next road trip with these 11 essential tips for purchasing a rental car.
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Rental Car Tips & Tricks

Looking for some rental car tips and tricks to save you money and stress for your next road trip?

Who isn’t?

I’ve purchased so many rental cars in different countries across the world for both short and long road trips and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I wished I knew what I’ve outlined below because believe me, I’d have saved a lot of money and I’d have significantly fewer stress lines on my forehead than what I do now. 

Anyway enough about forehead lines, let’s get into it.

Here’s some tips and tricks that you should use when you next purchase a rental car…

Rental Car Tips & Tricks

1. Save money by searching on rental car comparison sites

Gone are the days of needing to search and get a quote from hundreds of independent car rental sites.

You can now search comparison sites and get a quote back from hundreds of small, local and large car rental companies from across the world in seconds. 

When I’m looking for a rental car, I do my best to check a couple of different comparison sites because sometimes the prices fluctuate depending on which site you look at – strange, I know.

Here’s my three go to car rental comparison sites: 

1. SkyScanner

The first car rental comparison site I check is almost always SkyScanner

SkyScanner compares the rates from 100+ independent car rental companies and from other travel agents and brokers meaning you’ve got the best chance of finding a great price.

You can also filter the results down to match exactly what you need. For example, transmission types, size of vehicle, type of vehicle, fuel policy etc.

2. Momondo

Momondo is the second car rental comparison website I check because not only does it allow you to do near enough exactly what SkyScanner does, Momondo also allows you to search using a map and quickly see whether or not it’s cheaper to pick your rental car up from another nearby location.

I’ve touched on this more below, but sometimes picking your rental car up from another location can save you a bit of cash, so it’s a super handy feature. 

3. Kayak

Kayak searches 20+ sites for car rental prices and I’ll be super honest, it’s not all that different to SkyScanner or Momondo.

However, as I mentioned I like to check at least three car rental comparison sites to get the best price and Kayak has sometimes given me a cheaper price than the other two, so it’s always worth a look.

Oh and as an extra bonus you can also search for rental cars down to the age of 18. 

If you’re under 25, I’ve written a guide on specifically how under 25’s in the UK can find a cheap rental car.

2. Book your rental car as early as possible

This next rental car tip is likely not a surprising one, but believe it or not the earlier you book your rental car, the more money you’re likely to save. 

I know, shock! 

To give you an example, here’s a comparison that I ran on SkyScanner for a rental car in Edinburgh for a full 3 day rental with no additional options checked:

Car hire comparison 1: Pick up for next day at Edinburgh Airport – cheapest option £33

Screenshots of rental car website: SkyScanner & Next Day Car Hire Comparison

Car hire comparison 2: Pick up in 11 months time at Edinburgh Airport – cheapest option £29

Screenshots of rental car website: SkyScanner & Next Year Car Hire Comparison

Now let me level with you here… 

A £4 saving is hardly going to break the bank, is it?

The savings for early bookings only start to come into play when you rent a car for longer periods and when you move up the rental car classes and away from the “Mini” and “Economy” rental car classes. 

You might also find that some countries are cheaper than others too when you book earlier.

Either way it’s worth checking on the comparison sites above for yourself and seeing the different rates you can get for purchasing in advance. 

3. Purchase excess insurance

Now bare with me on this next rental car tip…

You’ve likely heard from family and friends that you SHOULDN’T purchase top up insurance from the car rental company because it’s a rip off. 

And I completely agree. 

Let me explain a little bit about standard car rental insurance first and then I’ll outline what I mean when I say you should purchase excess insurance. 

Standard car rental insurance

Most car rental companies will include standard insurance that covers you for all of the normal stuff like damage, theft and fire. 

However, if you ever need to claim on the insurance (whether it’s through your own fault or somebody else’s fault, it doesn’t matter), you will need to pay an excess. This excess can range from £100 / $100 all the way up to £1500 / $1500; sometimes even more (check the fine print). You will never see that excess ever again.

To reduce the excess or completely wipe the excess off, car rental companies will try and hard sell (and I mean hard sell) top up excess insurance.

This top up excess insurance can cost anywhere between £10-£25 / $10-$25 for every day that you have the car.

Very expensive. 

That’s where my next rental car tip comes in…

Standalone car hire excess insurance

Whilst you shouldn’t purchase the top up insurance on offer from your car rental company, you should still purchase excess insurance from a standalone provider.

To do so, visit an insurance comparison website and search for excess insurance. From there you can purchase either a one time policy for the time of your rental or you can purchase an annual policy if you use rental cars at least more than once a year. 

The cost for excess insurance varies, but you can usually grab a week’s worth for around £20 / $20, compared to the very extortionate daily charge.

This extra excess insurance is worth it for the peace of mind driving your rental car – trust me. 

4. Read the fine print

I cannot emphasise this next tip enough. 

Read the fine print before you purchase your rental car to avoid some nasty shocks (mostly of the money kind) when you come to picking your car up or dropping it off.

The fine print / extra details will be available after you’ve gone from SkyScanner, Momondo or Kayak and onto the vendors website. 

I’m going to roll a couple of micro fine print tips into one here, so bare with me because they’re all super important:

Mileage allowance

Car rental companies will sometimes impose a mileage allowance on your rental car.

If you go over that allowance you’ll be asked to pay a surcharge for every mile that you ran over (usually around £0.30 / $0.30 per mile). 
 
If you’re only renting a car to get around the city, you probably won’t need to worry too much about the mileage allowance. However, if you’re going on a road trip that’s 1500 miles long, make sure you don’t then go and hire a rental car that only allows you to drive 1000 miles.
 
Check the mileage allowance on your rental car just to be sure. 
 

Fuel policies

The three most common fuel policies that car rental companies use are: 

  • Full to full: You pick the car up with a full tank of fuel and then return it with a full tank of fuel
  • Pre-Purchase: You pay for the initial fuel tank ahead of time and then return it with however much is left in the tank (try and aim for empty though)
  • Free fuel: You get a free tank of fuel (very rare)

You need to double check the fine print to see which fuel policy your car rental company uses because if you don’t, you’re going to end up out of pocket:

  • Fail to fill up to full after you’ve agreed that you will, you’re going to be charged a fee and a premium for the rental company to fill it up again
  • Fill it up to the top and drop it off with half a tank left, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get the difference refunded

Check your fuel policy in the fine print and save yourself some cash.

Car wash

Some car rental companies will ask that you return the car only after it’s had a car wash. 

This is uncommon amongst the big car rental companies, but it does happen with smaller, local car rental companies, so again be sure to check the fine print beforehand otherwise they’ll charge you for the cost of a (very expensive) valet. 

Credit cards & deposits

Car rental companies will almost always ask for a security deposit on the chance that you need to make a claim (more often than not you’ll notice that the security deposit matches that of the excess).

To take the security deposit, car rental companies will again almost always ask that you place it on your credit card.

Here’s our advice:

  1. Check the fine print to see how much the security deposit is
  2. Ensure that you have enough space on your credit card for the rental company to ‘secure’ the cash.

The car rental company won’t actually charge your card, they just need to make sure you have the money available should you need to make a claim. 

Border crossings

If you’re on a great European road trip, make sure you check your fine print to see if you can take the rental car across the border. 

Some rental car companies will let you, and some won’t. It’s best to check beforehand.

5. Drop your car off on-time

If you’ve specified a drop off time, do not be late because if you are, and even if it’s by a couple of minutes, you’re likely going to have to pay either a late drop off fee or the cost of an extra day’s rental charge. 

My best advice is if you’ve got your itinerary together and you think you can get to the drop off point for 7PM, make it 8PM to be sure. 

You’re better off paying a tiny bit extra than risking a huge late return fee.

Also, always give yourself a bit of extra time anyway so that you don’t need to rush to find a car parking spot, which is often a nightmare when returning rental cars.

6. Note down the rental car companies emergency number

It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to rental cars. 

If your rental car company has a 24 hour emergency number (most do), make sure to note it down somewhere in case your car breaks down.

Hopefully it shouldn’t because most rental cars are new, but you can never be too sure.

7. Pick your rental car up from another location

If you’re flying to your destination first and then picking up your rental car, it can sometimes be cheaper to pick up the car from a location that isn’t the airport.

Think about it – rental car companies that are located at the airport are more convenient for travellers and so they can charge a premium. 

Catch a 15 minute bus down the road to a different rental car location and you might be able to save yourself a bit of cash. 

Like I mentioned earlier, Momondo is the best website for checking the costs at different locations.

8. Skip the rental car satnav

Now if you haven’t got a smartphone, you might as well skip this next tip. 

If you’re going on a road trip and you think you need a satnav, my recommendation is to not purchase the additional satnav extra that car rental companies offer.

Why?

Google Maps is one of the best travel apps around and is more than suitable, if not better than the satnav that you can get in cars.

If you’re concerned about signal, or rather, the lack of it, download maps.me (iOS and Android) and it’ll give you full access to offline maps (just make sure you download the map you need before you head off). 

Winding road going through a forest of trees

9. Be wary of one way drop off fees

If you’re going on a road trip, this next rental car tip is worthwhile thinking about.

95% of the time rental car companies will charge you a premium for dropping the rental car off at a different destination to where you picked it up from.

Why? 

They need to pay someone to get the car back to its original pick up point. 

The premium can sometimes be excessive too, so it’s worth checking the different rental rates for different drop off points and changing your plans to suit.

Obviously if your road trip plan is fixed and has little room for movement there’s not much you can do about the one-way premium, but it’s best that you’re aware of it before you book. 

10. Check which fuel your rental car takes

Nice simple tip this one, but an important one all the same.

If the person at the reception desk doesn’t tell you which fuel your rental car takes, make sure you ask them.

If it’s petrol and you fill it up with diesel, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to be covered for the repair costs. And oh boy, there will be some repair costs; some expensive ones at that!

Double and then triple check which fuel you need before you leave. 

11. Take pictures of your rental car before you leave

This next and final tip comes from the heart and is something that I wish I did in the past.

Before you leave the parking area or before you even get in your rental car, check the car over.

I’m not talking about a quick once-over, I’m talking about checking every little detail for:

  • Scratches
  • Dents
  • Scuffs (especially on the wheels & alloys)
  • Marks
  • Interior faults

If you notice anything on the car whatsoever, no matter how minor it might seem, you need to do two things:

  1. Call over a member of staff so that they can acknowledge and log any issue with the car that you’ve highlighted to them
  2. Take pictures yourself so that you’ve got your own proof (extra tip: switch the engine on so that you can show the mileage of the car and then go round with your phone and record a video of every detail that you’ve highlighted)

Doing the above will stop you from being stung with a massive (and I mean massive) fine when you drop the car off. 

Believe me, take pictures of your rental car before you do anything else.

Final bit of advice...

I hope you’ve found these rental car tips and tricks useful.

Abide by them and you hopefully won’t have any issues when you come to purchasing a rental car for your next road trip wherever it is you’re off to.

As a final bit of advice I’d recommend just double checking the reviews for the car rental company you’re dealing with to be sure that you’re in safe hands. 

Word of warning on that beforehand though… most car rental companies tend to average around 3-4 stars because there’s some people (not all) that don’t stick to the tips and tricks above, so don’t be put off if you see them all with 3-4 stars. 

Anyway, make sure you pin this post so you can refer back to the checklist every time you purchase a rental car and enjoy your drive. 

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The Witty Nomad

The Witty Nomad is a travel blog written by me, Danny, a 20-something 9-5er who travels around Europe part-time.

My aim is to show you how you too can make travel possible.

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