Martin Lewis: Steer clear of holiday car hire pitfalls

Have car keys will travel  but beware of some bumps on the road that seem designed to catch out the unwary holidamaker
Have car keys will travel  but beware of some bumps on the road that seem designed to catch out the unwary holidamaker
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Every summer millions of Brits sit behind the wheel in far-flung destinations across the world. Yet there are many financial bumps in the road if you do so, but I hope these seven tips will navigate you through it.

1. Book car hire early, and even if you’ve left it late, book as early as you can.

The earlier you hire your car the better. Walk in during the summer holidays, and if they’ve capacity you’ll usually pay around £40 a day for a small car. Yet book a few weeks early, even for August and it can be as little as £13 per day in Malaga or Tenerife.

And if you can book months ahead, even better, like Dave, who emailed his thanks for the info: “Booked four months ahead, got ten days for £296 for a decent-sized car. Just before I went, checked and price had gone to £900.”

To find your cheapest, use as many comparison sites as you’ve time for including http://www.kayak.co.uk and http://www.carrentals.co.uk.Then once booked double check the details with the car firm.

2. Beware stealth fuel charges on hire cars.

Some firms try and make you pay for a full tank of fuel, then ask you to “return it empty”. If you’re not likely to drive far, this can mean €100 extra charge. Instead use the fuel policy filter on most comparison sites and look for full to full policies.

3. Avoid the ‘and you need insurance’ hard sell when you pick the car up.

Hire a car and basic insurance is covered with it. Yet when you get to the desk, there’s usually a hard sell, I’ve countless times heard the person at the desk say: “Hey señor, you need excess insurance too – if not and there’s a problem, you pay €1,000.”

And it happens. Someone recently asked me about £1,000 excess they were charged for gearbox damage. The problem is the excess insurance is usually exorbitant, often up to £20/day.

Instead you can get a stand-alone policy before you jet off for a fraction of the cost. Go to comparison site www.moneymaxim.co.uk or better http://www.mse.me/carhire which also lists special discounts. The savings can be large, as Glyn tweeted me: “Thanks @MartinSLewis, I followed your guide & got a week’s car hire excess insurance for £13. Rental company wanted £12 per day.” Yet even if you get one of these policies, the person at the car hire desk will often try and pooh-pooh it. They will make you leave €1,000 deposit which any costs are taken from (you then reclaim this from your insurer).

The deposit must be on a credit card (not a debit or prepaid card) in the name of the person who booked. I’ve seen people forget their card and offer their partner’s card instead, which is then refused, meaning they must double pay for insurance.

4. Officially you should have a DVLA code to hire a car

When hiring a car in the UK or abroad you need to request a ‘personal code’ from http://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence to show when picking up the car, so it can check for points. In practice though many firms don’t ask.

In a twitter poll of 1,700 people only three per cent said they were asked for the code abroad, 14 per cent in the UK. Each code is valid for 21 days from the date you obtain it and it can only be used once.

5. International driving licences are recommended outside the EU.

If you’re driving in Europe, you can use your UK driving licence. Outside Europe around 140 countries either require or recommend you to have an International Driving Permit. That includes the USA, Thailand and India (a full list is at http://www.theaa.com).

The fastest way to get it is at the counter at selected Post Office branches (costs £5.50), or you can get it from RAC (£8) or the AA (£8.50) by post

6. Taking your own car to Paris, Lyon or Grenoble you need a sticker.

They’ve introduced a new “Crit’Air” scheme to curb pollution, meaning if you want to drive through certain areas at certain times, you need a sticker on the windscreen to show its pollution level. If not there can be an on the spot fine of around £60. To get this you must apply before you go (can take 30 days) from http://www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/en/demande and it costs €4.80.

7. Check the rules of the road where you’re driving.

Speak to the car hire firm or do a search online as early as possible. For example, in some countries where you drive on the right, you can turn right on a red light without waiting – if you don’t expect many honked horns. In Spain officially drivers who wear glasses or contact lenses must carry a spare pair in the car by law, and in some cities, you’re only allowed to park your car on the side of the street where house numbers are odd, on odd-numbered days of the month.

Do also check if there are certain rules for children, and whether they can sit in the front. And unsecured bags in the back and driving with flip flops can be frowned upon by police.

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 12 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip.