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Renting a car: Be prepared and informed

Search engines and price comparison sites offer great deals in terms of finding a rental car that meet our requirements and budgets. When booking online we are often so ‘blind-sided’ by the price that the terms and conditions of the rental are often overlooked.

When booking a hire car, it is essential to read and review the terms & conditions, as well as the details of the rental contract so that you know what to expect when collecting your car and that you are fully aware of any terms or restrictions.

Car rental sites are often based off-airport and will require some form of transport (either offered directly by the rental company or a shuttle service), so when selecting a time for collection, it is important to consider the extra time required to reach the rental branch. Most rental companies will only hold your booking for a limited period within this time before releasing the vehicle to another customer. If your flights are delayed, it is worthwhile having contact details of the car rental company to hand so that you can inform them of the delay, in order to avoid disappointment when arriving to collect your car.

Rentals are advertised as having ‘insurance included’, however this normally carries a large excess which the rental company will expect to take a full security deposit for, in the event of the vehicle being damaged or stolen. Some companies do offer ‘excess reimbursement’ policies but this would still require the preauthorisation covering the excess (typically from £1000 - £2500). The only way to have absolute 100% peace of mind is to purchase the car rental company’s fully comprehensive insurance when collecting your vehicle.

Ensure that you have the correct form of identification and required documents with you when collecting your vehicle in order to avoid the disappointment of not being able to actually hire the car and forfeiting any monies that you have paid upfront. Additionally, most companies will only accept a payment card in the name of the car rental contract holder or main driver.

Check if mileage is limited and enough for your requirements – either a daily rate or total mileage for the period of the hire can apply– after which an additional charge with be levied per mile. Also, not all companies release cars with a full tank of fuel. Some companies will operate a like-for-like policy, which would require you to return the car with the same level of fuel that you received the car with. This may mean that the car will require refuelling at the nearest service station ahead of you commencing your onward journey.

Before taking possession of the car, it is essential that you proactively inspect the car for any damage and ensure that the condition reported on the Vehicle Condition Report (VCR) is accurate and fair. Don’t feel rushed or pressured into accepting the car. Take photos of the car’s exterior and interior. Ensure the staff identify these within the paperwork and that it is signed and dated. Any change in condition of the vehicle during the hire period, however minor (such as a scratch or a dent) or major will be your responsibility. Most often when collecting a hire car, you are keen to get going, it may be late and you could be tired; but essentially it is your responsibility and right to ensure that any existing damage is documented to avoid dispute when returning the vehicle.

Authored by Nicki Clarke, Independent Marketing Consultant, NHC Marketing