Inside track: How to avoid getting stung for car rental
If you're renting a car at home or abroad this year, here are some things you should bear in mind to make sure you get the best deal and the best service, based on my years of experience working in the car-rental industry.
First off, if you want to get the best deal for car rental, avoid booking at the last minute when availability of cars is tight, and pre-pay when possible, as there is usually a small saving for doing this. This applies in particular to certain types of car that will be high in demand, such as automatic cars and MPV vehicles.
You should also be realistic about your requirements when booking your car. Choose the car that fits your requirements first rather than simply opting for the cheapest car and then trying to squash all occupants and luggage in. The cost for the next model up is usually small compared to the overall cost of the rental.
Check for air conditioning if you are travelling overseas, particularly if it's somewhere warm. Opting for a diesel car, while more expensive, may save you money if you are covering a high mileage over the course of your trip.
Secondly, if you are renting a car from an airport, the majority of car-rental companies will be located together at the airport. However, not all offer 'on airport' pick-up, so it's worth checking if your choice is actually 'on airport' and be prepared time-wise if not.
For city locations, ensure the rental company selected is a genuine city-centre location and that it makes sense to you in terms of proximity to your accommodation. There is little point saving €10 only to find the taxi ride to the rental company costs you €20. So check who is truly local; most reputable rental companies display their location on their webpages.
Also, take note that if you choose a price-comparison website, you can expect a wide variation in terms of price, quality of service and vehicle you will receive. Some price-comparison sites now allow you to select a number of different brands, thus offering the customer more choice.
Always remember that the main car-rental brands tend to offer a premium service backed up by 24-hour assistance and help lines. This is important if you break down in the middle of nowhere or are on your way to catch a flight.
In general, the prices for car rental in Europe will include basic coverage with an excess (this excess will require a security hold placed on your credit card). If you want to reduce this excess, you can purchase additional cover when you collect your vehicle (sometimes referred to as 'damage excess waiver').
Think of this excess as being like the security deposit you leave when staying in a hotel. When you return the car undamaged, the excess gets released from your credit card. An important point in this is that if you decide not to purchase damage excess waiver, then you are liable to any new damage to the car. Any new damage can be a trolley hitting your rental car while parked unattended in a shopping/hotel car park. This is an important point as a lot of renters think the damage is only what they may cause themselves - not always so!
Car-rental companies are busy places and many clients are in a hurry to get on the road. However, take a few minutes before you sign the rental damage form (which states any previous damage) making sure you are satisfied that everything has been noted. Walk around the car with the agent and note any scratches or dents.
Finally, remember that renting a car requires a driving licence and a credit card (in the driver's name) at minimum; again check the T&Cs for more information.
In addition, many companies will insist on you having at least two years' driving experience following your driving test, or employ age restrictions for certain car classes. If you want to add a driver they will usually need to be present with you and have their driving licence also.
Ciaran O'Brien is operations director with Europcar Ireland
Sunday Indo Business