Top 10 Car Hire Tips: How to save money on your holiday car rental
Travel Tips & Advice
Want to avoid the rip-offs and save money on your next car rental? Check out Thomas Breathnach's Top 10 car hire tips!
1. Book smart
Need some wheels? With so many rental options at the arrivals hall these days, start by sifting through the deals at kayak.ie, holidayautos.com or aerlinguscars.com — all of which compare the rates of main providers. Looking for more of a bargain? Deleting your computer’s cookies and comparing the .ie and .com websites of the same provider can often result in a significant shift in price. Also, if you’ve a flexible schedule, tweak your pick-up and drop-off times by just a couple of hours — you might be surprised at the savings.
Tip stop: Budget travellers, check if your destination has a used car renter branch like rentawreck.com.
2. Location, location, location
Your pick-up point is the crucial player in your rate. Airports may have the largest fleets and most competitive car hire markets, but they also are subject to extra levies not present at downtown zones. For longer road trips, a quick train trip or cab ride to a provincial town could see your quote drop by hundreds. It's one of my top car hire tips. Also, try and loop your trip if possible — dropping your car off at a different location will usually incur a hefty extra charge.
Tip stop: Enterprise (enterprise.ie), though often located in more suburban spots, picks up and drop clients off from that town’s radius — a handy bonus.
Thomas Breathnach on his travels
3. Get the insurance breakdown
Whether renting a BMW 5 Series from Heathrow or a moped from a dusty desk in Heraklion — ensure you’re insured, but not over-insured. A CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) in the event of an accident is an absolute must, but even that might not spare you excess charges that can top €2,000. If you’re a frequent road tripper, consider buying an annual car hire excess policy from the likes of Axa (axa.ie) or carhireexcess.ie. As little as €49.99 per annum could save you hundreds.
Tip stop: Agents will try to up-sell anything from gravel insurance to kangaroo collision cover: be realistic about your itinerary before you agree to add-ons.
4. Say yes to GPS?
One of the most common extras charged on car rentals is GPS — Hertz in Ireland levies €16 a day for the device alone, for example. But do you really need one? Nowadays, the combo of smartphone and Google Maps provides a highly reliable alternative — and a handy one, given you can pin stops and routes before you collect your car keys. You’ll need a signal, of course (and watch out for roaming charges), but by screen-shooting your directions en route you shouldn’t run off road if you run out of Wi-Fi.
Tip stop: BYOB! Bringing your own baby or child car seat might be a schlep on the airplane, but it will save you money — and peace of mind — on the road.
Car hire tips - a little research can mean big savings
5. Safety first!
Always make sure you familiarise yourself with a car’s cockpit before you hit the road. It may sound obvious, but even experienced road rippers can get flummoxed. I’ve encountered everything from Alpine tunnels in Slovenia (where I’ve been unable to find my high beams) to Smart cars in Mykonos (at pains to engage reverse gears). Even fool-proof automatic transmissions are worth a quick parking-lot play-around before a novice hits the road.
Tip stop: Nervous about driving on the Continent? Consider a road trip to fellow leftie islands Cyprus or Malta.
6. The only way is upgrade
Okay, the chances of bagging a Ford Mustang when you’ve booked a Ford Focus might be slim, but rental upgrades are often offered as much as requested. The ideal factors for supersized success? Book from a large fleet supplier — on a weekend — and sign up as a loyalty member to buck your odds (and lower your rate). If on a budget, check your offer carefully. You may get a surprise when you’re offered a Chevrolet Impala after booking a Toyota Yaris, but always enquire about its MPG. With huge variants in fuel economy, that lengthy road trip might cost you big!
Tip stop: Renting an economy vehicle in the US almost always translates to mid-sized models by European standards.
7. Go mobile
Seeking a low-cost yet high-adventure escapade? Then why not combo up on both transport and lodging? That doesn’t mean navigating a clunky RV around the Ring of Kerry — a new generation of slick, compact campers are now trending thanks to the Instagramming millennial set. Vehicles are typically kitted out with a double bed, a sink and mini stove, offering the ultimate way to own your itinerary. Double-check driver’s licence requirements, however.
Tip stop: Be inspired by happycampers.is if travelling to Iceland; jucy.co.nz for Kiwi rentals or check out bunkcampers.com for an Irish road trip.
8. Go easy on the gas
First rule for rookie road trippers! Always meet your rental agent’s offer of “special fuel top-up rates” with the firmest, no, nein and non, merci. Returning your motor with an empty tank can cost you up to double the pump price. A solution: scope out the closest petrol station to your rental office before departure, or consult apps like GasBuddy for the nearest and cheapest options. Oh, and don’t run out of fuel. Even if you’re a pro at riding the red zone back home, running out of juice on foreign terrain isn’t a family album moment.
Tip stop: Avoid the habit of stocking up on snacks at service stations — save cash by doing a quick supermarket detour.
9. Britain, Brittany & beyond…
Be it summers in Le Havre, or daytrips to Holyhead, Ireland’s car-ferry culture goes back to the Ark (or at least the M.V. Munster in 1968). Port access to Britain and the Continent offers prime road-trip potential, particularly when travelling friends or couples can absorb the fares. When taking your own motor, be sure your car insurance covers you across the pond. If travelling with a pet, check that your ferry has a kennel option.
Tip stop: A Scottish road trip is just two hours away with a ferry from Larne (ferry.ie).
10. ’Appy days
A good app can turn an average road trip into an epic one. For the perfect soundtrack, Spotify will keep you in Jessie’s Girl rock-out mode even without a Wi-Fi signal. And if your co-pilot wants to up the ante, try Yokee, a karaoke app which puts the Auto-Tune into any adventure. Meanwhile, Waze is a community-based app which offers live traffic updates, accident alerts and speed traps as they happen (all Android & iOS).
Tip Stop: From agony-aunt radio in Mississippi to Liveline equivalents in West Cork, setting your dial to local radio is a great way to tune into a culture.
PS: One more thing
Taking a rental car to Northern Ireland? Some car hire companies, including Europcar, levy extra ‘cross-border’ coverage fees of up to €34... no matter how quick the visit.