On the surface car rental seems simple, but it is one of the facets of a holiday which can cause you the most problems. Select your supplier carefully, read all the paperwork thoroughly, and follow the other tips I give and all should be fine. There will be more detailed information in later blogs.
1. Driver’s licence. This varies from country to country but generally you must have held a valid driver’s licence for over 12 months normally without endorsements or restrictions as a result of some major misdemeanor. In some countries you may also need an International Drivers Licence obtainable from your state motoring organization. I always carry one to be on safe side. It does not replace your regular licence which you must also have with you.
2. Deciding on collection and return locations. Where you collect and return the car will probably depend on your flights or rail arrival. Collecting a rental car at a major airport will normally involve paying an inclusive airport fee which can be as high as 30%. For this reason, some “experts” advocate booking a car from a depot way from the airport to save the fee. This works sometimes but not always a good idea. You need to always check both options.
If booking with a major international name, then they have it all worked out and often it is not worthwhile trekking downtown by taxi to a cheaper location – more expense and effort. At the airports they have large fleets which have to be constantly rented, so sometimes the bottom-line cost at the airport even with the fee is still very competitive. Like most things in travel it depends WHEN you travel, so approach it with an open mind and NEVER ASSUME.
One-way rentals are normally possible within one country but sometimes with a one-way drop fee which can be substantial. Always check different companies because even between the same cities it can vary widely. One-way rentals across national borders have such huge one-way fees to be not worth considering, but in Europe the car leasing scheme could be the way to go. I say much more about this whole topic in my book The Happy Holiday Travel Planner.
3. Selecting a supplier. Most places in the world you normally have 3 choices. You can go to the rental company directly, you can go through your travel agent who is using a local car wholesaler, or you can now go through an online search engine which will look at a large number of suppliers and come up with a range of prices.
Booking directly with the rental company. For international car rental, my general observation, after looking at a number of large car rental sites like Avis, Budget, Hertz, Thrifty etc, is that they each have their own unique way of setting out their conditions and fees and also have widely differing terminology which can be quite taxing to wade through. You will have to do lots of reading, so the message is to read carefully and see what is included and more importantly not. Rates will vary widely from week to week by as much as 50% depending on factors like school holidays. Just like airlines, car rental companies constantly monitor their load factors, and prices on their sites can change totally within 24 hours according to availability, so it is difficult to generalize. But booking direct can sometimes be the best option.
Booking with a travel agent/local wholesale car rental operator .In Australia the two largest, most well known and longest established are Driveaway and Global Cars, and they are widely used by most travel agents. The two companies secure bulk wholesale rates from the major international car rental companies in a very large number of countries and pass them on to travel agents and consumers. You can book directly with either company or through your travel agent. The price is the same so perhaps leave it and your other arrangements, with your travel agent. After making final payment to your agent/car wholesaler you receive their vouchers which you then present when you collect the car. There you are presented with the same paperwork to sign as you would get if you booked directly with the car rental company. That is an important fact to understand. The rental conditions are identical to if you had booked direct with the rental company. The only difference may be the price. I often use these wholesalers when I travel overseas because they are local and easy to contact by phone if I have questions, they really know what they are doing, offer me a range of companies, and are well priced. I have always found their rates competitive compared with any other source of car rental but not always the cheapest.
Booking with an online metasearch engine. Rentalcars.com is the world’s largest online car rental operator offering 208 car rental companies and 40,000 depots. Rather than scan other car rental suppliers, they offer you the actual car rental companies. So they are just another wholesale car rental operator but with special rates with the major companies. Rentalcars.com is actually TravelJigsaw which is a Priceline Ltd company (Booking.com etc) – surprise, surprise. On their Australian website there is a 24 hour 1800 toll free number and when I rang them I was talking to Manchester UK. The guy was helpful enough if a little tired sounding at 0700 local time – may have been on the nightshift. Rentalcars.com Terms and Conditions are on their site when you book and if you use them make sure you read them thoroughly. And again you are going to sign the same paperwork and conditions at the pickup.
Conclusion: I regularly compare prices of the 3 sources (with all things being equal) and recently the Australian travel wholesaler Global Cars came out cheapest when I tested a USA car rental. I have just investigated a 14-day rental out of London Heathrow Airport for a Vauxhall Astra Compact Manual 1.6l with Europcar. Europcar Direct was AUD 429. DriveAway the Australian wholesaler was AUD 389 and Rentalcars.com was AUD 314!! But if I test a Vauxhall Corsa with both Hertz Direct and Rentalcars.com they have identical prices – AUD 406. Looks like Rentalcars.com carries a lot of weight! So what to do? Check each source before booking. But make sure you are comparing apples with apples.
PS. A quick word about vehicle selection. If you are going to be driving on the other side of the road from that which you are used to, for goodness sake book an automatic car – one less thing to think about!.
4. Excess. The rental will normally include insurance of the vehicle but there may be an amount of Excess which is not covered even though the costing may say that it includes Collision Damage Waiver or Loss Damage Waiver. This can be very very confusing, so read the fine print very very carefully to see what is the amount of Excess.
On a standard car the Excess will normally be between $3,000 and $4,000 and this is the maximum amount of your liability in the event of an accident and it will be automatically charged to your credit card after the accident. That authority is detailed in the paperwork that you sign at the desk when you collect the car. If you want to totally remove the Excess you normally pay an extra daily fee which can be quite substantial if paid direct to the rental company at time of collection – roughly around $30 to $40 per day.
A cheaper way to reduce the Excess may be to hire through a car wholesaler where the daily rate to reduce the Excess to Nil may be as low as $10. Or even better it can be a part of your travel insurance which we examine in Chapter 9 of The Happy Holiday Travel Planner.
5. Collecting the car. When you front the car rental desk present your car rental vouchers, licence and credit card. You will be asked now if you want PAI or other options so be very clear on what is covered with the voucher that you have presented. If the rental that you have purchased has an Excess then you will be asked if you want to remove the Excess at so much per day. That is up to you but the agreement will show the total amount that will be charged to your card in the event of an accident. You will be asked to sign if you refuse to take out their policy.
Take your time to read the document before signing, looking particularly for any extra charges. If you have prepaid there should be none, but even reputable companies will add something to cover themselves sometimes. Hertz in Sydney always adds an extra day or sometimes hour on my rental because the docs are produced early (strange system) but does not charge them unless I return late. Finally the paperwork will detail the existing damage on a plan of the car – scratches, dents etc.
After you sign the contract to accept liability for the car they will take an imprint of your credit card and take a hold of about $200 to cover possible extra charges. You then receive the keys and go to the car.
It is now very important to take your time to go around the car and look at all the external marks/scratches and check against the list you have been given. Different companies have different standards but if it is longer than a few mm or is indented it should be detailed on the agreement. If not then go back to the desk, get someone to come with you who should then give you a copy of an additional update sheet.
Yes you are in a hurry to get going but take your time at this point. It is no good telling the company tomorrow when you notice some damage. Rental companies do allow for “wear and tear” in their contracts but that is a very grey area. So take your time.
It is nearly time to “hit the road” with your rental car and I have run out of space on this very long topic. So what I am going to do is to give you the last 5 of the 10 TOP TIPS ON CAR RENTAL in a future blog so look out for it soon – To be continued…
For the full story on car rental go to Chapter 7 in The Happy Holiday Travel Planner.
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