Smooth and affordable car hire is one of the key components of adventures abroad.
But, as with air fares, it's one of the parts of a holiday getting more expensive as fuel costs rise across Europe. Car-owners will be no stranger to the volatile price of petrol and diesel at forecourts, and it's unlikely to ease anytime soon.
Renting a car can be a tricky business at the best of times, as there are often hidden costs, additional fees and lots of insurance extras involved. So if you’ve booked a holiday this year and are planning to hire a car as part of your trip, how can you keep costs low?
Read on for our handy guide to car rental in 2022.
Don’t leave it until the last minute
It’s a well-known fact that buying anything time-sensitive at the last minute is likely to result in higher costs. From train and plane tickets to accommodation, as urgency rises, so does the cost.
This is particularly pronounced in the current context, as a number of car rental providers sold off their fleets to stay afloat during the pandemic. "The manufacturing shortages coupled with an expected increase in travel means demand will inevitably outstrip supply," explains Rory Sexton, managing director of independent car hire broker Zest. "We strongly recommend our customers to book early and secure their car rental."
Some countries have higher rental demands too. There's likely to be more people looking to hire a car in popular summer destinations like Italy and Portugal which will drive up prices.
Check the car before you drive off
One of the most important things you can do is check over the car before you leave the parking lot. While car hire firms will be quick to tell you that there is no damage to the vehicle, make sure you take note of any existing issues so they can’t be blamed on you once you return it.
Check the car carefully for dents, scratches and cracks - especially in common places such as wing mirrors and bumpers. Point these out to the dealership and write them down on the agreement before you and they sign.
Taking photos and videos of any pre-existing damage - which will be time stamped - is a good idea too.
Book a car with a local company
While it might be tempting to book a car with a big global brand, small rental firms are often cheaper. As with most things, it pays to shop around, but it also might not be sensible to book with a company you’ve never heard of.
Using a trustworthy car rental broker, such as Zest or Skyscanner, will give you peace of mind and help you compare small firms based on a wide variety of factors.
Steer clear of airport car hire companies
Though it might be easier to get your car from a car hire firm at the airport, the convenience will cost you. Cars are in demand at these transport hubs, so there’s a surge price involved in hiring one here. Smaller firms that aren’t based at the airport are likely to be significantly cheaper, so make sure you’ve planned ahead.
Buy third party insurance
Buying insurance directly from the car hire firm is usually always more expensive and less comprehensive. Instead, buy your insurance from a third-party provider.
In the UK, Which? has a good guide to car insurance firms. While many car hire firms will try and pressure you into buying their insurance if you know you’ve got good coverage in advance, their sales pitch will be easier to ignore.
Pack a map or download a navigation app
If you can live without satnav, your car hire costs will likely be cheaper as you’ll be able to get a model without all the added technological extras.
While maps might seem a bit old school by today’s standards, if you’re good at navigation and travelling in a pair, it’s worth considering. Reading a map will also help you to get to know the local area too and you might discover some less well known beauty spots.
Alternatively, if you don’t think your navigation skills are up to the task, consider downloading a satnav app on your phone instead. That way you’ll be able to choose a cheaper, satnav free car.
Find out how you’re paying for fuel
Petrol prices are high and likely to get higher as the year goes on, so saving on fuel is one of the easiest ways to reduce the cost of car hire.
There are generally two ways to pay for fuel in a hire car, you can either sign up for a full-to-empty policy or a full-to-full policy.
While the full-to-empty scheme might seem easier, you’ll be paying the car rental firm's costs for that full tank. Though it means you won’t have to fill it up before you return the car, these prices are unlikely to be the cheapest on the market. Also, if you don’t use the whole tank, it’ll be money down the drain too.
This makes full-to-full the more cost-efficient option if you’re unlikely to use the full tank, you’ll only have to top it up a bit - plus you’ll be able to find the cheapest petrol station in the area.
Shop around for the best petrol prices
While it might seem that fuel prices are universally high, some petrol stations are still cheaper than others. As a rule, you should always avoid buying petrol from a motorway service station, where the price of filling your tank is almost always going to be more.
Get off the motorway and you’re likely to find cheaper prices. Supermarket forecourts are usually the best option, and if you’re on a staycation you’ll already know which ones have the cheapest deals. Also make sure to sign up for supermarket loyalty cards, as many of these offer points for petrol schemes.
If you’re travelling in the UK the Petrol Prices app will be able to direct you to the cheapest petrol station in your area. Many other countries have their own version too, including Germany’s Clever Tanken app and Gas Buddy in the US.
Drive efficiently to save fuel
It might take a bit of brain training, but driving efficiently can also help you cut down on the amount of petrol you use while travelling in your hire car. Driving faster uses more fuel, so accelerating slowly will lead to better fuel efficiency.
Driving in the highest gear possible within the speed limit is the most fuel-efficient way you can drive. Equally, maintaining momentum will keep fuel use low too. While this isn’t always possible given traffic jams and stop signs, bear in mind that slowing and accelerating will be bad for your mileage, so try and keep it to a minimum.
If you find yourself in a temperate country and don’t really need to use the AC, turn it off. Having the air con on all the time will also guzzle fuel, so always take off your jumper before reaching for the AC switch.