Even if you have a car, it is very possible that sooner or later you will need to rent a car during your trips. Either because you are going to a distant destination and you don’t want to spend half of your vacation driving to get there and back, or because you are going to an island and taking the car by ferry can cost you an arm and a leg, or simply because if you “like driving so much”. Now, you will have heard that it is very expensive, that there is always small print, that they charge you for everything… and it is true, we are not going to lie to you. But we will also tell you what you need to know to make economy rentals.
We confess that we have been, until a few years ago, urban travelers. But urban to the max. Of those who visited a big city until they got all the juice out of it and never went out to the surroundings beyond what some urban bus could take us. During this stage of our travels, we never considered renting a car. What did we want it for? To go from the airport to the center? Over time, our way of traveling has expanded and now we also do routes by car –roadtrips, which seems to sound better in English–. The time has come to investigate and find the best way to rent a car and not die trying.
And don’t think that with this investigation we solved everything… A few accidents and many kilometers later, we believe that we can give you a few tips to rent a car and that it really works out cheaper and, above all, do not have problems and disappointments.
ECONOMY RENTALS: WHAT SHOULD YOU TAKE INTO ACCOUNT?
The initial price of the car rental is important, but there are more factors to take into account. Because, hadn’t we agreed that “there is always small print”? Let’s see what you have to look for to know how much that nice initial price will amount to when the process is finished.
THE RENTAL CAR CATEGORY
This is platitude, but it must also be clear. The rental price varies greatly depending on the category and size of the car – a specific model is not usually set when renting. And yes, that initial price that seems so cheap is always the lowest category. So much so that you may not all fit with your luggage…
If you are not looking for the cheapest model –you need more seats or more boot volume or special features such as off-road–, you will have to take this into account when comparing the prices of the different car rental companies.
JUMP WITH MY TIP
Even if you hardly carry any luggage and there are only two of you, the lowest category will not always work for you when renting. If you are going to travel to a mountainous destination, for example, you will need a slightly more powerful engine to climb depending on the slopes. We experienced this firsthand on the island of La Palma when with the accelerator pedal pressed to the maximum and in second gear the car suffered every time the road stung up.
Another point that can make the price of your rental much more expensive is the fuel policy. The most common and cheapest option – you won’t have to look for it because it is usually the default option – is full-full. This means that the tank will be full when you pick up the car and you will have to return it full as well. Keep this in mind because it is one of the most common penalties in the return: if the tank is not full they will charge you for the fuel at the price of unicorn blood.
A detail to take into account in this case: it is common for them to block your credit card for the amount of the full fuel tank – at the price they set – which is released after returning the full car. Being a fuel deposit, we are not talking about a very large amount of money either.
CAR RENTAL INSURANCE: ALL RISK OR WITH FRANCHISE
Another point with fine print is insurance on rental cars. All the prices that you will see in very large letters include the minimum insurance with excess. What is the franchise? The amount of money below which there is no obligation on the part of the insurer and the damage has to be paid by the insured and, in the event that the amount exceeds the excess, the insurer is only responsible for the part that exceed.
It is better understood with an example: if your rental car has insurance with an excess of €500 and you have an accident, you will have to pay the full value of the repair if it does not exceed €500 and €500 if it is more expensive. Yes, you will always have to pay, in fact, the usual thing is that they block the maximum amount of the excess of the card when you pick up the car and release it -all or in part- later. Be careful, there are franchises of more than €1,000.
Obviously, everything related to paying is as long as the accident was the fault of the person who rented the car, if the fault is the other driver, you will not pay anything in any case.
We have no doubt, we always extend the insurance coverage to the maximum: all risk without excess and without deposit – card blocking. It’s more expensive, but if you have a mishap – and these days it seems they make bumpers out of plasticine so they scratch up as soon as you bump into another parked car – it’ll make up for it. Of course, it is important to make sure what the all-risk insurance covers, it would not be the first time that there was some element –usually wheels, as happened to us in Ireland, or windshield– that was not covered and that requires an extra payment.
JUMP WITH MY TIP
In addition to all-risk insurance with car rental companies, there is also “personal” insurance that covers the expenses that you may incur when having a mishap with the car. You pay the company that has rented you the car, and your insurer returns the money. Spoiler: if you don’t mind advancing money in case of an accident or having something blocked on your card when you pick it up, it’s worth it, it’s much cheaper and it covers the same as comprehensive insurance.
If the “normal” price includes the most basic insurance, you also have to look at the fine print on the number of kilometers allowed. Every day there are more companies that offer unlimited mileage, but it is essential to confirm it beforehand. If it is limited, even if it seems like a sufficient amount, calculate the distance to the destination you have chosen, add the transfers once there and take into account how many days you will be traveling. Every kilometer that you exceed your limit you will have to pay at the price of gold.
THE SECOND DRIVER, THE AGE OF THE DRIVER, TAKING THE CAR IN ONE PLACE AND RETURNING IT IN ANOTHER, CROSSING BORDERS…
Other elements that increase the basic rental price are:
the age of the driver, those under 25 and over 65-70 pay a supplement;
the second driver, also taking into account age;
pick up or return the car outside office hours – in the case of return it is usual that there is a mailbox to leave the keys;
the return of the car in a different office, it is important to ask if it is possible to do it;
If you are thinking of crossing a border, there may also be a supplement for the procedures and, as in the previous case, you must first find out if it is possible to do so;
If you are traveling with children, child safety elements – child seats, boosters, etc. – may have an extra cost.
Look carefully at the rental conditions of each company when you compare prices because some offer something extra, such as the second driver for free.
DRIVING AN AUTOMATIC CAR VS A MANUAL ONE
You may not have considered choosing between a manual car and an automatic one because you are used to one of them and you don’t even remember that the other exists. But it is possible that in the place where you are going to rent the other type is the usual one and you find yourself with a problem when leaving the car park. There was only one manual model in the train station in Florence and we had never driven an automatic, so we were lucky, but… Afterwards we have already tried the automatic and any will do.
On the other hand, if you are going to travel to a destination where you drive on the left, it is advisable to use an automatic car – changing gears with your left hand is difficult the first few times and some of you will end up opening your door when trying to change with your left hand.
GPS OR MAP?
If you are one of the romantics who enjoy looking at a road map or those who take the opportunity to ask for directions to talk to the locals, you don’t need a GPS. If you are one of those who get lost from the living room to the kitchen or who, before they finish giving them directions to a place, have already forgotten where they were going, you need a GPS. You can always count on Google Maps and your mobile. But if you travel to a destination with roaming – pay for data outside of your plan – renting the GPS together with the car will be much cheaper. Also think about it if you plan to move through mountainous or sparsely populated areas where mobile coverage can leave you sold.
Of course, whatever the GPS says, take a look at a map to confirm before venturing out. We spent three hours driving in Ireland following the GPS directions until we realized that there were two towns with the same name in two different counties. In any case, if you choose a category better than basic, it is quite likely that the car has integrated GPS.
CAR RENTAL COMPANIES VS CAR RENTAL COMPARISONS: HOW TO FIND MAKE ECONOMY RENTALS
As it happens when you are looking for the cheapest plane tickets, it is possible to search directly with a car rental company or use comparators. If you have time and know all the companies – and we assure you that there are many
Go beyond the most famous ones such as SIXT, Avis, Europcar, Budget, Hertz…–, you can search one by one until you find the best price. But you can also make a first selection using a comparator and, from that sieve, see the conditions of each of the companies that fit your budget.
We use Rentalcars to do that first screening and discover new car rental companies in the destination in question. The operation is as simple as indicating the point and date of collection and the point of return, if different, and the date. From there it is possible to see the rest of the details in the tab of each car.
WHAT COMPANIES ARE MOST RELIABLE TO RENT CARS?
Even if you have decided to use a comparator, it will be a company that will rent you the car. Which are more reliable? Because it is very good to find the best offer, but it is also important to know that the company will respond and that the car will deliver what it promises.
The good thing is that, along with the company and the offer, you will also find the evaluation of the people who have rented with them before and their comments. You will not go blind, surely many of the companies you have never heard of. And don’t think that if you focus on the big ones everything will be done: in many cases the specific offices are franchises and their operation is not fully regulated by the parent company.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO WHEN PICKING UP THE CAR
If you have not contracted the all-risk insurance directly with the company, when you pick up the rental car you will have to do an exhaustive review of the entire bodywork. In the rental contract there will be a drawing of the car with marks where there are damages and their description. Check that there are no more scratches, bumps or whatever, and if you find them, go back to the office to have them included in the rental agreement. It will be the only way to ensure that you do not have to pay for something that has not happened to you. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of everything to show that they were already there. If you have taken out private insurance, such as Rentalcars Premium Coverage, you also have to pay attention to all the damages, even if they later refund your money. Better not to have to open unnecessary claims that something can always go wrong.
JUMP WITH MY TIP
Don’t stay alone outside. Our last rental was missing the part that moves the mirrors on the inside of the driver’s door. Someone had ripped it off!
It doesn’t hurt either, although we confess that we have never done it, to look at the state of the spare tire, the tools to change it, the vests and the warning signs… whether or not you have fully comprehensive insurance. Turning on the lights, the turn signals, the windshield wipers… may be excessive, but if you have a moment before leaving the parking lot, it’s not a bad idea either.
In the same way, whether you have taken out comprehensive insurance with the company or not, also make sure that the fuel tank is really full. Ok, we’ve never encountered a missing stripe on boot, but we always look. And, as before, if it is not complete, go back to the office and claim before leaving.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO WHEN RETURNING THE CAR
It is about making the car rental cheap, but the first thing you have to do when returning the car is to check that you do not leave anything inside: trunk, glove compartments, under the seats…
Read the return form filled out by the employee who is in charge of receiving the car: indicating that the tank is full, that there are no damages, that it has been returned within the period… When you see that there is no associated penalty, sign the part . It is not about discussing if you have had a mishap, but if there is something that has not happened to you and you can prove it with photos, it is time to do so before signing. That way, you’ll avoid getting surprise charges on your card a few days later.
If you are going to return the car outside office hours, leaving it parked and putting the keys in the mailbox, these tips will be of no use to you. Try to arrive when there are people and try to do it with a margin of time. If you arrive when your plane or your train is going to leave, you will hardly be able to discuss that scratch…
RENT A CAR WITHOUT A CREDIT CARD
Since the basic rentals have insurance with excess, it is necessary to include a credit card so that the company can block the money and collect in case of problems. This can be a limitation if you do not have a credit card. On ECONOMY.RENTALS you can rent a car without a credit card: we accept debit cards, prepaid cards, transfers, automatic debits, etc.
THE INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENSE
If you want to rent a car in your country of residence, you will only need your own driving license. Many countries have treaties or exchange agreements that allow their citizens to drive without further documentation. In the event that your driving license is not valid in the country to which you are going to travel, you will need to obtain an international driving permit that will be required when you deliver the car to the rental office.
FOR WHICH COUNTRIES IS THE INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENSE NECESSARY?
As explained on the website of the General Directorate of Traffic, the international driving permit, or international driving license, is necessary for Spaniards who want to drive temporarily in countries that are not members of the European Union or the European Economic Area -which includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein–. The DGT recommends getting an international driving license, even for those countries that have signed treaties or exchange agreements with Spain.
IS AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER’S LICENSE NECESSARY IN THE UNITED STATES?
You need an international driving permit to drive a vehicle in the US. In some states it is mandatory to also carry the driver’s license from the country of origin along with the international one.
HOW TO GET THE INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENSE
All the information regarding how to obtain the international driver’s license –appointment request, processing times, necessary documentation and price– is on the DGT website. If you are not Spanish, these data will be on the website of the traffic management of your country, where they will also inform you if there is an agreement between your country and the country to which you are going to travel, that is, if the international card is necessary .
CAR RENTAL BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS
The collaborative economy has also reached car rental and there are several initiatives that put individuals in contact directly. We have never tried it but it is an option to take into account when looking for the cheapest price when renting a car.