Guide to renting a car online

Posted on: 20 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

It pays to learn some basic information about renting a car before you appear at the rental counter.

online car hireAll too often, renting a car means standing in long lines, discovering that the car you reserved is not available, and learning that the price quoted over the phone doesn't include additional charges such as insurance, coverage for more than one driver, and refuelling fees.

Although we can't guarantee a pleasurable experience every time you rent a car, you can reduce the number of times you encounter problems at the rental counter by learning about your rights, following several tips and booking online.

Your Rights When Reserving A Rental

If you have reserved a car and the company does not have the car you reserved available for you when you arrive, the company must do everything it can to find you a different car from its fleet - if you arrive on time for your reservation.

Car Renting

Is renting a car cheaper than buying?

If the only available car is more expensive, you don’t have to pay the higher rate. If no car is available, you can rent from another company or take a taxi and then seek reimbursement for your extra costs from the original car rental company.

Nearly all rental car companies charge penalties for four-wheel drives, minivans, convertibles, and other specialty rentals if you fail to cancel a reservation in advance or are a no-show. Some companies are testing similar policies on their standard rental cars.

Online Car Renting

The internet is great for putting together DIY fly-drive packages, as renting a car is probably the easiest aspect of online travel booking – just select your desired location and dates and off you go.

A good website to book your car rental would:

  • Include all essential insurances in the quote.
  • Give a good idea of the car size and capacity.
  • Provide a map and opening hours for the pick-up location.
  • Clearly show rates for extras such as additional drivers.
  • Let you include your flight details for airport pick-ups.
  • Make no extra charge for using a credit card.

Who To Book With

Often the cheapest quotes come from brokers - middlemen who buy and sell car rental en masse but don’t actually own any cars or have desks at any airports. That’s the role of the rental agents, with familiar names like Avis or Hertz, and sometimes a good quote from them will undercut a bad one from a broker.

Other than price, it can make little difference who you book with, as in the end your car, and contract, will come from an agent.

Protect Yourself

These days, most companies’ quotes include the necessary insurances but always double-check just in case. The three minimum requirements are:

  1. Third-party liability.
  2. Collision Damage Waiver, also know as Loss Damage Waiver.
  3. Theft Protection.

In the USA, Extended Protection - also known as Supplementary Liability Insurance - is essential on top of the three requirements mentioned above.

Even with these covers in place, you may still be liable for the first part of any claim, known as the excess, which in Europe and Australasia can be up to £1,200.

If you want to reduce the excess to zero, you’ll need to take out top-up insurance, often known as supercover, either with the rental company or independently at www.dailyexcess.com for daily policies or www.insurance4carhire.com for annual cover.

Booking

The procedure on most rental websites is short and clear, often needing little more than your personal details and a credit-card number.

Check your price quote covers essentials such as adequate insurance and unlimited mileage – most do. Additional things, like having two drivers or an infant seat, usually cost extra and may be payable on pick-up rather than when booking.

Pre-Paying: Often it’s cheaper to pay in full in advance – though be sure to read the cancellation terms carefully. If you have to cancel, you may lose all your money.

Age Limits: The minimum rental age is usually 21, but under-25s nearly always have to pay an extra daily charge. Typically, the upper age limit is 75.

Car Types: Your booking will be for a ‘car group’, like ‘compact’, rather than a specific model. Pick a size that suits, but don’t expect to get exactly the car you saw on the website – although it should be something similar.

Office Hours: Make sure the website gives clear information about the location and opening hours of the pick-up office. Cities may have several branches, while smaller offices may close early or at weekends.

Credit Card: Although you might not use one to pay, you will need to have a credit card when you pick up the car so that the agent can take a deposit.

Confirmation: Print off your confirmation details so that you have a copy of the booking reference when you collect the car.

Have your flight details handy You’re likely to be requested to provide them when you book, so that if there’s a delay, the car rental company will be aware of your late arrival.

Last-Minute Checklist

  • Have you chosen the right car for you?
  • How high is the insurance excess?
  • Does the rate include unlimited mileage?
  • How much are your potential extras?
  • Do you know where the pick-up office is and when it’s open?
  • Are the best rates only on pre-payment?

Web Links

Agents -

www.enterprise.co.uk

www.avis.co.uk

www.budget.co.uk

www.dollar.co.uk

www.hertz.co.uk

www.thrifty.co.uk

Brokers -

www.autosabroad.com

www.carhire4less.co.uk

www.holidayautos.co.uk

www.skycars.com

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