AXA’s Tips and Guide to Hiring a Car While on Holiday

Driving abroad

20 March 2018

Hiring a car on holiday makes it much easier to explore at your own pace. However, the process itself is often not as straightforward as it could be.

Hiring a car on holiday gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace, without relying on public transport or tour operator schedules.

The actual car hire process can sometimes be complicated though: so learn how to navigate the web of optional extras and contract clauses in this simple guide, covering everything from paperwork and legal requirements to how to get the best value for money.

Finding a car hire provider while on holiday

There are a number of options available when it comes to finding a car hire company. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is by searching online, where you can often take advantage of online and early booking discounts (particularly if you're booking at least three months in advance).

Using a price comparison or broker site makes it easy to identify the cheapest deals, but take care to check that each price is a fair, like-for-like comparison, as what's included may vary.

Hiring a car as part of a holiday package from an ATOL protected hotel or travel company gives you the benefit of having the right to claim compensation if any problems arise. You might also get access to exclusive deals, although it's prudent to do a few quick searches to confirm they're really good value.

Your final option is to go direct to a major provider. Though you may not find the same deals as on comparison sites, you do have the peace of mind that there will be a range of vehicle types on offer, and that the provider is likely to have a contact booth and vehicle pick-up point at your destination airport, making the process very convenient.

Essential paperwork

When you arrive at the rental office, you'll usually be asked to provide the following:

  • A valid UK photocard driving licence, with your current address. From the 8th of June 2015 the paper counterpart licence is being taken out of use, so you’ll no longer need to carry this with you. However, car hire companies will still need to check that you’re safe to insure – and will now do so using the new online Share Your Licence service. For more details on how this works, read our guide to how UK driving licences are changing.
  • A valid passport or national ID card.
  • Two documents proving your address – usually a bank/credit card statement and a utility bill.
  • A credit or debit card in your name.
  • The licences of any other named drivers.

You'll also have a number of car insurance options either when you book or pick up the car. Make sure that tyres and windscreens are covered as part of the standard policy, and also consider excess waiver insurance or Collision Damage Waivers (CDWs). This optional extra is a way of avoiding a high excess (the portion of the insurance claim that you're liable to pay for) in the event of an accident or any scratches and scrapes.

Policies offered by rental firms also vary widely in the actual cover they offer; so booking car hire insurance separately, in advance, and reading your policy document thoroughly is strongly advised.

When it comes to paying, it's wise to do so with a credit card. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means you could claim a refund from your card provider if there's a problem, and if your bill was between £100 and £30,000.

Common pitfalls

Several other extras and hire terms can sometimes catch motorists out. Chief among these is petrol policy. Avoid full-to-empty policies, because you're unlikely to return the car with an empty tank, which means you could end up paying for fuel you won't use. A full-to-full policy means you can just top up the tank to full before returning – meaning you only pay for the fuel you use.

Extras like satellite navigation and child car seats often come at inflated prices, so research the costs of buying and bringing your own before deciding whether to pay a premium to pick one up at the hire desk.

Lastly, keep an eye out for extra driver charges if you're planning to share driving duties with a partner or friend. These charges vary between hire firms, and sometimes you can actually save money by opting for a more expensive package (which includes extra drivers) rather than opting for a standard package and paying a separate extra driver charge on top.

Vehicle checks

When you're picking up or dropping off your vehicle, it's essential you check the car thoroughly for both internal and external damage and wear. Take photos of all four sides of the car, focusing on any damage. A smartphone will record the time and date of your images.

Report everything to the hire firm and have them add anything extra you note to the paperwork before signing anything. Next, check for legally required items before you set off. For example, most European countries require that a car carries a:

  • Hazard triangle
  • First aid kit
  • Reflective jacket/vest
  • Spare bulbs
  • Fire extinguisher

These should be provided, and it's also reasonable to expect a puncture repair kit or spare tyre. When you're dropping off your car, go through the same checking and recording process so you can prove the car suffered no damage in your care.

Return keys direct to the hire offices and have the car signed back in if you can. If not, use the safe deposit box. Thieves have sometimes been noted to pose as official hire company reps, so be vigilant and don't trust anyone wandering around the return bays.