Hiring a car in Europe? Here's what you need to know...

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Hiring a car in Europe is pretty straightforward, as long as you do your research in advance. So, let's take a look...

  • Doing your research will mean you get the most for your money
  • Set yourself a budget to work from and book early for discounts
  • Check currency conversions when you're comparing hire prices

Shop around before you book a hire car.

Comparing car rental companies

When you’re hiring a car in Europe, it’s worth taking the time to do some research before choosing a car hire company. This way, you'll be able to work out fixed and optional costs and compare prices and policies between different companies. If you book in advance, you'll often get a better rate. 

Most holidaymakers start by looking at price comparison sites, which can give you a good idea of the sort of prices you'll expect to pay for your car hire. Don't forget to investigate the cost of any extras you'll need too, such as child seats or extra insurance. 

If you've never hired a car in Europe, it can help to go with a large company, as they're more likely to have a wider selection of pick-up and drop-off points. Or, if you have a preferred car hire agency in the UK, perhaps check if they have branches in Europe.

When booking car hire, make sure you keep all the paperwork you receive for your records. Although your car hire company will offer insurance while you're driving in your chosen destination, be sure to check your travel insurance to see what's included.

Most importantly, check the stuff that matters to you. This could be things like whether the hire company has suitable pick-up and drop-off locations, the office opening hours, and extras such as ski racks or contract flexibility. Can't find what you need online? Give the company a call for peace of mind.  

Which car should I choose?

When it comes to choosing a car, it’s usually best to go for practicality. How many people will be in the car? How much luggage do you have? What season is it? What will the terrain be like? These questions are going to have an impact on your budget, so set out what you're willing to pay. Typically, the longer you hire your car for, the less it'll cost per day. 

How much should I pay?

Make sure to double check currency conversions when you're comparing hire prices. Some European rental companies will display their prices in local currency and won't always provide an accurate conversion. Check prices using a reliable currency converter to avoid any nasty surprises on your bill.

After you've confirmed your itinerary, pay upfront when you book, rather than when you get to the agency counter in Europe. This way, you should hopefully avoid any unexpected on-the-spot charges or an international transaction fee.

Remember: take any printouts of your prepaid booking with you as proof and keep these pointers in mind:

  • Be clear on the company’s cancellation policy - you may need a more flexible approach based on your itinerary
  • Try to avoid a company that uses a full-to-empty fuel policy – you may pay a hefty premium in advance on fuel you might not use
  • Check what the provided insurance includes, such as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or cover for theft
  • Confirm the excess. Taking out a stand-alone excess policy before you leave could save you hundreds if something goes wrong
  • Check the cost of an extra driver – this could hike up the price considerably. There could also be additional fees if the driver is under 25
  • Avoid service or cleaning charges by checking they're included in the initial hire charges

What else should I bring?

In June 2015, new laws made the paper counterpart to your photocard ID invalid. To hire your car, you'll need to get a code from the DVLA website to show the rental company when you arrive.
The code shows any convictions or speeding offences and is valid for 21 days. However, the code isn't a requirement for all rental companies, so it's worth checking the terms of your chosen company beforehand.

Local laws may require drivers to carry safety equipment such as a warning triangle or reflective jackets in the car, so check your hire company provides them.

If you’re arriving at your holiday destination but not hiring a car straight away, all you'll need is to go online, register your details, get the code and show the car hire company. Many accept proof of your code from a smartphone screenshot.

Driving in France 

If you hold a paper driving licence or a driving licence from Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, you may need a 1968 IDP (International Driving Permit). Always check with the French Embassy or your local post office before making plans. French Law requires all road users – including passengers – to carry reflective jackets and a warning triangle, as well as headlamp beam deflectors and a first aid kit.

Driving in Spain 

You can drive in Spain with your UK driving licence, so long as you are at least 18 years old. IDPs are recognised in Spain but are not currently a legal requirement. Be aware that the use of speed camera detectors is illegal in Spain. It’s also against the law to carry spare petrol. If you’re concerned about running out of petrol while on your journey, research service stations that you can stop at along your route before you travel. 

Driving in Germany

As in France, German law requires all road users – including passengers – to carry reflective jackets and a warning triangle, as well as headlamp beam deflectors and a first aid kit. If you’re driving behind a school bus that has temporarily stopped to let passengers on or off, you must not overtake. Instead, wait for the bus to move off and follow behind as usual. You can look out for the bus stops to predict when they may stop. These are circular yellow signs with a green border and a green ‘H’. 

Driving in Italy 

As with other European countries, UK drivers in Italy need to be at least 18 with a full, valid driving licence. You also need to check that your hire car has the following items:

  • Reflective jackets – Although it’s not mandatory to have them, you could be fined if you walk on the road or hard shoulder without one
  • Warning triangle 
  • Headlamp beam deflectors

Insurance when hiring a car

Whether travelling in the UK or Europe, you’ll need to take out insurance when hiring a car. Whichever car hire company you go with, they will provide you with basic insurance – but you’ll need to check the small print to see what this covers.

Some hire companies will provide you with a damage waiver, which is included in the cost of the car hire. This waiver will likely include an excess, which protects you against some of the costs arising from damage to the car or in the event of it being stolen. However, if the waiver does not include an excess, you’ll be liable for the cost of theft or damages. The excess generally varies for each European country but will likely range anywhere between £100 and £2,000. 

If you’re nervous about driving for the first time in a different country, additional insurance on top of the basic coverage provided could protect you against higher costs later and give you extra peace of mind.

If you need it, more information on IDP’s is available here

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