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

5 minutes

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Off on a driving holiday of Europe? The rules around car hire have changed. 

  • Doing your research will mean you get the most for your money
  • Set yourself a budget to work from and book early for discounts
  • Bringing your own Sat Nav or baby seats could save you up to £100 each

Shop around before you book a hire car.

What's changed for car hire in Europe?

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.

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.

What are the first steps I should take?

Do your research before choosing a car hire company. This way, you'll be able to gauge fixed and optional costs, and compare prices and policies between different companies. If you book in advance, you'll likely get a better rate. 

Most holidaymakers start by looking on price comparison sites, which can give you a good idea of the fixed prices you'll need to pay for your hire. Don't forget to look into the cost of the extras you'll need too. 

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 pickup and drop-off points. Or, if you have a preferred car hire agency in the UK, check they have available offices in Europe.

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, make sure you check your travel insurance to see what's included.

Most importantly, check the stuff that matters to you: whether your hire company has suitable pick-up/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, 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 rent, 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 credit card bill.

After you’ve confirmed your itinerary, pay upfront for your car at the time of booking, rather than when you get to the agency counter in Europe. This way, you'll avoid any unexpected on-the-spot charges or an international transaction fee on your card.

Remember: take any print-outs 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, for example Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or theft
  • Confirm the excess. Taking out a stand-alone excess policy before you leave you could save hundreds if something goes wrong
  • Check the cost of an extra driver - this could bring up the price considerably. There could also be extra 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?

Local laws may require drivers to carry equipment such as a warning triangle or reflective jackets in the car, so check your hire company provides them. Finally, to save some hefty charges, you may want to consider bringing your own Sat Nav and baby seats, as these can cost up to £100 each for a two week holiday in Europe.


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