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How to organise stress-free car rental

By Lottie Gross

Renting a car when you go away allows you to see and do things you wouldn’t stumble upon if traveling by bus or train. With your own wheels, you can stop to take in the view whenever you fancy, change your route at the last minute, and make spontaneous side-trips or stops along the way. But car rental isn’t as simple as “get the keys and go”. Before you sign on the dotted line, you’ll need to pick the right model, get up to speed on the added extras, and get settled behind the wheel.

1. Choose your rental car wisely

There are usually a number of car rental categories available and it’s important to book a car with enough space to meet your needs. If you’re traveling with children or with luggage, you’ll want to consider paying more to rent a larger vehicle, such as a saloon car (sedan) or SUV. If you’re looking to save money on fuel and rates, however, the smaller the car the better.

Sometimes you’ll be given a choice between manual or automatic, so be sure to specify your preference if you have one – you don’t want to make the experience of driving in a foreign country even more stressful by using an unfamiliar transmission.

2. Know your deal details

When booking online, it’s important to understand the conditions of your car rental before purchasing. Are there restrictions on age? Will there be extra fees for additional drivers? Do you have to pay for a child car-seat? What does the insurance cover? How long will your car be held if you’re late to the pick-up point?

Be sure to find out answers to all of these before you confirm your booking, as you don’t want to be stung with extra costs when it’s too late.

3. Be savvy about damage waivers

Most firms offer a damage waiver for an additional fee. This reduces your financial liability in the case of a crash – usually to around £100/$150 – but can come at a hefty daily cost. You’ll need to weigh up the risks and benefits before making a decision.

4. Check the car carefully

When you collect your car, there are a few key things to check before driving off. Most importantly, inspect the vehicle for damage. Every scuff and scratch should be noted, and if you spot anything not marked on the diagram in your rental contract, be sure to flag it up before signing. Snap a few photos or a video if you can, too.

5. Get settled

Before driving off, take some time in the driver’s seat to familiarise yourself with the controls: note how to turn on the headlights, windscreen wipers, heaters, a/c and radio before setting off so you’re not distracted while driving. Finally, ensure you know the rules of the road: in some places it’s mandatory to keep your headlights on all day, for example, while in others you must carry specific breakdown equipment at all times or risk being fined.

6. Returning your car

If you’ve not used a prepaid fuel plan, which often works out more expensive, fill the tank up a few miles before you get to the drop-off. If you’re returning a car to an airport, fuel prices can increase the closer you get.

After a long drive, it can also be tempting to drop the keys and go – but try to stick around. You’ll want to check you’ve picked up all your belongings and wait for the attendant to check the car; this will give you peace of mind that there are no issues and extra costs before you head home.

We may earn a commission when you click on links to our partners, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

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