Car Hire Abroad: What to Look Out for

By: J Tillotson

Car hire companies have a bad reputation for over-charging customers and piling on extra surcharges for damages, fuel consumption and mileage that has nothing to do with the renter. Hopefully, this quick guide will let you know what to look out for when renting a car abroad.

First of all, shop around before you go. The internet is an invaluable tool for this, and you can ask friends which rental companies they've used too. Booking well in advance can get you great discounts, and if you book with a popular group, you may be able to get a free upgrade.

Check the stated times of collection and return. This is where many unscrupulous rental companies can sting you. If your return time is even half an hour later than your collection time, you could be charged for an extra day. Try and make sure you return the car on or before the collection time to avoid this.

Decide who is going to be driving the car. As in the UK, drivers between the ages of 25 and 75 are seen as the safest, so keep this in mind when selecting your main driver. Some car rental firms will rent to 18 year olds, but the costs are likely to be higher. Likewise, having an additional driver on the rental agreement can bump up the cost, regardless of age.

One of the biggest scams pulled by car hire companies is charging you for existing damage. With this in mind, check over the car thoroughly before you drive it away. Some firms will present you with a written list of existing damage, so compare this to the car. If you notice anything that isn't on the list, point it out, and try to take pictures with your camera (showing the date) or mobile phone. This will prove that the damage didn't occur while the car was in your possession.

If your car hire contract promises a full tank, check this too before driving away. Some hire companies charge you for the difference between the fuel level on return and the amount to fill up. This is almost always more than the pump price, so by filling it up yourself and keeping the receipt, you can avoid this charge.

If you're travelling with a small child, it may be a legal requirement for there to be a child seat fitted. These are usually added onto the cost of car rentals, and fitted by the hire company. When you pick up your car, check that the seat is secure.

Finally, before driving away, perform some perfunctory maintenance checks. This includes checking the brakes, headlights (in some countries it's mandatory to have them on at all times), wipers and washers, indicators and locks are all working. It's also worth looking at the oil and water levels, and checking the tyre pressures at the nearest garage. If they haven't already been offered, ask for the car's manual and contact numbers in case of any problems.

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