The holiday season is on us, and if you haven’t yet booked your hire car, check out these handy tips from our Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cullen – compiled from 12 years on the road for i-escape.

i-escape blog / Avis car hire

Choose your car hire company carefully

We’ve found Avis to be consistently reliable and helpful, though of course they’re not always the cheapest. If you’re looking for the best deal, we think that Rhino is the best comparison site and broker.

While booking

Check the fuel policy: we think ‘full-to-full’ is best i.e. you collect it full and return it full – which is normally easy since there are filling stations at almost all airports. We don’t like ’empty-to-empty’ since the first thing you have to do is fill up (and returning a car empty is a tricky thing to judge), nor do we tend to like ‘full-to-empty’ since most companies charge over-the-odds for the tank of fuel.

i-escape blog / Car hire tips

Check if the office is ‘on site’ (within the airport): it can be a bore waiting for the minibus to shuttle you to rental offices a mile or more away, and having to allow extra time on your return for this as well. Popular destinations like Mallorca, Crete and the Canary Islands are the worst offenders.

Check the excess amount, and the cost of reducing it: it’s common practice now to set the excess (the amount you pay in the event of damage or theft) at a whopping £500-2000, and then charge you £5-10/day to reduce it to a more friendly amount. This daily surcharge is rarely shown before the final stage of booking, and sometimes only when you arrive. Of course, you can ignore the surcharge. But we advise buying an annual insurance policy to cover this excess, with a company like insurance4carhire. This normally pays for itself within 7 days’ rental. Insurance4carhire have been around since 2002, are owned by Towergate (Europe’s biggest insurance intermediary), and get good reviews on sites like feefo.com.

Check the cost of a child seat (if relevant): again, most companies charge way over the odds (typically £5-10/day), which can mean that over a fortnight it’s more than the value of the seat itself! Consider bringing your own seat: some baby seats, like the Quinny Zapp, can be mounted on a buggy, thus qualifying as a stroller and not incurring baggage surcharges from the airline. For older kids, buy a portable booster seat such as the inflatable Bubble Bum (brilliant name!) or the Trunki Boostapak which folds up inside a rucksack. Alternatively consider renting a seat from a cheaper source (Malaga airport has an outlet called Tots Store in the baggage reclaim, which is less than half the price).

We love the 'Bubble Bum' inflatable child booster seat
We love the ‘Bubble Bum’ inflatable child booster seat

Get a good satnav or app if you’re going off the beaten track: car hire companies rarely supply decent maps and (surprise surprise) they charge over the odds for satnav hire. Having your own European / worldwide satnav is the most complete (and priciest) option, as it’s constantly up-to-date and gives valuable driving info such as current speed limits. Alternatively, try a free smartphone app such as NavFree – which downloads all the maps to your phone before you go, to avoid roaming/data charges; but be aware that route info is not 100% reliable, being crowd-sourced. If roaming charges are not a concern, you could always use Google Maps navigation, but it’s a bit fiddly while driving. Finally, don’t rule out an old-fashioned road atlas or map: they’re cheap and they don’t rely on mobile signal or batteries!

On arrival

When collecting the car, check for any damage (even minor) and mark it on the agreement. Check the spare wheel is present and inflated. If in any doubt, take photos of the car (including mileage / fuel gauge, if relevant). At the very least, this will indicate you are a stickler! And check your credit card statement when you get home.

Drive safely: don’t expect other drivers to be as careful as you, make sure you know your way around the gear-change, windscreen wipers and indicator. Don’t take it off road (you won’t be covered for any damage if you do), be sure to put the correct fuel in – and remember which side of the road to use!

i-escape blog / car hire tips

Check Rhino for the best car hire price for your trip >>

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