8 mins

How to hire a car for a road trip holiday

Terrified that hiring a car will land you in trouble and out of pocket? Fear not: we've got all the tips you need to make sure your rental and road trip goes smoothly...

How to hire a car for your travels (Dreamstime)

There are few things more daunting than the forecourt of a car hire company. There’s that shiver of responsibility as you sign a sheet of paper that may or may not cost you thousands of pounds later. But the good news is there’s no rush, insurance hides a great many sins, and we’re here to help…

First o­ff take it slow. You’re given time to check the car for a reason. Scour thoroughly for existing marks or damage, noting fuel levels and taking pictures as you go (put a date on them and email to yourself for safekeeping). Ensure discrepancies in the paperwork are amended prior to leaving, or if the lot is unattended, contact the firm as soon as you can.

Be aware of any hidden charges. One CompareTheMarket survey found that four out of seven car hire firms charged ‘out of hours’ fees for late collection (even if your flight is delayed), yet only one declared this in its T&Cs. Others have a ‘collect full, return empty’ fuel policy, where motorists aren’t refunded for any excess left in the tank. Others may even charge a fee to ‘translate’ your driving licence into the country’s native language, so find out first.

Lastly, when it comes to insurance, avoid high fees (typically £20–£30 a day) for excess coverage at the desk. Independent online insurers o­ffer far cheaper plans, which often cover things typically omitted from car hire policies, such as tyre damage.

Before you go, do you need...

  • To pay for the rental in pounds sterling – will it be cheaper to pay in the local currency?
  • An International Driving Permit?
  • To book a 4WD vehicle?
  • Standalone hire excess insurance?
  • To check hire car mileage limits?
  • To read up on local rules – junction priorities, urban speed limits, road tolls, headlight use, signalling?
  • Documents for crossing international borders – proof of ownership and/or a carnet?
  • Specific equipment in your car – snow chains, ice tyres, reflective warning triangle, breathalyser?
  • To brush up on maintenance skills?
  • To check which side of the road you’ll be driving?

When you return...



  • Leave time to clean the car before handing it back (and take pictures). Valeting fees for cars returned in ‘unacceptable condition’ are high.
  • Ensure your vehicle has the right fuel (full/empty) amount, check carefully for damage and be sure to get an appropriate receipt.
  • Take lots of photos and even video a walk-around of the car. If there is no attendant, this is your proof.

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