Take the mystery out of hiring a car with this beginners’ guide from gocompare.com, including information on types of vehicle, excesses, pick-up, drop-off and refuelling.
Choosing a hire car checklist
- Decide on the type of vehicle you need and shop around for a deal
- Does the hire firm require a credit card for the booking?
- Do you have the right licence(s)?
- Check pick-up and drop-off points
- Read your documents to check excess levels, exclusions and any other issues
Hiring a car in Orlando is really the only way of getting round on your vacation
Booking a hire car
While booking a vehicle should be possible at your destination, pre-booking may be a cheaper option and will give you the peace of mind that transport will be available to you when you arrive.
Consider using a comparison site such as Gocompare.com, rentalcars.com or cheapoair.com to quickly and easily see the choices available to you.
A car rental firm may insist that you have a credit card, not a debit card, before agreeing to a booking – bear this in mind before you travel.
Paying by credit card could also offer you some advantages – you might be protected in the event of a problem.
Watch out for any surcharges when paying by card. If this is the only payment option, you’ll need to factor it into your budget.
Choosing a vehicle
Consider the number of passengers, the amount of luggage and what you want to use the car for. Hire companies may offer vehicle categories such as:
Cars classified as minis tend to have a small engine and only two doors. They may not have much room for luggage or added ‘luxuries’ such as air conditioning, but can be useful for short trips.
Economy-class hire vehicles tend to be smaller and fuel-efficient so they may be the right budget option – perhaps a choice for couples or small families.
A family car should accommodate both adults and kids comfortably, with plenty of room for luggage.
This type of vehicle may be needed for larger families, a small group of people travelling together, or people travelling with a large amount of luggage. They typically carry up to eight people.
As suggested by the name, this type of vehicle will usually come with all the mod cons and the car may be from a prestige manufacturer. Certain car hire companies may offer convertibles, super cars and sports vehicles – typically for a premium price.
Many people like the higher seating position offered by some 4x4s and they can be very effective on snow, ice, and on other difficult driving surfaces. If you’re planning on travelling off-road or across tricky terrain, always check with the hire company to see whether you’re permitted to use the vehicle in such a manner.
Adding additional drivers
If you want more than one driver to use the vehicle you’ll probably have to name them all on the policy, and they’re likely to need their driving licences.
Did you know…?
- It’s possible to purchase a separate car hire excess insurance policy from a specialist insurer – this may prove a cost-effective alternative to the cover offered by a car hire firm when you arrive at their door
Doing this when you book rather than at the last minute is likely to be the most efficient and cost-effective option.
Pick-up and drop-off
You’ll typically be required to pick up and drop off the vehicle from the same destination, unless you specifically ask for this to be changed.
If you do request a different drop-off-point, you could face a significant surcharge, and you may have a more limited choice of provider.
Always make sure that you inspect the hire vehicle inside and out before driving off.
If there’s any existing damage, make sure you tell the hire company about it and take a photo to ensure you don’t get stuck with any charges when you drop it off.
Make sure you keep all paperwork relating to your hire vehicle and, if possible, stay present when the final inspection is taking place.
Check before you travel whether your drivers licence is valid in the US – make sure you take it with you!
Always make sure that you have the right licence for your trip before heading off.†
Rates could include unlimited mileage, meaning that you can drive as much as you want without affecting the price.
But watch out for limited mileage rates, where you’ll be charged extra if you go over the pre-determined limit.
Manual or automatic?
Bear in mind that, unless you’ve specifically requested the sort of gearbox, your car may be manual or automatic.
If you think you’ll have a problem with one or other of these options, make sure you speak to your provider before you arrive at the hire station.
Mind the excess
If your vehicle is damaged or stolen during the hire period, it’s likely that you’ll have to pay the excess. This can be extremely expensive, even if you’re involved in an accident that isn’t your fault.
Some companies won’t even give an exact indication of the excesses you’re liable for until you’ve made a payment and arrived at the hire station.
An excess waiver is usually offered to you when you arrive at the car hire company, but the cost of this can also be prohibitive. The company may call the waiver additional liability insurance, a collision damage waiver, theft protection, or something similar.
Alternatively, it may be worth looking into arranging and purchasing a separate car hire excess insurance policy from a specialist insurer. If you use hire cars regularly, annual excess cover could be an option.
Fuelling and refuelling
Different car hire companies will offer different options when it comes to fuelling their vehicles.
Some will sell you a tank of petrol and expect the car to be returned empty, or will charge you for however much petrol you use from the tank.
While this may sound convenient, bear in mind that you’re paying the petrol price set by the hire company – fuel may be considerably cheaper in the supermarket around the corner.
It’s more common to have ‘return as you found it’ policies, so if the tank’s full when you receive it, you return it full; if it’s half-empty, you return it half-empty.
Read the terms and conditions to ensure you know what’s expected and be aware of the distance from where you do your final refuelling to the drop-off point – companies should allow you a certain amount of leeway.
You may have the option of refuelling at the drop-off point itself, but this is unlikely to be the most cost-effective choice.
If you’re concerned about getting ripped off, you may want to take photographs of the fuel gauge and keep your petrol receipts.
Price aside, perhaps the most valuable tip is to make sure you know what sort of fuel your hire car takes – in an unfamiliar vehicle it can be all too easy to put petrol in a diesel engine, or vice versa. Check before you pump!
Many hire deals will have 24-hour roadside assistance to help any customers who break down or have an accident – this could offer you valuable peace of mind, so make sure you check the terms of your agreement.
Ensure that you note the car hire company’s emergency number before you head off – and keep it with you for the duration of your rental.
Satellite navigation can be invaluable when trying to find your way around Central Florida.
While more and more cars are being fitted with this as a standard feature, it’s possible that your hire company will treat a sat-nav as an expensive optional extra.
Consider taking your own sat-nav, ensuring it covers the area you’re visiting before you leave.
You may also be able to use a map app on your smartphone, but watch out for expensive data roaming charges if you can’t use it offline.
Of course, you could just take a map…
It is compulsory in the US to put children in car seats when they’re traveling.
You should be able to rent a car seat from your hire company, but this may be expensive – you may want to consider taking your own, or even buying one at your destination.
Air conditioning is increasingly becoming a standard feature on modern cars, but don’t simply assume that you’ll have it – if you think it’s essential, check with your hire company.