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Avoid car hire pitfalls: Five-minute guide to renting a vehicle when on holiday

IF YOU are booking a hire car for your foreign holiday this summer, try to steer clear of hidden charges

Unless you take a careful look under the bonnet of your car rental policy, you could be in for a costly surprise.

Britons taking advantage of low-cost car hire prices could find the cheap deal they booked online or by phone is not such a bargain after all.

Pushy salespeople selling extra insurance at the hire desk can increase rental costs by hundreds of pounds over the original amount quoted.

Here is how to avoid a rough ride this summer.

SERIOUS DAMAGE

Car rental companies quote headline prices from as little as £3 a day in popular destinations such as Spain.

However, choosing the cheapest policy can backfire when you arrive at your destination.

When you arrive, rental firms quickly rev up the cost by giving you the hard sell on insurance, worrying you into believing it is essential.

Most will try to sell you a type of cover called collision damage waiver, which may also be called excess waiver, refundable excess coverage or total excess protection.

According to MoneySupermarket.com, this can cost as much as £20 a day in some countries, driving up the cost of a fortnight's motoring by another £280.

Rory Sexton, managing director of economycarhire.com, says that if you do not buy the insurance, you may face a hefty bill for any damage to the car during your trip, even if it was not your fault.

"Many Spanish car rental firms have recently introduced eye-watering excesses of up to £1,800 to persuade customers to take out the expensive extra cover," he warns.

When checking car rental costs online, make sure you are comparing like-with-like.

ECONOMYCARHIRE, for example, includes full collision damage waiver in its quotes, but most car rental sites do not.

BUY BEFORE YOU FLY-DRIVE

It can be far cheaper to buy a stand-alone car hire excess policy before you fly.

This will cover the rental firm's excess if you do have an accident, but for a fraction of the cost.

ProtectYourBubble.com charges from £2.31 a day or £38 for a multi-trip annual policy, ICARHIREINSURANCE.com charges £2.99 a day or £39.99 a year, and the AA charges £4.50 a day or £50 a year.

Lauren Mason, marketing manager at INSURANCE4CARHIRE, says excess policies tend to give you greater protection.

"Excess waiver policies from the rental desk are not just more expensive, they often exclude vulnerable areas such as the windscreen, tyres or undercarriage," she says.

"So even if you pay for the cover and chip your windscreen, you would still be liable to pay for the repair, often at over-inflated prices."

DRIVE COSTS DOWN

You should watch out for other hidden charges, whether renting at home or abroad.

How much you pay can vary greatly according to your destination, according to ICARHIREINSURANCE.

It found that extras added £206 to the cost of a week's car hire in Larnaca, Cyprus, far more than the original cost of £129, while extras cost a whopping £347 in Tenerife, well over double the initial £141 rental charge.

This makes hiring a car a minefield for holidaymakers, who cannot know for sure how much their rental will cost until the very last minute.

Mason says: "Car hire firms can charge up to £14 per day for a sat nav, yet you can pick one up on the high street for £60 or less, and get a lot more use out of it.

"Child car seats can cost from £10 a day.

"Supermarkets tend to have good offers on car seats, which can work out cheaper."

Think twice if the rental desk asks if you want to upgrade your car.

They may be asking because they do not have your choice in stock, and will have to give you a free upgrade anyway if you say no.

She adds that you should check the firm's fuel policy: "If you have to return the car full, make sure you know where the closest petrol station is.

"If you are returning empty, plan your journeys so you do not pay for extra fuel that you are not going to use."

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