hire cars smartly
Hiring a car in Europe when travelling with a group of people or kids often makes a lot of sense. You can avoid public transport and have the freedom to go where ever you like. Booking a car however does require a bit of research and planning to optimise your spend.
BOOK FOR LESS
The main car hire companies are Europcar, Avis, Budget and Sixt. If you don't want to spend the time visiting each directly, then use the aggregate site Auto Europe.
If you are going with one of the major hire companies, it might be worth seeing if booking on the website where the care hire company is based is cheaper. For instance Europcar is based in France - so try Europcar.fr ; Sixt is based in Germany and Avis is based in the UK.
Try to pick up and drop off at the same location. You will usually pay more to return the car to a secondary location.
If you can avoid hiring from an airport or train station you can usually save money. However hiring from the place you arrive at is usually the most convenient, and depending on the cost to get yourself to town, may work out cheaper overall.
1. Do you already have insurance?
Check with your credit card company to see if you already have car hire insurance.
Check if your travel insurance will cover you for car hire insurance.
2. Remove excess insurance
Many travellers have fallen victim to the 'when you arrive insurance upsell'.
Usually car hire companies require you to take out their insurance, which you do at the time of booking. Then when you turn up to hire the car, you are sometimes upsold the chance to remove the excess in the event of theft or an accident. Sometimes the excesses can be terrifyingly high--even into the £1000s, so many travellers panic and accept the removal of the excess on the spot. The charges for doing so are often ridiculously high--up to £25 per day.
To avoid this dilemma, take out an annual excess insurance policy before you leave home. It’s usually only about £40 for the year. If you do have a claim, this insurance should cover you for any excess. It's peace of mind.
As with all insurance make sure you carefully read the T&Cs.
3. Prevent scam claims
Before taking your vehicle check it carefully for any damage—even little scratches. Take time-stamped photos and ensure they are documented by the car hire company before you take possession.
TAKE YOUR OWN EXTRAS
We also take our own sat nav (or use an iphone), and when our child was little, our own car seat. These can really add up if hiring them on a per day basis.
I'm sure there are loads more car hire tips. Let me know if you've got some in the comments below.