Travelling by car is our favourite way of getting around as it gives you so much more flexibility and independence compared to public transport. However, if you are not careful it can be a costly way to travel. The following is a list of car hire hacks to either reduce the cost of car hire or things to watch out for when hiring a car.
1. Buy travel insurance that covers the car insurance excess
All car hire companies will include some form of insurance in the online booking price but when you go to pick up the car the attendant will always offer you 'full insurance' which reduces the excess from upward of $2,000 to zero if you have a crash. It is a dilemma everyone goes through - do I spend the extra $20 per day and not have any excess or take the risk that I won't have a dingle?
Avoid this whole argument by ensuring when you buy travel insurance that it covers the car hire excess if you have a crash. This usually only adds on a small amount to your travel insurance compared to $20 a day for the car hire (which adds up very quickly!).
2. Book the car for X number of days and 23 hours
Booking websites allow you to enter in the time of day you will collect and drop off the car. Car hire companies charge you in 24 hour increments. Therefore, if you plan to pick the car up in the morning, say 10am, make sure you enter in a return time of 9:30am. This will mean that you get charged for one less day.
It also doesn't mean you necessary have to drop the car off at 9:30am on return. Our experience with hiring cars in Europe is that they have never charged us for the extra day (even the Germans!). However, we did try this trick in Sydney and was stung the extra day.
3. Compare prices
Use car hire comparison websites such as Vroom Vroom Vroom or Kayak. These websites compare the prices for all the major car hire companies and saves you a lot of time doing it yourself. You don't have to book through these sites if you don't want to but it gives you a good guide as to who the cheaper car hire companies are.
4. Book early
Like most things travel - the earlier you book the cheaper it will be. This is especially true if you are planning on travelling to your destinations in the peak travel period. Even if you aren't entirely sure if your trip will go ahead, book in advance with free cancellation to lock in your price as early as possible.
5. Returning the car with a full tank or empty tank?
You have two options when it comes to fuel: return the car full of fuel or empty. If you elect to return the car empty you can usually pre-purchase fuel at a discount as the car hire companies make their money when you return the car with still some fuel in it. If you are away for more than a few days and are happy to run the risk that you do not use all the fuel then this could be the way to go.
If you elect to return the car full then ensure you fill the car up 20km from your drop off location otherwise you will end up paying $4AUD+ a litre.
6. Avoid airport pick ups
Airport rentals always carry an extra charge. Obviously sometimes you can't avoid it but usually it can be. For example, when you fly into Europe you usually fly into a major city; spend a few days in the city (where you don't need the car) and pick it up on the way out from a downtown office. Do the same on drop-off. It will save you 10-20% of the cost.
7. Watch out for the one way fee
Most car hire companies charge a one-way fee; some more excessive than others. Look around as some car hire companies have free one way rentals if the pick up and drop off is within the country. For example, Sixt has no one-way fee for pick ups and drop offs within Italy. Most importantly read the fine print as car hire companies can be sneaky about where they hide the one-way fee.
8. Buy a GPS
If you are renting a car for more than 1-2 weeks it is likely that the $15/day fee for a GPS will add up to well over the cost of a GPS. Buy one on ebay for $100 (just make sure it has the maps for the area you are going) and you can use it for all your future holidays as well.