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Rental Car Tips – Advice For Saving Money On Your Next Road Trip

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I know you’re excited to learn all the best rental car tips and how to save money when booking a hire vehicle.

Fortunately, I have a lot of experience hiring cars all over the world.

In this guide, I’ll explain how to save money, protect against avoidable fees and pick the right insurance.

I’m sure you’ll agree that the last thing you want to do when starting your holiday is to overpay for a rental car and stress about choosing the right insurance coverage! That’s why it’s important to prepare with everything you need to know before renting a car for a road trip.

I’ve even thrown in some top road trip tips from my time behind the wheel.

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Rental Car Tips To Save Money When Booking

A black SUV rental car parked during a road trip

Booking a rental car is the most important part of the process when it comes to saving cash.

I’ve put the most important rental car tips at the start of the article so read these now if you are planning to make a booking today and benefit from the savings!

You might also like our other in-depth article on renting a car for a road trip.

Use a price comparison site to get the best price

Using a price comparison site such as RentalCars will ensure you get the best price by searching all of the providers operating at the location you are visiting.

Book in advance

Booking far in advance can lead to a significantly cheaper cost for your rental car.

If you don’t believe me go ahead and do a search on Rental Cars for next week and then next year and see for yourself!

Make sure the policy is in your name

Before you complete the booking, double-check all the details you have input are correct.

Increasingly, as with airline tickets, drivers have found that if they have not made the booking using their exact name that their booking is invalidated

This means a new booking has to be started at a much higher cost.

Consider booking with free cancellation

On RentalCars you can see all of the options which have free cancellation. Often this is up to 48 hrs in advance of the start time of the booking.

This means you can get the cost benefits of advance booking but if your plans change you can get your money back.

Don’t get stung by hidden upgrade fees

If you are offered an upgrade upon arrival, make sure you receive it in writing that it is free of charge.

There are reports online of customers taking an upgrade only to find hidden charges deep in the paperwork

Check the fuel and mileage policy before you book

cheap rental car fuel
Fill up at a cheap location!

Some rental car companies will involve a fuel policy whereby you are charged for a full tank of fuel.

Filter by fuel policy

My advice is to choose a rental car with a full-to-full fuel policy. You receive the car with a full tank then return it with a full tank.

Declare multiple drivers in advance

If you are planning on having multiple drivers it is better to declare this at the time of the booking.

If you wait until you arrive to collect the vehicle there can be a higher charge than advance booking!

Book with a credit card

If you are able to, always book using a credit card.

This means that the company you took out the credit card with is equally liable if something goes wrong and you are more protected than if you use a debit card.

Avoid currency charges

If you get the option to pay in local currency or your own currency then make sure you are aware of any charges you may incur.

There are a number of services providing fee-free purchases in foreign currencies such as Monzo, Revolut, and some credit cards.

Consider pickup and drop off locations

It’s tempting to pick up your rental car at the airport but you should always consider other, potentially cheaper, options

It’s worth considering other locations however personally I like the convenience of dropping off the car right before my flight.

You can read more on this in our article on How To Return A Rental Car.

Save Money On Rental Car Insurance

cheap rental car insurance
Always read the small print!

Here are my rental car tips to avoid overpaying for insurance when you collect the vehicle.

When you book a rental car you will receive a basic level of insurance cover.

The oldest trick in the book is for the rental car company to try and charge you for an additional level of cover called “excess insurance”.

The excess charge is your actual liability in the event of an accident. Its often hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

This is the amount you have to pay if you crash the vehicle. If the damage costs less than the excess amount then you pay the lower amount.

Don’t fall for the excess insurance trick

Excess insurance is an additional policy that reduces your liability to 0, but there’s a catch.

Rental car companies know that you don’t want to worry about an accident whilst on your holiday, so they charge an excessive amount for it.

The solution

Either take the risk of the excess charge (what I do) or buy excess insurance from an online provider at a lower cost!

I would suggest Moneymaxim

This policy will be used to cover the cost of excess charge in the event of an accident but is much cheaper than purchasing from a rental car company.

Understanding the credit card deposit

rental car deposit
Understand the rental car deposit

If you do not take out the rental car company’s excess insurance you will be required to leave a credit card deposit equal to the amount of your liability in case of an accident.

This can often be hundreds or thousands of pounds. Make sure you are aware of your accident or incident liability before you take the car!

Annual excess insurance cover

If you use rental cars frequently then you may benefit from taking out an annual excess insurance cover.

You can use this policy to cover your liability against the excess charge in case of an accident when using a rental car.

By taking an annual policy out you can save money and protect yourself against liability in case of accidents.

How to check the hire vehicle

vehicle condition
Check the vehicle condition carefully

When you collect your rental car you will be asked to sign a document outlining the current condition of the car.

Complete a full inspection inside and out. Check the fuel type and for any required equipment (such as a roadside kit if in the EU).

Take a video and photos then email them to yourself

When collecting a car I will take a video and photos of any damage and email it to myself as a backup.

This is in case there is any issues with the document when returning the car.

Check the interior and the fuel level

Don’t just check the outside of the vehicle, you are liable for damage to the interior also.

In addition, if you have a full-to-full fuel policy then double-check the tank is full before you drive away.

You will be expected to return it with a full tank so it’s only fair you start with one.

Save Money Whilst Using the Rental Car

rental car road trip
Rental Car Road Trip Tips

Here are my best rental car tips regarding the usage of the vehicle.

I’ll explain how to save money on navigation, parking, general road trip expenses, and what to do in an emergency!

Use your phone for navigation

Instead of paying for a sat nav from the rental car company, consider using your smartphone.

If you don’t have free data, this isn’t an issue. You can download offline maps on Google Maps and then even with data turned off your phone will be able to navigate.

To avoid excessive tolls, its also important to make sure you have the best route planning app, which we discuss in our article.

Find cheap parking

cheap rental car parking
Cheap Parking for Rental Cars

After you have grabbed a hot deal on a rental car you will be exploring your destination.

Save money on parking by checking out our top tips on how to find cheap parking.

How to save money on a road trip

After over 20,000 km of road trippin’ we’ve learnt a thing or two about sticking to a budget and keeping the costs down.

Note down some extra tips from our article on how to save money on a road trip!

Know the emergency number for the rental car company

You will be provided with documentation when you receive your rental car which will include the numbers you need to call in case of emergency or accident.

Make sure you are aware of these numbers and call them IMMEDIATELY in case of an issue with the rental car!

Read a driving guide on the country you are renting the car

I’ve driven abroad in over 25 countries and they are all different.

I’d recommend having a quick google and taking note of some tips about driving in your country of choice to avoid any unwanted driving tickets, fines or issues!

Save Money When Returning the Rental Car

hire car tips
Return the rental car on time

It’s best to follow these rental car tips when returning your vehicle to avoid any unwanted charges.

It is very important to check the car carefully with the company and get a signature on your rental contract confirming there is no damage.

Make sure you keep hold of this document!

Avoid late return charges

Most rental care companies will have a 30 minute grace period when returning the keys.

My advice is to always read the contract to double check. If you think you are going to be late I would recommend calling ahead and letting the rental car company know.

This will likely make them more forgiving in the event that you turn up after your allocated time!

Fill up the tank at a cheap location

If you rent a car on a full-to-full fuel policy then its important to fill up prior to returning at a cheap location.

Avoid filling up right next to the airport and instead look for a station around 5 miles away.

It’s also important to have a full tank when you are driving on long deserted roads, the kind you may find during a road trip in Australia!

Ensure you receive an inspection signature

rental contract
Make sure you receive a signature upon return

Once your vehicle has been checked over for damage you will be ready to leave and continue with your trip.

Always ensure that your document is signed by the company to confirm that there was no damage and you are not liable for anything.

This will prevent you from being liable in case of any issues with the vehicle.

Check your bank account

Double check your account to make sure no hidden charges have been allocated to you.

If you paid a deposit on your credit card due to not buying the insurance companies excess insurance then you will need to check it has been refunded correctly.

Final Rental Car Tips

Here are a few extra rental car tips to make sure you make the right decision before booking.

Save money on child seat costs

If you are travelling with a little one then ensuring their safety will no doubt be a top priority.

Rental car companies can charge high fees for renting a child seat so always check the cost of this before booking!

Certain airports also have separate business’ that you can rent a child seat from so its worth doing a Google before booking.

Do you really need a rental car?

public bus
Check public transport options

In the age of Uber and upgraded public transport I like to make sure I definitely need a rental car before booking.

If you are planning a road trip then it makes sense to go ahead and rent a rental car but sometimes in the city it can work out cheaper to use public transport.

Check public transport prices

Plan out your itinerary day-by-day then check the cost of using public transport and taxis first.

I like to use Google Maps for checking public transport as they also have a built in Uber quote system.

Package holiday and ATOL protection

Quick Note: If you book a rental car via a package with an ATOL licensed travel agent then you will get extra financial protection.

You will receive a refund if the tour operator goes bust. I don’t find this to be a big concern for me personally as i tend to book everything separately to get the best prices.

If you like, you can read more info here.

Find cheap airport parking before your holiday

Airport parking can sometimes cost you more than the flight to your holiday destination!

If you are planning a trip at the moment then ensure you find cheap airport parking.

Be aware of border crossings

european border crossing
Border crossings in hire cars can be tricky

Having driven around Europe on a massive road trip I know a lot about border crossings in Europe.

If you are planning to take a rental car across a country border always check with the rental car company first.

Sometimes ownership documents are required

For myself, I was always required to show ownership documents and insurance when crossing. There can be many situations where you cannot cross a hard border in a rental car because of this.

Final Points

The main rental car tips from this article that I would suggest noting down are the following:

Rental Car Tips Quick List

  • Book in advance for cheaper prices
  • Use a comparison site like RentalCars
  • Book a full-to-full fuel policy with free cancellation
  • Declare multiple drivers in advance
  • Book with a credit card if possible
  • Don’t buy the excess insurance from the rental car company
  • If you want excess insurance buy it online cheaper
  • Complete a thorough inspection of the car when you pick it up and take photos
  • Download offline Google Maps for navigation
  • Check in advance if you plan to cross a border
  • Find cheap parking on the road trip
  • How to save money during the road trip
  • Know the rental car company emergency number
  • Return the car on time
  • Fill up the tank at a cheap location away from the airport
  • Ensure you get a signature when dropping it off.
  • Check your bank account before throwing away the contract and receipt

If you have any rental car tips that are not included in this article please post in the comments so that I can add them in!

Stay safe on the roads.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you make a qualifying purchase, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert.

Image of Iain The Founder Of The Road Trip Expert

Iain Salter

Founder & Editor of The Road Trip Expert

Iain founded The Road Trip Expert in 2019 and continues to manage the website to this day. The inspiration to start the blog came during an extensive road trip around Europe with two friends that spanned several months and involved over 25,000km of driving. He first developed a passion for backpacking in 2014 and has had the pleasure of exploring over 60 countries.