We’ll level with you.
Despite dozens of road trips together over the last few years, we still shit ourselves (not literally) whenever we’re renting a car.
Butterflies in the stomach about driving something that isn’t ours, fear that any bump or scrape in a foreign land is going to result in arguments and lots of money being lost, and a world-weary scepticism about car rental scammers and the costs of not reading the small print on the rental agreement.
If you’ve never rented a car before, but will shortly be heading out on your first-ever road trip or driving holiday in Italy, then those feelings of apprehension mixed with concern and a little confusion are completely and utterly normal. And if you’ve done a few road trips before, you’re probably still paying more than you need to overall.
Car rental can be confusing. It can be stressful. And it can end up being much more expensive than it needs to be.
That’s why this article is here to help.
We want to share the lessons learned from our own car rental and road trip experiences - and mistakes - in order to help alleviate some of the biggest concerns, reassure you on some of the realities, and arm you with essential knowledge to avoid hidden costs and save a lot of money, beat the scammers, and ensure you actually get to rent the car before riding off into the sunset without (too much) concern!
These are our nine essential car rental tips that you need to know before you rent a car anywhere in the world.
#1 Save Money On Your Car Rental
Once you know your travel dates and have locked them in, then you should book your rental car sooner rather than later.
The economics of supply and demand are always at play, and if you leave your reservation too late (i.e. 48 hours before you arrive) you run the risk of having very few options available or only the more expensive vehicles remaining. This is an even more salient issue if travelling in summer high season.
Last-minute rentals are absolutely possible, but it’s just best to book ahead.
In the car rental space, there are the big international players like Hertz and Enterprise who have a presence in most countries, but there are also the smaller, local car rental companies which you won’t necessarily have the time or desire to find when you have so much else to plan and do for your upcoming road trip.
But neglecting to consider them means missing out on lots of great, cheap deals.
This is why, for every road trip we take, we search for the best deals via a car rental search engine. It basically acts like Skyscanner for flights and finds all the prices and availability for your dates and locations with the big boys and the little guys.
We started doing this out of convenience - it made it much easier to find the cheapest options - but we then discovered that the prices showing up were often cheaper than the prices listed on each firm’s own website. For example, we recently rented for a single day whilst we were in Avignon as it was the only way to go hiking in the Calanques. The cheapest deal on Auto Europe was £42 with Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, and that was £32 cheaper than renting the same car for the same dates directly with Enterprise!
So, Auto Europe is now our go-to option for searching and booking car rentals. It provides rental options across most countries, and offers a secure, reliable, and relatively user-friendly platform for booking car rentals online in your own language. It also has free cancellation up to 48 hours before pick-up.
Another good alternative look and book site is RentalCars.Com, but we’ve found that Auto Europe consistently has cheaper deals available with the same providers when we do our booking research for a trip.
Whenever and however you book, it’s crucial that you do a bit of basic research into the car rental costs and options for your destination and dates before 100% going for the road trip option as car rental costs vary from country to country. For a bit of an idea, take look at the costs for one week’s car rental with the cheapest option in each of the below countries from July 1st - 8th 2020, based on a driver over 25 years old:
Scotland = £130
Italy = £115
Iceland = £466
Morocco = £95
Latvia = £164
Obviously the type of car you rent has a notable impact on cost, and it’s worth remembering that for many road trips in Europe and elsewhere that you’ll have a much less stressful and cheaper driving experience with a smaller, fuel-efficient vehicle. Every time we drive down a narrow old town street in Italy, or have to parallel park in one, Andrew does a little happy dance that we didn’t rent an SUV.
Lastly, the cheapest and most convenient location to pick-up and drop-off your car is always the airport. However for a few road trips we’ve taken, we’ve collected the car in one part of the country and returned it in another; if renting with car firms which have country-wide network and presence, this isn’t an issue but you have to pay a little extra for the privilege.
#2 Check The Small Print BEFORE You Book
When reviewing the search results for your car rental, it’s always tempting (especially if you’re on a budget) to go straight to the cheapest company available and get it booked. However, it’s essential that you spend a little longer comparing the quotes on a like-for-like basis to avoid spending a lot more money than you plan on your road trip.
Like with airlines, some car rental companies offer extremely cheap prices up-front but then try to make up the difference with stingy mileage allowances, onerous fuel policies, and a less-than-fair or transparent damage review process. For example, Gold Car was named the worst hire company in 2019 as although its “headline prices remained cheap – users reported paying an average of £13 a day - some 40% of customers reported experiencing a problem, most often relating to ‘terrible customer service or spurious credit card charges’”.
The key areas to look at in the ‘rate details’ before you book to ensure are:
Some companies will cap the number of miles you can drive on a per day basis or for the total rental period. For short trips or routes, this may not pose any concern, but it’s something to avoid like the plague if you’re taking a longer or more spontaneous road trip with the car. Unless we know that we’re going to be comfortably under the mileage cap, we will only rent with unlimited mileage.
Each and every single rental company will put a ‘hold’ on your credit card as a deposit against damage (more on this later), and it’s processed when you pick up the car. Depending on the rental company and length of rental, this has been anything from £250 - £850 in our experience, with the cheaper the company meaning the larger the deposit held on our card.
Young Drivers Surcharge
Understandably, most car rental firms (like most insurance firms) prefer older drivers as they tend to be less accident-prone. Therefore, if you’re under 25, be aware that there is likely to be an additional charge - the Young Driver Surcharge - at some point as you make your way through the booking process or when you collect the car. It’s usually a fixed amount (around £5-10) charged per day of the rental.
Level of insurance deductible / excess
As it’s a really important area of car rental stress and expense, we discuss this and how to avoid it in more detail below.
Understand 24-hour periods
Car rental costs are based on 24-hour periods. This means that, when booking, you should plan your pick-up and drop-off times strategically. The following real-life example base on a 14-day rental in Italy, details why:
Collect at 12.00 on July 1st + Drop-Off on July 15th at 11.00 = £204
Collect at 12.00 on July 1st + Drop-Off on July 15th at 12.00 = £204
Collect at 12.00 on July 1st + Drop-Off on July 15th at 13.00 = £216
So, increasing the return time by just an hour from your pick-up time automatically means you’ll be charged for a whole extra day of car rental, not just an extra hour. Therefore, unless your flights dont’ sync up or you don’t mind paying the extra, ensure your pick and drop-off times align with your itinerary and with each other.
Most car rentals will provide you with a full fuel tank on pick-up, and expect you to return it full. And when they mean ‘full’, they really mean it. If you return it below this, then there is a locally determined charge and the fuel they’ll use to fill the tank is also significantly marked-up (this once meant Andrew had to pay €15 extra in Latvia even though the car had been filled up 10 miles previous).
Various car rental companies now offer you the chance to pre-agree to the ‘convenience’ of being able to return the tank at any level and they’ll charge you a ‘fair’ rate to fill it up. We don’t recommend this option as the price per litre / gallon is always significantly higher than what you’ll find at the nearest fuel station (and not one that’s 10 miles away…)
Car Wash / Cleaning
In Latvia, we went with the cheapest car rental and only when we arrived at the office did they tell us that customers had to return the car ‘professionally’ cleaned. This is something we had never been asked before - and of course the company offered their own cleaning service for €15 if you paid in advance, or €25 if you returned it dirty and hadn’t pre-paid. We had zero option but to pay.
However, it’s worth knowing that most companies will not charge this and car cleaning is usually included in your rental cost (never return it in a complete state though).
A charge that you don’t really need to worry about when you’re booking your car, but this is another aspect where we’ve seen rental companies charge anything from £45-£70 for any instance where they have to notify you of any traffic issues after the rental period is over i.e. a driving offences, speeding ticket etc. Again, the cheaper companies tend to charge more per notification charge.
Late Return Charges
You can return the car early without a charge - but returning the car after the agreed time slot will usually result in a charge. Our advice is to always return the car 2.5 hours before your flight.
Most car rental firms do not allow you to cross into other countries with the vehicle and you will have to declare this in advance, which may increase the cost of the booking.
Reviews are also something that you’ll naturally look at online for car rental firms, and this makes sense. However, we’d advise that you always take these with a pinch of salt and read them critically. If a common trend or scam or terrible customer service experience occurs, then it hints at something underlying and is a reason to perhaps consider an alternative company. However, as so many people get taken by surprise by charges or the small print (they should read this guide right?) then we’ve noticed online reviews have a tendency to always contain much more negative views (and a bit of naivety too) than is necessarily representative.
#3 Understand The Insurance
Car rental insurance works a bit differently from the insurance you may have on your own vehicle (if you have one).
Nearly every single car rental firm will include a standard insurance for renters including four elements, and if you rent via a company like Auto Europe this is usually supplied and included by the car hire firm in the up-front cost. There are variations between scope and coverage, but this ‘standard insurance’ will broadly include:
Liability Insurance | A standard insurance requirement for any car on the road, this covers the cost of damage to any property that belongs to a third party (i.e. a car, a house, a fence), the cost of the third party’s injury and damage, and the third-party legal costs.
Fire Insurance | Covers the rental vehicle in the event of a mechanical fire.
Theft Protection | Covers part of the costs of replacing the car if it’s stolen during your rental, or damaged when someone attempts to steal it. It does not cover your possessions inside the vehicle. Subject to an excess.
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) | This is for standard damage covering the car’s body, but damage to the roof, tires, undercarriage, windshield, windows, interior, and side mirrors is usually not covered. Subject to an excess.
The above insurance coverage is usually included as standard in Europe by the car rental supplier - you won’t have the option to remove it when booking your rental car*.
However, the big red flag for any renter is when it comes to the massive excess (also known as a deductible) which accompanies the standard car rental insurance coverage. The excess is essentially the portion of the risk which you accept and will have to cover (i.e. pay) in the event of a claim. In our experience this is usually set at around £700 - £1,300 on car rentals (although one rather brash woman in Argentina did try to implement a £3,000 deductible - unsurprisingly, we gave that rental a miss!)
Example | In the event of £5,000 of insured accidental damage occurring to the vehicle whilst it’s in your possession, and the claim is covered under the insurance, you will be responsible for the first £800 (the excess). So, in this case, your insurance would only pay out £4,200 for the claim, and you are responsible for the rest. Not so fun huh? And remember, car insurance usually means that you have to cover the claim even if it’s not your fault.
* Note that terms and conditions apply to insurance for valid claims, the specific coverage offered by each company will be different, and you should never ever rent a car without the necessary insurance. Also, in Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, South America or the USA, CDW insurance doesn’t always come as standard, so you need to confirm you have it included or purchase it in addition.
#4 Buy The Extra Insurance….
The high excess is why all car rental companies will always offer additional insurance to reduce the excess or remove it entirely. This will be offered either when you’re booking but most often when you’re picking up the rental. This additional insurance is charged per day of the rental, and also fills in potential coverage gaps in the ‘standard insurance’, i.e. damage to tyres, roofs, undercarriage, and windscreens, filling up with the wrong fuel, breakdown assistance, and lost key coverage.
Auto Europe call this “Excess Guarantee”, whilst on RentalCars it’s called “Full Insurance”. Sometimes it’s also described as ‘zero excess’ insurance. Hertz, for example, offer ‘SuperCover’.
Our major piece of advice for stress-free car rental is however to always - absolutely always - reduce your exposure down to a much more manageable monetary amount than the ‘standard insurance’ excess, or opt to remove it entirely, with the additional insurance. If you’re a risk-taker or overly confident driver, then you maybe won’t mind taking the chance that you won’t have a bump or scrape whilst you’re in the rental; if that’s you, then we salute you! From personal experience however, having that extra peace of mind that an £80 car rental isn’t going to turn into a £1000 nightmare of paperwork is incredibly important.
#5…But Not From the Car Rental Firm!
So, hopefully you now understand the car rental insurance that’s included as standard, what it does and does not cover, why it could still leave you out of pocket in the event of a claim, and why car rental companies always offer additional or better insurance during the booking / collection process.
HOWEVER, this is where we have our best money saving car rental tip for you - do not buy this additional coverage from the car rental company!
It’s a positive thing that the improved, stress-free full insurance is offered to renters, but it should be absolutely clear to you that playing on a renter’s paranoia about driving in a new country has the potential to be a very big earner for car rental companies. In fact, it is a very big earner; the extra insurance regularly costs more than the actual car rental for longer trips.
It is overpriced across the board.
This additional insurance to reduce your financial exposure is much more expensive than it should be* - but people will nearly always take it because the cost and comfort of the extra insurance seems like nothing versus the potentially large excess. And when you’re standing there in the car park or car hire desk and about to drive off into the unknown, it’s definitely tempting to just take up their hard sell / convenient offer and pay a small extra daily fee of £9-20 for that peace of mind. After all, removing most of the financial risk associated with a car rental makes a road trip way less stressful. And if you do have a bump or a scrape, then it doesn’t feel like such a huge problem anymore.
We took this option up several times when booking online until a friend told us about how much money could be saved by buying an additional insurance policy totally separate from the one offered by the car rental firm.
We did our research, and he was totally right.
So, for the last two years, we have bought a 12-month worldwide Car Hire Excess Insurance policy for £59.99 from insurance4carhire. This applies to all our car rentals in the year, and will reimburse us for the excess or repair costs in the event of a valid claim for damage or theft. It also fills in the coverage gaps for windows, headlights, roof, tyres and undercarriage discussed above.
Doing it this way saves us a lot of money (particularly as we rent a car several times in the year) and instantly removes a lot of our stress about car rental costs unexpectedly racking up if we have a crash. Even if you’re just doing one road trip or holiday rental per year, it still works out cheaper than what’s offered at the rental desk and when booking online (see example below).
The company also offers an annual policy for just UK & Europe car rentals for £44.99 (see more information here), which is definitely the best value option if you know you won’t be road tripping outside Europe in the upcoming year.
If you buy this type of insurance separately in advance of collecting your car, it means that you can decline the additional coverage offered when booking online and again at the car rental firm’s desk when you’re picking up the vehicle (no matter how much they hard sell it to you and insist you have to take it).
A crucial thing to note about this type of separate policy and the additional insurance offered online when booking with Auto Europe, RentalCarsor others, is that you will have to cover the cost of the excess in the event of a claim but the policy will fully reimburse you.
*Additional Insurance Cost Comparison
The additional insurance cost for a 14 day rental (July 1st - 15th 2020 Rental) of the ‘economy’ car, collect and drop-off in Bari, Italy. Driver aged 25+.
AutoEurope | Excess Guarantee Insurance = £56.18
RentalCars | Full Insurance = £128.84
Insurance4CarHire annual policy = £44.99 (which will also cover all other car rentals you take in UK & Europe for the policy period).
#6 Prepare Your Paperwork + Documents
As most of you will be flying and then picking up your car rental from the airport, it’s vital that you bring all the necessary items required to collect car.
First up - a valid credit card in the name of the primary driver, from which a security deposit will be held for the duration of the rental. The deposit amount should be noted on the booking details and confirmation, and you need to ensure your card has sufficient funds to cover this. This often causes confusion with people who don’t regularly rent a car so, for the avoidance of doubt, just know that if you pre-paid your car hire you will have to present a valid credit card in the name of the driver and a deposit will be taken from it. If you do not do this, the car rental company can refuse to rent you the car at the desk.
This money is ‘ring-fenced’ or held by the company during the rental, it isn’t actually withdrawn. However, if there’s a charge or repair, or a traffic fine which doesn’t turn up until months later, it’s going to be taken off the credit card.
In 2019, there has been an increase in several international companies offering debit card deposits instead of credit card deposits for European car rental (including Enterprise and Hertz). This isn’t yet offered at all of their locations however, and we would continue to recommend anyone renting a car to have a credit card with them with sufficient credit to cover the deposit at the rental desk (it’s actually the only thing Andrew uses his credit card for!).
You will obviously also need to bring your valid driving licence. However, it’s important to know that some countries require renters to have an International Driving Permit in addition, and this includes USA, Brazil and Japan. If you’re based in the UK, it’s quick and easy to get one of these at the Post Office if you pop in with some passport photos and your licence for a fee of £5.50. You can also use this International Driving Permit tool to check the requirements for UK drivers of the country in which you are renting.
Additionally, the car rental firm may also take a scan of your passport. Return flight information may also be requested (though this is rare).
Be aware when picking up your car, especially in certain destinations where road trips are popular, that there could be rather large queues. And, of course, the cheaper companies will always have a longer queue as lots of us book with them! One trick we’ve done in the past is to let the passenger (Emily) wait to collect our luggage, whilst the driver (Andrew) keeps on going to beat the queue to start the car rental process before anyone else arrives from our flight.
Secondly, if you’re flying in and picking up from the airport, then please remember to not drink on the plane. This should seem like common sense, but when we did our Faroe Islands road trip, two American guys were refused their car (quite rightly) as the attendant could smell alcohol on their breath.
Lastly, expect the hard sell about buying extra insurance when you pick up the car.
#7 Be A Dick At Pick-Up
It has taken us both many years and many roads trips and many rentals, but we now have our pick-up process and (even more importantly) pick-up attitude down to an art. We are only too happy to share our tried-and-tested pick-up checklist with you here as it’s the difference maker between getting shafted by an unscrupulous car rental agent or not.
On some of the points below you may think we’re being a little pedantic, a little neurotic, a little too harsh but please believe us - only by being THAT dick will you be able to leave the car park with the confidence that you have significantly reduced the chances of losing money when you return the rental car days or weeks later.
The theme which underpins all of the below pointers is to be scrupulous in documenting the condition of the car before you put the key in the ignition and leave - if you rush it or neglect to do this, then the chances of a charge increase exponentially.
Expect A Surprise
Note that you won’t necessarily always get the car you’re expecting, but this often isn’t a major issue and you will usually receive a similar make or model. However, if you ordered an SUV and receive a beaten-up 2-door Fiat Panda, you are clearly entitled to complain.
Also note, speaking to the Americans here, that most countries in Europe have a limited option of automatic cars available and so you may receive one with a gearstick despite your request. If this is a problem, then ask if they have another available. Driving ‘stick’ is way better anyway, but Andrew has also had to settle for the automatic car provided in the past when he’s requested manual.
Check the car
After you’ve been given the keys, the attendant should provide paperwork which notes any pre-existing damage on the vehicle. This is usually a simple scale drawing of a generic car, with a few crosses or circles denoting any bump, scape, or dent. It’s all very unspecific however, and we always take 10 to 15 minutes to review the car independently to verify the damage. You should:
Review the outside of the car for any additional damage, paying particular attention to the hubcaps, windscreens, and bumpers.
Review the interior, looking specifically for marks or cigarette burns in any of the seats (one rental company in Morocco makes a lot of money by charging people for this burn which is always there), and any other significant marks or damage / unclean areas.
We ALWAYS find external damage that hasn’t been noted in the paperwork. If the car arrives and it’s got substantial pre-existing damage, then you are within your rights to refuse it and ask for an alternative vehicle (though this wish may not always be granted).
Damage policies, and transparency around them, differ from company to company. For example, a few we used this year only counted something as ‘damage’ if the dent or scratch was larger than a keyring they provided (a good thing). Others rate it on a scale of severity of damage, and charge accordingly. Others have a very very long list of damage types and severity, with each having a fixed charge associated (see an example here).
Regardless of the above, as a renter, you should view any bit of damage on the car as damage, and note and record it appropriately.
Take several close-up and far-away photos of any bumps, scrapes, or scratches.
Even if there’s no visible damage to the car, then you should still take photos which cover the entire vehicle - front, sides, backs, interiors, and close-ups of wheels, the windscreen, roof, and underside. This acts as your own back-up ‘insurance policy’ in case you miss something in the car park and only discover it a few hours or days later, and this step actually saved us £85 for a small chip on a windscreen which we were able to prove was there when we rented it but hadn’t been picked up in our review.
It may seem like overkill, but we also take a video showing the condition of the car when picking it up. It is simply another way to give us extra protection in the event of being challenged about a scratch or pre-existing damage when we return it.
It also shows you mean business!
Check The Fuel
Most car companies will provide you with a full fuel tank, but it’s always worth checking this. If it’s a small local firm, and the gauge isn’t on full, take a picture and ask about this. Technically, it should entitle you to return it at the same level unless the car rental company operates on a different policy. In any case, it would always be the safest bet to just return it full.
Be A Dick*
If you spot any pre-existing damage which isn’t recorded, politely ask for these to be clearly noted down in the rental paperwork in front of you.
Our experience with this is mixed, in that some firms are only too happy to note the additional damage we find, whilst others have been very reluctant to add this to the paperwork (such as on our Morocco road trip). In this instance, you do have to stand your ground a little and politely but firmly ask for it to be noted. If they continue to not do this, then your photos will become even more important later down the line.
It’s only at this stage that you should sign-off on any of the paperwork referring to the condition of the car when picked up - after this signature, you are responsible for any additional damage found when the car is returned (whether it is caused by you or not).
* Obviously be a respectful dick, rather than an obnoxious total one. It’s simply that in our experience we’ve had to be quite persistent and stand our ground about having damage noted.
Collate Paperwork + Photos
The attendant should provide you with a copy of the necessary updated and final car rental documentation and paperwork attaching to the vehicle which will be required in the event of police-checks. It’s best to collate it all and keep it together in the glove compartment.
We also recommend snapping a picture of your copy of the rental agreement for your records, and storing your damage photos in Google Drive folder or emailing them to yourself.
#8 Keep Calm and Carry On
The biggest hurdles associated with renting a car have been overcome, and the good news is that all of the above steps and processes get much easier with more experience.
Now you’ve just got to hit the road on your adventure and handle driving on the wrong side of the road or with people who seem to operate to a whole different interpretation of the Highway Code (hello Sicily!).
We will be writing a separate post about specific driving tips for road trips, but you should note that the first half hour is really key to settling you down. With us, it always ends up in at least one argument, one wrong-turn, one panic about which side we’re on, and one stall (and that’s usually just as we’re leaving the car park).
Being a little nervous, stressed, or panicked is totally normal and understandable; Andrew still gets like this whenever and wherever we pick up a rental car despite doing it dozens of times in the last three years. This makes it even more important that you take your time, breathe, go slow, and simply focus on easing yourself into the new car and the new country gently (and making sure you don’t crash in that first 30 minutes!)
To give you more peace of mind, it’s a really good idea to do a little bit of research into other roadtrippers’ experiences and tips for that country by Googling about ‘driving a rental car in [insert place]’ to understand some of the local quirks, signs, and things to look out for on the road. Secondly, know your destination for that first day and journey and give yourself a realistic route and amount of time to reach it before nightfall!
#9 Have a Drop-Off Checklist....and follow it!
After a relatively stress-free road trip adventure, all that’s left is to return the rental car in (hopefully) one piece and get your deposit released. If you haven’t damaged the car, then this is usually a relatively simple process, but there’s a few steps to prepare for in advance:
Don’t Be Late
When booking your rental, be realistic about your journey time back to the airport or train station. As we mentioned, returning the car early is never an issue but returning it late will result in a charge.
Therefore always give yourself more time than you think you’ll need as the last thing you want to do is to arrive back with the rental car, get into a debate about damage, but have to get to your plane in an hour. There’s also a good chance that others will be returning their cars around the same time and a number of new arrivals awaiting to pick theirs up, so it’s not unusual to have to wait around for an attendant.
We are always back in the car rental car park 2.5 hours before our flight home leaves.
Fill Up Near By
Most of us will have to ‘rent full, return full’, which means the last thing to do before you arrive back at the car rental office is to fill up at the nearest fuel station to the airport drop-off location. There is pretty much always guaranteed to be one within a few miles, and this allows you to avoid eating up extra miles by getting lost or diverted. Just stick ‘petrol station’ into Google Maps when you’re about 20 minutes away and you should be fine.
As we said, in Latvia we thought we were playing it smart by filling up at a fuel station 10 miles from the rental firm, but ended up with €15 charge because that 10 mile journey put the gauge ever-so-slightly below full and we didn’t have time to refill elsewhere.
And remember - always check that you’re filling up with the right fuel for the car!!
Unpack + Clean
Once you’ve parked up, take five minutes to take your luggage out, clean out the inevitable crisp packets and food wrappers, and give a quick dust down of the seats. This process usually takes us about 10 minutes (when we’re on a road trip, there’s more in the back seat and boot than in our suitcase by the end of it).
On our month-long adventure through Sicily, we rented with a cheap company and only discovered their small print €180 charge for ‘unclean’ rental returns at the check-in desk. This meant we just found a garage with a car wash and hoover area two days before we returned the vehicle, and gave everything a thorough clean for €5.
Even if you don’t have this small print, it’s always best to take five minutes to give the inside of the car a once over and get rid of any dirt or sand. Under no circumstances, with whatever company, should you return the car in a really dirty or unclean condition (inside or outside).
Although more established firms do offer a speedy drop-off process, whereby you simply leave the keys and they’ll take care of the rest, we will never go for this as it undermines a lot of the position of certainty we’ve created when picking it up (especially if it’s a car which has a certain level of pre-existing damage).
It’s better to return early, wait your turn, do a check with an agent, and leave with certainty that there will be no extra charges (or confirmation of what the charges will be if you have damaged the car).
Review The Car
Whilst being ‘bad cop’ when picking up is a good option, we find that being ‘good cop’ when dropping it off is the best approach, with big smiles and handshakes and talking about what a great trip you’ve had! The car attendant will then review the car against the paperwork and damage report you agreed at pick-up - and hopefully you receive the all clear. They’ll also check the fuel. We recommend taking some pictures of the car at this stage too, just to avoid any sneaky business by the rental company once you’ve left.
If everything is fine, then it’s simply a case of confirming this with them, confirming that no damage was noted, confirming that no charges will be made, and confirming that the deposit will be returned in full; you will then sign paperwork to this effect. Never ever sign this paperwork without the company having confirmed and checked the boxes stating the car has been returned and checked and no extra damage has been found!
We have thankfully never experienced damage or a major issue on our road trips, and so have not yet faced returning a rental car with new damage to report. In this instance, the return process will of course be lengthier and a bit more complex. As with all our car rental tips, you should take your time, ensure all paperwork is in order, document everything to the greatest extent possible, and not leave with uncertainty about charges, process, or insurance coverage.
Again, we recommend purchasing a separate insurance policy before you rent to save money and reduce stress.
Check Your Bank Account
Once you’re home and the road trip feels like it went without a hitch, you can’t completely rest on your laurels. In the following two or three weeks keep an eye on your credit card to ensure there’s no one-off charges by the rental car company for late delivery, admin charges, refuelling, or damage, and that your holding deposit has been returned.
For example, on first Puglia road trip, we only received a notification charge of €50 six months after our trip ended - this was a charge from the rental company for supplying the Italian police with our details as we had unintentionally driven through a ZTL zone.