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Car hire guide: how to avoid being ripped off renting a car

Rental vehicle businesses are just trying to make money, but some of them are less scrupulous than others and will deliberately try to rip you off. Here’s our guide to hiring, collecting and dropping back a rental car.

Shop around for the best deal

Unless you have a premium membership directly with a rental vehicle company, the best deals are often found on partner websites. Avoid the upsell when you purchase an airline ticket, though, as these prices are set at ‘convenience’ prices, i.e. they are higher because it’s more convenient for you to book it then.

Don’t leave it until you get to the airport, either, as airport prices are higher and you won’t necessarily have the choice of car that you would have pre-booking. Booking early is the best way to get a good deal.

Collecting the vehicle

Choose your pickup depot

Picking up and dropping off at the same depot is usually the cheapest.

Airport collections often carry a premium due to the rental that airports charge to the agencies either to store the vehicles or to allow shuttles to pick up passengers. Sometimes it can be worth a short bus ride to save this fee.

Don’t be sucked into the upsells

Checking in can seem like a deliberately frustrating and long process, even if you’ve purchased your vehicle online. There are endless upsells for products you don’t necessarily need:

Do you really need a GPS when you could download Google maps to your phone and use that as a GPS (remember to take a phone cradle with you in your luggage)

Do you really need that super-expensive insurance (hint: it’s usually much cheaper to get comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for rental vehicles, too). You absolutely should get insurance because an accident in the car could be tens of thousands of dollars, but you don’t need to take the insurance the rental agency offers you.

Do you really want an upgrade? If it’s free, why not take it, but if they want to charge you for going up a model, do you actually want to pay the extra month.

Do you need that roadside assistance package? If you’re hiring in the country you live in and you have a roadside assistance service, it will apply to this car, too, as long as it’s not tied to a new car you bought.

Check the car thoroughly

Go to the car with the agent’s representative and thoroughly check absolutely every panel and make sure it’s marked on the sheet. Take photos of every scratch and dent, the interior of the vehicle, the odometer and the sheet itself. Don’t forget about difficult-to-see areas like under the front bumper which can be easily scratched. Avis in Palermo tried to rip us off by charging us 360 Euros for damage to the front bumper which already existed. Fortunately, we had taken photos but it still took almost a month to get our money back.

Damage is barely visible and was pre-existing. Avis attempted to charge us for it

Is the fuel tank full? The needle should be above the F on the gauge. If not, make them aware of it and immediately take it to a petrol station, keep the receipt and claim it back from the rental agency on your return. We got NZ$10 of fuel back in Christchurch, New Zealand using this method.

Taking the vehicle back

Make sure you don’t exceed any maximum miles within the contract or you’ll have to pay extra charges. Take all your gear out of the vehicle and then photograph everything again.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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