A Backpackers’ Guide to Car Hire

A Backpackers’ Guide to Car Hire

Hiring a car is an awesome way to see a country, and if you share the cost between two (or more) can be even cheaper than buses or trains. We have hired cars around the world, including Argentina, Scotland, Romania, Cyprus and Spain. In this guide we will share our top tips on getting the best car hire deals.

1. Get your International Driving Permit

To be honest, we have rarely been asked for a copy of our International Driving Permit (IDP). However, we would still recommend getting one before you leave home. It allows you to drive internationally without further tests or applications. The IDP is translated into numerous languages, so if you get pulled over by the police you don’t have to worry about explaining the validity of your licence. Some countries also require a copy of your IDP before you can rent a car (e.g. South Korea).

2. Do your research

Compare prices across a number of websites to check you are getting the best deal. And don’t forget small local companies! They often have far better rates than the big-name car rental companies. We have almost always used a local hire company. Usually you can walk into the local company’s office and leave ASAP. Just be sure to check the fine print, especially in regards to insurance excess.

3. Book in advance

Booking last minute (especially in high season) will sting your wallet. Book as early as possible to get the best deals, unless you want to try your luck at catching a relocation deal (see below). If you’re travelling in off-season, you can sometimes get last minute deals, especially from local hire companies.

4. Avoid extra charges

Car hire companies are notorious for hidden extra charges. We recommend doing a ‘dummy’ run through the online booking to work out the true cost of your hire. Same goes for small, local companies, make sure you go over everything before agreeing to it. A few sneaky surcharges to look out for:

  • extra fees for drivers under 21 or 25 (the minimum age differs from company to company)
  • one-way rental charges – particularly bad if your drop off location is a long way from your pick up location or you are dropping off the car in a small town
  • fees for compulsory winter tire rental
  • booking fees and credit card surcharges
  • taxes
  • premium location pick-up and drop-off fees – usually charged for airport pick-up and drop-off
  • refuelling charges – the company will state whether the car needs to have a full tank when dropped off
  • fees for extra kilometres – try to hire a car with ‘unlimited kilometres’
  • equipment hire – e.g. GPS, baby seats, snow chains

5. Inspect for damage

Before you depart, check the car carefully for dents, scratches etc. Take photos of any damage and inform the car hire company before you leave. Some companies will have a record of pre-existing damage (and sometimes make you sign it), so compare it carefully to the car and make updates if necessary before signing anything. You don’t want to pay for damage you didn’t cause!

6. Avoid being over-insured

If you have an accident, you will have to pay an ‘excess amount’ before the car hire company’s insurance will cover the rest of the bill. Often car hire companies will suggest you pay extra to lower the excess amount (e.g. you pay an extra $20 per day to lower the excess from $5,000 to $2,500). But often your travel insurance already covers you for the full excess amount! Check your travel insurance policy closely to see what your car hire excess coverage is. There is no need to pay the car hire company extra to reduce the excess if you’re already covered by your travel insurance.

7. Travel in off-season

Car hire rates are significantly lower in shoulder-season and off-season. We road-tripped around Scotland in November. No crowds, plenty of accommodation and the car hire was super cheap. It was cold but for us this made the trip more ‘Scottish’! However, if you are renting in a cold location in winter be sure to check whether you car rental rate includes ‘winter tires’.

8. Use your mobile phone GPS

GPS hire rates are ridiculous. Use the GPS on your mobile phone (offline apps like MAPS.ME are great), or even buy a GPS. It will usually work out much cheaper.

9. Look for relocation deals

If you are happy to be flexible and wait last minute, there are heaps of great relocation deals around. Car hire companies will offer extremely cheap rates for you to relocate their car or campervan from one location to another. Some even offer free fuel and an allowance! The best deals are found in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Check websites like Imoova and VroomVroomVroom.

10. Check your drop-off time

If you drop-off time is later than your pick-up time (e.g. you pick-up your car at 10am on 13 August, but drop-off at 11am on 20 August) you may be slugged a whole extra day’s hire charges! Ideally, pick-up and drop-off the car at the same time, during office hours.

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