How to Get Cheap Car Hire

Emma - 24 October 2016

Everyone is after a good deal on car rental, but sometimes pursuing the cheap car hire can end up costing you more once you start adding on extras and dirty tactics. Here’s our guide to keeping the cost down.

How to Get Cheap Car Hire by Dodging Costs

Compare costs online

The internet is invaluable here. Use sites such as money supermarket and compare the market to find the best deal for you. HOWEVER, don’t just pick the cheapest without looking into it – they’re cheap for a reason, and they’ll make their profits using other methods.

Book in advance

Our recent car hire in Italy was quoted at £5-7 a day on the Monday, and by Wednesday it was £8-10. As you creep closer to the date of travel, the costs will go up, as stock goes down.

Will you be returning the car in the same place?

Avoid false economies when making travel plans. Cheap car hire companies will add a chunky premium when you return the car to a different depo (even more if the depo is across an international border).

When hiring a car in Norway, my friend and I were horrified that there was an £300 ‘additional charge’ for returning the car to Oslo, rather than Trondheim where we’d collected it. We’d been under the impression that we had paid all the fees in advance, having specified the drop off location in the booking. These hidden fees make a massive difference, and once you’re at the rental station and your holiday hinges on you having a car, there’s not much you can do except pay up.

When we got cheap car hire in Iceland, we were bitten by fees for returning to a different depoWhen we got cheap car hire in Norway, S and I were bitten by surprise fees for returning at a different depo


This is where the most money is made in car rentals. All the little things you end up having to add on which hike up the price.

Baby seats

Baby seats are absurdly, laughably expensive at most major car rental companies. You are almost definitely better off buying a car seat in the shop next door, rather than paying for this rental extra.


Over the years, the insurance offered with a car rental has been whittled down so far that now it is practically worthless. Instead you’re offered ‘super CDW’ or similar to insure yourself. We’ve written an article on whether or not additional insurance is worth it when you’re trying to get cheap car hire.

Sat Nav

With phones able to direct you in many countries in the world, hiring a sat nav with the car seems like an unnecessary extravagance. With most phone companies, the cost of using your phone abroad is relatively cheap so long as it is agreed with the phone company before the usage. If you really have your heart set on using a sat nav, you can usually buy one for cheaper than the average cost of hiring a sat nav for the week.

Additional Driver

This is the add-on which we often opt-in on. No one wants to do all the driving. We found that this could double the cost of the rental. Recently we hired a car in Pisa for a week driving around Tuscany, and it was staggeringly cheap at around £7 a day. But to add an extra driver on was between £8 and £10 a day, more than doubling the cost of our rental. We eventually found a company which had a higher basic rate, but charged £30 for a secondary driver for the whole 9 day rental.

Limited mileage

This can catch you out if you’re not careful! It’s often hidden away in the small print, and can be a wallet buster if you go over it.

When in Oman, I and a friend hired a car to go on a day trip to Wadi Shab. When we came back, it turned out there’d be a small line buried away in an extremely long document we’d signed that said the mileage was limited. The rental company was claiming we’d done over 5000 kilometers, which would have been truly impressive given that we’d had the car for less than 24 hours. We would have had to have driven for over 200kph for the full 24 hours in order to come close to the mileage they were claiming. Eventually, after extensive arguments with the manager it was resolved, saving us literally hundreds of pounds in excess mileage fees (although we still had to fork out a bit extra). The lesson here is: read the small print. Or if the document is enormous, ask them outright if there is limited mileage.

Fuel return policy

The last thing you want to do is end up paying petrol prices set by the rental company, as they’ll be sky-high compared to the cost at the pumps. If you get a full-to-full agreement, remember to fill up the tank, or it will cost you. We’ve heard of people whose tank was ‘nearly full’ but were charged the full flat rate ‘refuelling fee’ which was more than an entire tank would have cost at the petrol station. We almost got caught out by our ‘full to full’ rental in Pisa, not having realised that all the petrol stations in the city were closed on a Sunday, and petrol could only be purchased on a pre-bought fuel card, and it did not accept our bank cards. After trying multiple fuel stations we found one that accepted Euros, and painstakingly fed in all the small change we had left, eeking up the petrol gauge until it was just about passable as full.

Collecting full, and returning empty is probably the worst option of the bunch. It means you’ll be buying a tank at their inflated rates, and paying for it even if you don’t use it. What’s more, it’s difficult to turn up at the rental depot with a perfectly judged empty tank, so you’ll inevitably end up giving them back a quarter tank (or running out of petrol a couple of miles down the road).

Remember cost of petrol

When you’re just about squeezing cheap car hire into your budget, don’t forget the additional costs of running it. In some areas of the world (the Gulf states, for example, or America) petrol is so cheap as to be negligible, but in other countries (Iceland, for example, or much of Europe) the petrol could blow your budget.

When H and I got cheap car hire in Oman, we didn't realise we had limited mileage on the rental!

When H and I got cheap car hire in Oman, we didn't realise we had limited mileage on the rental! At least fuel was cheap...

Risks of Cheap Car Hire

Although car hire companies at all budgets have been known to do some dodgy dealings, the budget end of the market certainly has the most incentive. This varies wildly from country to country, but the ways you can protect yourself apply everywhere

Get Evidence

Our lesson here is ‘be paranoid’. Car rental companies have a reputation for ripping off their customers, and while it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, they have the reputation for a reason. Never do a quick drop off with the car where you don’t see them sign off the car as undamaged. Check what the paperwork says before you take the car out, to make sure any damage is recorded. We always photograph the car to make sure we have evidence of its condition when we took it out.

If you are unfortunate enough to damage the car, ask for a detailed breakdown of all the costs they’re charging you, and to see a repair invoice.

Don’t Lie

This may seem obvious, but if you lie at any stage on any of the paperwork, you will be entirely liable for anything that happens. In Thailand everyone promises hand-on-heart that they have a motorbike license in order to be allowed to rent out a moped. It was clear when I did this that the Thai employees hiring out the moped are well aware that you are lying, but it’s in their interest to turn a blind eye. If you’re riding it illegally, it means that if you return it and they claim you’ve damaged it, you will not be able to involve the police in the dispute, and will be forced to pay up.

Check your credit card statement

A friend of mine had hundreds of pounds removed from her account without warning by a major car rental company she’d used in Bulgaria months earlier. Turned out they had decided that damage on the car was caused by her and therefore the excess needed to be paid. Check your card statements for a few months after you get back, in case any charges suddenly appear. Keep any documentation from when you return the car, and maybe even consider photographing the car.

Always book on a credit card – they can cover you. Incidentally, here’s our article for the best travel credit cards

UK Residents

Rules have changed which mean that you now need to get a code before going abroad. The code is only valid for 3 weeks (previously 3 days). Click here for more information.