You've spent most of the year dreaming about this - the thought of stepping off the plane into the blast of summer heat, heralding the start of the holidays.

However, the one thing that can cause temperatures to soar even before the annual escape begins is the process of arranging and collecting a rental car.

We've been looking at some of the pitfalls of car rental and how to take the pain out of the process.

Do you actually need a car?

Before you even Google car hire, sit down and ask yourself if you really need a car on holidays. How much driving are you planning to do while you're away? If it's just a drive to the hotel or campsite, a few shopping outings and the return trip to the airport, is it worth exploring alternatives? Are there public transport options to get you to your destination? Are taxis an option? There are apps aplenty now that make booking a cab easy and often very affordable.

So you do need a car - book it asap!

It's advised to book the car rental as soon as you have your plans finalised. Unlike hotels, there are few last minute bargains to be had by waiting until the last minute to rent a car. Plus, unless you're choosing a 'pre-pay' offer (which generally includes a reduction on the 'pay-later' price), you can almost always cancel your car rental without being charged. So if a better offer arises later, you can always opt for that then.

Do the research and don't go necessarily for the lowest offer

There are plenty of car rental 'scraping' sites out there that will essentially pull together the available vehicles in their various categories. At first sight, they will provide cheaper options than going directly to the better known car rental sites such as Enterprise, Hertz, Europecar or Budget.

However, if you scroll down through the options you will generally find the better known rental companies offering their cars at the same price as they are quoting on their own websites, so the scraping sites are not necessarily offering bargains.

You will almost certainly find a cheaper price on these sites, but if you do opt for a cheaper option, be sure you know what you're getting for the reduced price.

For the purposes of this article, we looked at the cost of renting a compact car, picking up from and returning to Bordeaux Airport between 8 and 12 July.

Ryanair's car rental site sourced a Ford Fiesta from Firefly at €131.30 (excess of €1,000 and a 1,200 km limit). Enterprise had an Opel Corsa for €324.41 (excess of €1,000, unlimited mileage).

The same offer was available on the Enterprise website. Similar offers were available from, although the best offers were offered to those who signed up to the site.

Try signing up for membership

Many of the better known car rental sites have membership options. It's as simple as signing up and it could mean discounts on your rental, free upgrades, waived additional driver costs and - one of the more popular privileges after a long flight - priority queuing when you go to pick up the car!

Resist the hard sell

Be ready for a sales pitch when you go to pick up your rental car. Most car hire agents are on commission to sell you additional products and services. Child booster seats and sat navs are the main items they will try to push.

Navigation is available in most cars now and it's most likely on your phone. Consider buying a local SIM with credit to use your phone at a local rate if you're outside of Europe. You most likely don't need an additional sat nav. If you prefer to have a sat nav, consider buying one before you go.

Another additional cost to look out for is upgrade charges. If the company cannot provide a vehicle in the car class that you booked, make sure they don't charge you the upgrade price.

It's up to the company to provide you with what you ordered. If they can't, insist on an upgrade to the next available model. Don't accept a downgrade.

How insured do you need to be?

Collision damage waiver insurance is the main hard sell. The European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Ireland says the car rental sector continues to be one of the top areas of complaints lodged here every year and a sizeable quantity of those relate to insurance products.

Many consumers claim that they are pressurised into buying expensive insurance products in addition to the compulsory cover already included in the rental price.

The basic insurance will generally have an excess - the amount that the renter would be liable to pay in the event of damage being incurred - of between €500 and €1,500.

The higher the excess, the more attractive a collision waiver might seem. To protect against all outcomes, the best option is to take out an annual policy with a company that will provide cover at a fraction of the cost that the rental company will likely offer.

Excess insurance at the rental desk will generally cost in excess of €20 per day - adding €140 to your car rental bill for a week.

Keep in mind that you if you do opt to buy your own damage waiver insurance, the car rental company may still demand a security deposit in the form of a credit card pre-authorisation, so make sure you have a card with sufficient capacity to accommodate that.

"The car rental company may insist on providing the security deposit, to be waived once the car is returned undamaged," Martina Nee, Press and Communications Manager with the ECC explains.

"In the event of damage, the car rental company can charge the consumer for the cost of the repairs, up to the amount pre-authorised, in which case the consumer may claim these costs back from their own insurer afterwards."

Peel your eyes for damage

The rental agent will provide you with a damage report as part of your paperwork showing existing scratches, paint work damage or dents in the car. If the agent doesn't accompany you to the lot, carry out your own thorough inspection of the car.

Notify them of any additional damage that's not included on the report card, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

Better to be clear at the start than dispute it later! Also, take photos and email them to yourself to provide a double date stamp. Or even record a short video of the exterior and interior of the car for reference later if needed.


Before you set off, get as much info as you can about what to do in the event of an accident, a breakdown or if the car is stolen. The AA warns against leaving the rental desk without the relevant emergency contact numbers in the case of a breakdown, an accident or if the car is stolen.

"Check the local rules of the road so you know if you have to carry things like a warning triangle or reflective jackets in the car. Ask the rental firm to provide anything that's missing as you could face an on-the spot fine," the AA recommends.

Paying for fuel

Always opt for the 'full to full' policy. This is where the rental company provides you a car with a full tank and it's your responsibility to return it full. If you're picking up at the airport, note the closest fuel stops for the return journey to ensure you can bring it back with the needle to the top.

Forecourts closest to the airport won't have the most competitively price fuel, but they will inevitably be cheaper that the price per litre that the rental company will charge you for refilling the tank.

Never accept the offer of paying for a full tank of fuel and returning it empty.

They will likely overcharge you for the fuel and, unless you're going to be covering a lot of ground on the holiday, the chances of you using all the fuel are probably slim. Invariably, it's a rip off!

Returning the car

Always aim to return the car during business hours so that a rental agent can inspect it. Make sure to get a copy of the paperwork confirming that the vehicle was returned in a satisfactory condition.

Again photos or short videos can be useful, especially if you are returning the car outside office opening hours. And watch your credit card for the months after you return.

Some companies have been known to apply charges for fuel or damage several months after the car was returned - a source of the majority of complaints relating to car rental to the European Consumer Centre.

"These charges can cost consumers hundreds and can be difficult to fight, especially if the consumer doesn't have enough evidence to back up their side of the story, doesn't have enough information about the damage or how the charge is calculated, or they don't know the best way to complain," Martina Nee said.

If you are disputing damage, the ECC suggest asking firstly for an itemised damage assessment by a qualified mechanic. They advise asking for proof of damage that the company claims was caused by you and, finally, ask for an itemised invoice for actual repairs.

"This may help you dispute either the entire amount or at least get you a reduction in the bill charged," Ms Nee said.

More information is available at