Avoid A Car Rental Nightmare
It won’t take much effort to find car rental disaster stories. Just a few online searches and you will see them. In fact, research will show that some rental companies have a worse reputation than others. Online searches will bring up stories of people charged for insurance they didn’t want or charged for damage they didn’t cause, of cars not be serviced when they are due and even a bumper falling a car as it was being driven down the road.
While it is impossible to avoid a bad experience completely, taking a few precautions will keep the chance of having your very own car rental horror story to a minimum.
First Objective: Successfully book your car hire
This should be easy, but instead for many it is a confusing search of prices, car types and fine print. These steps should help ease the confusion.
Book well in advance
Make sure to book well in advance, car rental prices tend to go up the closer you get to the pick up date, not down. Prices work on a simple supply and demand system; they go up as availability goes down. If you are travelling to Europe and require an automatic car you will need to book months in advance in order to secure one, especially in Italy where they are particularly rare. If you are travelling during the holidays, Christmas and Easter in particular, making a reservation around three months ahead is ideal. This way you will have the best chance of getting a car at a normal price. After this point the prices just start to go up. Most car rental companies sell out for the holidays, resulting in many travellers panicking in the last couple of weeks before a major holiday as they struggle to secure a car. Those that are lucky enough to find a car will be forced to pay very high prices, three or four times a normal rate. Don’t be one of these people. The summer is also another peak period to prepare for. Many locations have low or no availability during the summer so if you are booking last minute you may have trouble finding a good price and the car type you want.
Make a car rental reservation
To get started make a list of the basics: where and when you want to pick up the car and where and when you want to bring it back, what size car you need and do you want an automatic or manual gear box. These details are especially important if you are contacting various rental companies by email to get quotes. Make sure you provide them to avoid unnecessary emailing. Also do a little research on the various rental companies and avoid the worst offenders even if they are offering the cheapest price. No rental company is perfect so you will just have to narrow down your options.
Next you will want to research prices. When you do this make sure you are taking the full offer into account. Do the rates offered include taxes, location fees, mandatory insurances, break down cover and unlimited mileage? You will discover that most of the rates offered for car rentals in Europe are inclusive of all mandatory charges. But make sure you know this for certain, because if they are not included in the rate offered and they will be added when you pick up your car, making for an unpleasant surprise. If you are unsure about anything email the rental company, sometimes this is better than the telephone as you will get a response in writing. Which might solve any problems that may occur down the line. The rental company will have a hard time arguing written correspondence but they could deny any thing they said on the phone.
Once you are satisfied with a price make your reservation. If you book online you should get a confirmation voucher within a certain time period, this can range from instantly to a couple of days. If you do not receive your confirmation voucher within a couple of days don’t hesitate to email the rental company. Maybe there is some kind of problem confirming your reservation or your voucher was sent but it was blocked by your email spam guard and it is necessary to find another way of getting your booking information to you.
Second Objective: Pick up your car without a hitch
It is important to have your wits about you on arrival at the rental desk, you may be tired and have the urge to breeze through the paper work, grab your keys and go. But it is best to resist this urge at all costs, you won’t regret it. When you speak to the rental desk clerk you will be asked if you want any optional insurances, such as a Super Damage Waiver. The SDW reduces your liability to zero or an amount much less than you would be charged in the event of damage to the car. To take this extra insurance is a personal choice, however it is not usually mandatory and it is one of the major ways car rental companies make money. If you are only renting for a couple of days then the expense of this insurance may make it worth getting for your own peace of mind, but for longer rentals think carefully. The cost of the SDW may end up being close to the excess liability amount so do really get much benefit from it.
Read your contract carefully
The most important thing you need to do at the rental desk is to read your rental contract and receipt very carefully, this is where many people get stung. What happens is that extra insurances get charged to your credit card even if you specifically say you do not want them. This seems to be a common “mistake” made by rental clerks. Make sure you are also clear about the fuel policy, most rental companies require you to bring the car back with a full tank or else they charge you an inflated rate for fuel. Before you sign anything ensure that every charge and policy you are unsure of is explained to you. Don’t be afraid to ask about everything, it is your wallet that ends up worse off if there are errors. Once the rental company has your signature there is little you can do to get refunded for any charges you were unaware of.
Third Objective: Drive away and enjoy your trip
Once you find your car in the parking lot it is very important to give it a good going over. If you see any dents, dirt or scratches make sure that the rental company takes note of them before you drive away. Otherwise you could be blamed and end up being charged the full excess amount, which is usually in the hundreds of dollars. If you want to be really cautious check the oil and make sure that it is not due to be changed.
Fourth Objective: Return the Car
In most cases you will need to return you car rental with a full tank of fuel. There is usually a gas(petrol) station near to the car rental drop off location. It is best to use the closest possible option and to fill the car as much as possible so it cannot be claimed that the tank isn’t quite a full. Return the car keys and agree any extra charges with the rental company.