Renting a car has a lot of advantages: It gives total freedom and flexibility, you can get off the beaten track, exploring a country’s rural areas and finding hidden gems. We just like to make our own itinerary, independent of tour organisations, train schedules and buses. Just the two of us, in a car, and some pins on a map to guide us through the country. After dozens of car rentals all over the world, we have some tips to share.
Top-up your credit card before departure
Our best and number one tip is to make sure you can pay the deposit for your rental car. Sometimes it can be €1,500/$1,500 or more.
So if your card has a spending limit of a €1.000, you can temporarily increase the limit by either asking for a higher limit or just top off the card with the amount needed.
When you’re unable to pay for the deposit, you either can’t get the car, ruining your plans, or you’ll have to buy off the deposit by taking all the insurances at a premium.
This can easily double your expected expenses. So be 100% sure there is enough money on your credit card to pay for the deposit.
Do you plan to cross borders?
Check beforehand if it is possible to cross borders with your rental car if you’re planning to do so. Also, check if there are any extra costs to cross country borders. These costs can be very high, depending on the rental company. So it’s smart to check this before booking your car because otherwise your cheap car deal can become much more expensive after all.
Check if there is a limited mileage
Another thing to check is if the car comes with limited mileage. If so, calculate how much you want to drive and check if this is within the maximum mileage. If not, think if it’s cheaper to buy unlimited mileage, just to pay for the extra miles or rent at another company. Take into account that you always drive a bit more than your itinerary might tell you, as you might want to be able to take some detours and be flexible, that was the whole reason to get a car in the first place.
When to arrange an international drivers’ license (International Driving Permit)
The simplest way to check is if the country you’re visiting has the same script. For example, Russia uses a Cyrillian script where many European and American countries use the Roman script. Another condition can be the language, is the drivers’ licence in English or does it has an English translation, then it can be used in most countries with a Roman script. If these things are not the case or you’re not sure check with your national automobile association. In most countries, international driving permits are issued by automobile associations, so get it there.
Add a second driver?
It can be costly to add a second driver when renting a car. So when we go on a weekend trip, we usually do not add a second driver. This saves some money that we can spend on an extra museum visit or diner. When we go on longer trips and have to drive a lot, we always add an extra driver to share the burden. If you want to do this, check the costs between different companies as it can add up for longer trips.
Rent a small car
We always rent the smallest and usually the cheapest car that’s on offer. We even drove off-road in Nordic Iceland in a tiny city car. It’s just cheaper petrol-wise, easy to park, less chance for scratches, and better for the environment. So get the smallest car that suits your needs.
When to take the extra insurance
Did you ever check if your credit card offers insurance for car rental? Some do! So in that case, don’t take out double insurance by taking the extra insurance of the rental car organization. Moreover, if you’re renting a car in Europe, the basic insurance is always included (by law), so it’s on average just cheaper not to take any other ‘extra’ insurance. When travelling to non-EU countries, it can make sense to take the basic insurance. The costs of car accidents can easily sum-up to a LOT of money. To decide on this, check the costs of the insurance itself, the driving culture of the country and the general status of the cars to get an indication of the driving culture. Also, take into account the ‘stress’ it might give you driving without insecure.
Use a price comparison website
There are several price comparison websites. Use different ones to find the best deals available. We usually use carrentals.com or kayak.com.
We always use Maps.me as navigation. The big plus is that you can pin the sites you want to visit, you can download offline maps and you can use it if you don’t have GPS, internet, reception and are in the middle of nowhere. You just need a phone with a battery. Moreover, it is quite detailed, even small hiking trails are shown on the maps. Another plus is that it is open-source software.
Rent an automatic car when driving on the other side of the road
We always rent an automatic car when travelling to a country where they drive on the left side. It just saves some stress not to shift gears every time you need to start driving, take a turn or navigate a round-about. It’s a nice luxury that we really enjoy, and it’s often not even that more expensive.
Take pictures before and after renting the car
Take pictures of the car before you start driving, to make sure that you have your own proof of the state of the car at the pick-up. Most rental organisations provide an illustration of the damage that can be on the car, but it’s always nice to have proof of your own as well, to be independent and safe. We usually take 8 pictures, one from every side and every corner. However, after travelling in Botswana we learned that it can also be wise to take a picture of the roof, as we got a big bill for a small dent on the roof that we honestly did not know about. Also take pictures when returning your car, to avoid surprises afterwards. This is something you should especially do if you return the car after office hours.
Clean the inside of your car
Clean the inside of your car before returning it. Besides being the civil thing to do, throwing away your garbage and ensure your car doesn’t look like a garbage dump can also help you avoid a hefty cleaning bill.
Prepare for different audio systems
We like to play music while on the road. Most modern cars come with a Bluetooth audio system so you can easily pair your phone to listen to music. Be sure to limit the access to your phone to the music and delete everything when returning the car. If you have a simpler car, bring an aux-cable so you can play music from your phone or mp3 player that way. And before you go, make a nice playlist, the preparation of a journey is half the fun.