Car rental: an experience journey

Car rental
Freedom to drive into the wild

Car rental, home or abroad, allows one the freedom to go places, when you want to, that other modes of transport won’t. A bus or train will only go a prescribed route.

Car rental
Inaccessible places become easier to reach

Bicycles will generally only take you a certain distance unless you are very experienced. Taxis, will take you where and when you want, but are expensive for longer journeys. Car rental can be fantastic to open your trip up but there are pitfalls to watch out for. Here’s a quick guide.

On yer bike but it only gets one so far

Searching car rental deals

Shop around for your car rental deal that suits your needs. Use comparison sites like, Expedia, Skyscanner etc. Many of these can lead you to book, or are already, via a third party rather than directly with the car hire company. 

I (Knox) like to check directly with the hire companies themselves. Sometimes the deals will not be as good. Other times, especially if you are part of the company’s loyalty program, then you may get cheaper deals. You will also add up loyalty points that can lead to other benefits. I have a loyalty connection to Hertz and Enterprise.

Is the cheapest deal always the right deal?

Well, that can depend on a number of factors like reputation, reliability, insurance, extras etc

Car rental firm reputation

It is good to check out the reputation of a car rental firm online, or by word of mouth, if you can. It will not always give you unbiased information but can give you an insight into how a company operates, the customer service given, and the condition of the rental vehicles. Be aware, though, that most car rental customers who have a perfectly routine rental will not leave a review, which may leave reviews heavily weighted to the negative.

Better known companies will often be franchises, so locality can vary the service. Indeed, when we hired a car in Paris for our French road trip we used Budget/Avis. The customer service at pick up was abysmal and the car on offer was in poor nick. A few days after the end of the journey, we got a shock when a substantial amount of money was taken on the card. I looked at the rental agreement and saw that they had duped me with extra, unwanted charges.

Car rental
The upgrade from the original battered, stained and smelly offered.

I had booked the car on the phone, as I had wanted to query something. The price was agreed and emails sent. The poor service at the car rental desk led to confusion of charges on the agreement they had written. I queried this several times and was assured that the charge was just a hold on the card that would be released at the end of the rental. This is standard practice. To cut a long story short, I did get my money back with an apology. 

It took calls and emails to customer services and eventually an email to the CEOs office to get the matter sorted. Sometimes, dealing with a bigger company allows for a more professional customer service, at a higher level at least. 

Reliability and condition

This is a hard one for car rental. A car is a mechanical machine, highly computerised in modern vehicles. This means that functions can go wrong with any car rental firm. Often the bigger, worldwide, companies will have a newer fleet that gets updated regularly. This doesn’t mean that local, lesser known, companies don’t have a good, modern, reliable fleet. There are some shysters from all sources.


The matter of insurance can be a minefield. It will differ around the world and can add £$€ to the original base rental price. Most companies will try some sort of sell. How hard that sell is will depend on individual companies and countries.

Europe / the UK / Australia

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Third Party Liability (TPL) is usually included in the standard basic insurance throughout these regions, meaning that it will be included in the base fare. Car rental companies will then offer a range of upgrades to bring it up to its maximum insurance with zero excess/deductible. This will normally boost the cost right up. If you go for the basic insurance, the renter will be liable for the excess if anything happens. This can be anywhere from a few hundred £$€ up to a couple thousand. The car rental company will take a deposit against your credit card. Local taxes are also usually included in the price

USA/Central America

The base rate here often will be without CDW and sometimes without TPL, even though TPL is mandatory. One must then factor in TPL and CDW when going through the booking process. Again, this can ramp up the rate considerably. Rates vary widely from company to company. Then the sell will be on, as in Europe etc, to give one the maximum all whistles and bells Insurance with zero deductible/excess. The renter is liable for the excess if they decide to just accept the basic. 

Separate excess insurance

It’s up to you to choose what insurance suits your needs best from the car rental company. Some will really push the hard sell by using fear and/or strong arm tactics to say you must go for their full insurance.

Another option is to organise your own excess insurance, such as, prior to your rental date. This is stand alone insurance, that bolts onto the basic insurance you must get from the company, to protect you from excess charges. You can get annual or single trip insurance. You can also decide what world regions are included i.e Europe, worldwide (exc or inc USA), worldwide with USA etc. The price is generally much less than paying full wack with the rental company. If an incident does happen, then you pay the excess and claim it back from your insurance. You can ensure CDW / LDW (Loss Damage waiver) is added if going to the USA. There is also Supplimentry Liability Insurance (SLI) which gives a healthy top up to basic TPL and is very useful in the USA. Check out our USA tour Before and After for more info on this.

Making a claim

Excess insurance
Chipped windscreen

I use this and have had to make a claim before. While travelling in Romania, from Transylvania to Bucharest for our flight, an overtaking car flicked up a tiny stone that struck our windscreen. This caused a chip. I spoke with the guys at the drop and the charge, £1000, I think was added to the rental. I paid and contacted my insurance at the time,, and the process was started. Document the issue with photos, any accident reports, police reports, credit card statements etc and, as long as you have kept to the terms of the insurance then it should be good. I waited two weeks and the money was back in my account.

Keeping to the excess insurance terms

Excess insurance
High performance cars are a no for excess insurance

This is where people get caught out and I learnt a lesson recently. I have worldwide (inc USA) excess insurance. It also has CDW with it so I’m insured for that too. There are limitations, though, that are in the small print and it’s good to check and learn. 

For a Costa Rica trip, we decided to get a vehicle. Coming towards their rainy season can cause issues on the road and we decided to go for a 4×4. The booking was made but the company said they didn’t accept separate excess /CDW insurance. I knew that my insurance included Central America so I was annoyed and confused as this would add a few hundred $$ to the price. After asking why, the companies we were dealing with, Wild Riders and Vamos, gave me a detailed explanation. It’s all in the fine details. 

Exclusion small print for your own 3rd party insurance.

Excess insurance
Jimny was also an excess insurance no no

With their direction, I checked the small print of my agreement. Sure enough, there it was as they stated. My vehicle type, a 4×4 was part of the exclusions. Others, such as motorhomes, camper vans, ATV, high performance vehicle etc are also on the list. You may also find that you must stay on asphalt roads as any dirt track etc will invalidate the insurance. All fine if travelling in countries with good road links. Less so when going off the beaten track, literally. Thankfully the damage to my quote wasn’t too much as the original company I contacted, wild riders, managed to get me a vehicle at a keener price with their full insurance (£935 / $1322 – their insurance bolt on was $120, included here in the price).

It is useful for certain car rental situations

In Mexico it was useful as it saved me having to get their full insurance for a normal car rental in Sayulita. They had a basic CDW linked to their TPL that was less than £1 more than paying for TPL alone, which I had to get, so it made sense to get the package. Again, like with the majority of rentals, It wasn’t needed as the rental passed off without a hitch. I had peace of mind knowing I was protected.  


All companies will have other extras such as GPS, baby seats etc. This really is a matter of choice and necessity depending on your personal requirements. They will all add to the price so must be factored in. 

Car not always best – try a scooter

Sometimes a car isn’t the best option. In a large city, like Paris or Rome, we got a cab to our hotel. When we wanted a bit of freedom to see the sights of the city, we hired a scooter instead. This was a great way to beat the traffic in these congested metropolises. These vehicles are also generally not included in separate excess insurance. 

Book your car rental online or at the counter?

Booking online is usually cheaper. If you can plan ahead then it’s the best way to go about it. Often, the further ahead you book the better the price. This is not always the case, though, so booking with a free cancellation can allow one to take the opportunity of a better deal if it arises.

At the rental pickup

Ok, you’ve made your choice, booked your car, and it’s the rental day. make sure you have the required documents i.e. driving license, international permit (if required) credit card etc. Go get on the road.

The sales desk

The sales desk at the car rental pick up will still try and sell extra insurance etc. It’s part of their job. With whatever decision you’ve made, unless there are new variables noted, absolutely stick to it and don’t be swayed by fear factor. Once established, fill in the forms, pay the hold on your card, and get going.

Damage report and photo documentation

Car rental
Document damage with photos

Many have read about the stories of unnoted scratches so photo document the car in front of the rental person. This will give you a time stamp too. Note any scratches, dents etc that they don’t have on their sheet and highlight it with them. The photos will help show things up that you may have missed. Get close in on wheels, wing mirrors, door handles, front grill, and back. Take of the roof as well and don’t forget the inside and the dashboard showing where the fuel is etc. 

Car rental
Don’t forget the dashboard and the inside of vehicle.

This show, as much as anything, will also make the renters think a bit more as they will know you have all the car photo documented. Hopefully, you’ll never need it but, especially for longer term rentals, it can help oneself be reminded of the initial condition.

Car rental
Inside flaws should be pointed out too.

Drive carefully and follow the rules of the road

Now you have your rental car. Drive off and do and see the things that you wanted to. As you would/should at home, drive responsibly, considering the weather and road conditions, and follow the rules of the road. Have a quick look at the country you’re driving in as they might have some different road rules. This includes parking and restricted zones. Check out our faux Pas in both Pisa and Florence during our Italy adventure.

Missing restrictions can be costly

One of the biggest differences may be how other drivers follow the rules of the road. In some places they show scant regard to road safety. In Dominican Republic, cars will weave in and out of lanes, cut you up, and generally blame you for their lack of rule following as they feel you should be doing the same. Motorbikes can be the worst. They will drive up your inside or just drive with no lights on at night. It seems the general rule for tourists here is “Don’t drive at night”, certainly in Santo Domingo. If you live in any place you will get used to the idiosyncrasies of a country’s road users and gain confidence or know what you are comfortable doing.

The return

Fabulous time, baby!

You’ve had a great rental, hopefully, and it’s time to return the car. Make sure your fuel is at the level when you rented (buying your own fuel is usually way cheaper than buying a prepaid tank from the car rental company. The return is a quick process the majority of the time. I will always take more photographs, trying to get the rental clerk, in one of them. I will walk around with them and confirm all is fine. They will check the fuel level but you should also have a photo of this. That is often that and you go on your way.

If there has been an issue, a chipped windscreen, scratch, then best to point it out and follow the procedure that you signed up for. If needs be make sure you have all the correct documentation and police report, if it’s as serious as that, and pay what needs to be paid if you don’t have full insurance with the car rental firm. The documentation will be for your own excess etc insurance, if you have that bolt on. Minor scratches will often come in the remit of allowed size but best to point out, if you see, as this can avoid any nasty surprises down the line. 

Enjoy the car rental

As you’ve read, there are a lot of things to consider when renting any vehicle. Make sure you go in with your eyes open and this will allow you to just enjoy the experience. Drive as you should and take normal precautions for parking, taking valuables etc and the experience will be a good one. The freedom to drive at your own pace in the country you visit, see quiet out of the way places, beat the crowds etc will be a rewarding experience. We love it.