Top tips for renting a car abroad

12 Top Tips For Renting A Car Abroad

Don’t fall for the sales pitches, do take out car hire excess insurance, how to get free upgrades and lots more in my top tips for renting a car abroad.

I love hiring a car on holidays, in fact some of my favourite holidays have been road trips. I love the freedom it brings, and how it encourages you to explore places that are not always visited by the masses. I have driven along California’s Pacific Coast Highway, South Africa’s Garden Route, and the stunning Amalfi Coast to name but a few, and I picked up some tricks and tips for renting a car abroad along the way.

I am delighted to team up with – Ireland’s leading car hire excess insurance provider, whom I use every time I rent a car abroad. is a trading name of Cover-More Blue Insurance Services Limited – the same company that owns Ireland’s largest holiday insurance provider They have an Irish call centre and a dedicated website so you can contact them easily by phone 0818 444 447  or book easily via their website.

Car Hire Excess banner

I checked in with Christian Bennett of who said that it is “fairly common for Irish holidaymakers to have a bad experience while renting a car abroad – from incorrectly charging consumers for damage that they are not responsible for, to hefty ‘excess’ charges”.

Taking out car hire excess insurance before you travel is one of Christian’s top tips to save money on car rental, and how to reduce the risk of being ripped off by car hire companies, and I have lots more tips for renting a car abroad in my handy guide below.

1. Compare prices

Route 66 road trip
Image by Mario Schmidt from Pixabay

Comparing prices may sound like an obvious tip for renting a car abroad, but I am constantly amazed at how much car rental companies prices vary! For instance I find household names like Hertz great value in America, but the last two times I rented a car in Europe, I found that Europcar had lower prices.

You can also find car hire companies that offer cheaper prices than the two I have mentioned above, particularly local companies. and compare car hire prices across a range of companies, and I have found that in many cases prices are lower by booking via these sites than if you booked the same car direct with the rental company. A survey carried out by Which? in February of this year, found the same results.

However, if you find a price that seems to good to be true – it may well be! Always check the reviews of the car hire company before you book.

2. Book in advance

hiring a car on holidays

Remember the widespread shortage of rental cars last year? I recall many disgruntled travellers on the airwaves who were unable to source cars at the last minute. While we shouldn’t see that repeated this year, I still recommend booking car rental as early as possible, especially if travelling during peak season.

Most car rental companies offer flexible booking options, with payment not taken until you collect the car. You may pay slightly more for this option than a pre-paid rate, but it is worth it to have a booking secured.

3. Think outside the airport

renting a car abroad

Airports are usually the handiest places to hire a car, particularly if you need one for the full duration of your holiday. However, I have often found cheaper rates in locations outside the airport. Many companies will include airport pick up, and if you don’t mind the bus journey, they could offer a big saving.

However, it is important to check opening times and make sure they don’t have out of office charges, particularly if your flight is arriving in late at night or departing early in the morning.

4. Join reward programs or memberships

join reward programs

If you hire a car even periodically, it is worth signing up to memberships or join reward programs. As well as extra benefits like free upgrades and designated check in areas, having your drivers licence and full details stored will make it quicker and easier to collect your car when you arrive.

I rented a car in Portugal last year through Europcar and joined their membership program. I recently rented a car with the same company in Fuerteventura and was kindly offered a free upgrade at the check in desk – just because it was my second rental.

5. Take out car hire excess insurance

top tips for renting a car abroad

Collision Damage Waiver is the standard insurance that is included with most car rentals, and is something you do need incase of an accident. However, this normally comes with a large excess to pay if the car is damaged or stolen, it could be anything from €1000 – €3000, depending on car hire company involved, and the type of vehicle you are hiring.

Car rental companies will try to sell you a policy to insure you against this excess. I have found that is is typically about €15 – €30 per day in Spain or Portugal – recently in Fuerteventura I was quoted €16 per day. Luckily, I had taken out a policy with for a mere €2.99 per day, which insured me against this excess, and meant I could happy decline their offer!

Car Hire Excess banner charge starts from €2.99 per day or you can buy an annual policy from €48.99 for European wide cover. I have used it for many years now and can highly recommend it – it is one of my top car hire tips and a great way to save money when renting a car abroad.

*Not luxury cars and seven-seater cars may not be covered – check Ts & Cs before you book.

Get a Quote Here

6. You must have a driving license and credit card if renting a car abroad

you need a credit card if renting a car abroad

Despite more and more people opting to use debit rather than credit cards, you still need a credit card if you are hiring a car – most companies will not allow you to rent a car without one.

It is also vital that you bring your drivers license with you, and check if you need an International Drivers License. These are required in many countries outside the EU and can be applied for here:

See more here

7. Go straight to the car rental desk

how to avoid queuing at the car rental desk

Car hire desks can be extremely busy during peak travel times. I recall queueing for over an hour on one occasion – but I didn’t make the same mistake again! If you are travelling with a friend or family, dispatch the driver to the car hire desk, while you wait for your luggage in the baggage hall. You will be surprised at how much time you will save by getting to desk first!

8. Don’t fall for the sales pitches!

cars in Cuba

I’m convinced that the staff at car hire desks go to a special training school to get you to part with as much of your hard-earned holiday cash as possible! They certainly prey on your vulnerability at airports, especially if you have had a long flight, tired children, and just want to get out of the airport as quick as possible.

If you have car hire excess insurance, at least you won’t get caught paying exorbitant excess charges, but you may fall for the ‘amazing upgrade offer’. I suggest turning down any special offer to upgrade your car at the outset – you can always change your mind later.

It may be the case that the car you have booked is not available, or doesn’t have a large enough boot to hold the number of cases you have specified. If this happens they will have to upgrade you free of charge.

Charging for Baby seats and Sat Navs are other ways that car hire companies can make additional income. I recall being quoted $13 per day for a booster seat in California, I was able to buy a new one for $12.99 in Target! Or better still, bring your own.

Most new cars come with Sat Navs as standard but there are rental companies that still charge for the privilege. However, if you are travelling within the EU or in a country where there is no roaming charges, you may not need a Sat Nav – Google Maps should suffice.

9. Check tolls and fuel packages

renting a car abroad

While car rental staff may be notorious for upselling, there are a few extras that may be worth purchasing. I like to opt for the full-to-full fuel option, this means you can fill the car yourself and return it full, without having to pay for a hefty refill charge at the end – this is one of the most popular car rental tips.

Purchasing a tolls package is extremely handy too. Not only will it save you rooting for change at the toll both, but it can be tricky trying to navigate your way through toll charges, particularly if you driving in a country where you don’t speak the language. The cost of any tolls incurred are usually added to your bill at the end of your rental.

10. Read the small print

tips for renting a car abroad

Before you sign your rental agreement, check the small print. Depending on how far you are going to drive the car, you may, or may not need unlimited mileage. If you don’t pre pay this and go over on your daily allowance, you could be left with a large bill.

Check if their insurance policy has any exclusion zones – is there is a remote beach you want to visit? Some policies don’t allow any off road driving. You may also need to pay additional insurance to cover you if you cross a border into a different country.

11. Take photos of the car before and after your rental

take pictures of the car before and after you rent it

Car rental agreements usually have an outline of the car with any bumps or scratches marked on them. Always check that all scratches or marks are accounted for, and take pictures or video of the car before you drive away. It is no harm to do the same when you return the car too.

Photos and / or videos from your phone will have a time stamp on them so you can prove that no damage was done while the car was in your possession.

12. Before you leave – Get a map and change the dash to English

renting a car abroad

Before you head off in your rental car, check that the infotainment system is set to English, and if it isn’t, ask one of the staff to change it for you. It may take them two minutes, but it could save you an hour trying to figure out how to do it!

I always like having a map too. They can be very handy if planning on visiting a few places, and also a lifesaver if there is no internet connection and you are depending on Google Maps. If you are extremely organised, you can download Google Maps at home for use offline, but failing that, go old-school and ask for a paper map!

There is only more thing I have to mention when renting a car abroad – make sure you have your holiday playlist ready! 

I hope these tips on renting a car abroad will help you save money on car rental and make the experience all the more enjoyable. This post was sponsored by, but all views, as always, are my own. is a trading name of Cover-More Blue Insurance Services Limited, a company of the Cover-More Insurance Group. Cover-More Blue Insurance Services Limited trading as is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. is one of Ireland’s leading car hire excess insurance providers, protecting Irish consumers against unforeseen car hire expenses.

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