Car Rental Advice

Reserving your Hire Car

Its probably obvious to most people, but you really need to reserve your rental car before you actually set off on your trip and begin driving abroad. The last thing you want is to walk out of the airport and start searching for a rental car office, probably have to join a queue, and then be subjected to an ‘upsell’ pitch from the rental clerk.

Unless your itinerary means you need to hit the road immediately, my advice would be to make the reservation for a day or two after you arrive. That gives you chance to have a sleep and get over the journey but more importantly, lets you get a feel for the traffic and driving conditions before you get behind the wheel. Most rental companies will deliver the vehicle to your hotel, often for no additional charge.

My ‘Countries’ pages provide more specific detail on companies who rent cars in all the countries of the world.

Generally, though you will have 3 options when deciding how to book your car –

1.One of the big multinational companies who have offices in most of the world’s major cities. Eg Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Budget , Sixt etc.

2. A local car rental company in the country you’re visiting

3. A company through one of the hundreds of car rental brokers such as Argus and Autos Abroad.

Using one of the big Multinational Car Hire Companies

You can pretty much guarantee that you will get a quality vehicle and professional service from one of the big car rental companies, wherever you are in the world. It is likely to cost quite a bit more than dealing with a local company though.

Your car rental reservation will be handled either by a slick website or a call centre who may have little actual knowledge of many of the more obscure destinations. Therefore if you want to ask questions about the state of the roads, or get some general driving advice, you may feel a little unsupported.

A big benefit of dealing with one of the big multinationals that you probably won’t get with a small local firm is the option to do a one way rental. i.e pick the car up in one location and drop it off in another, sometimes even in another country. You will obviously pay for this privilege, but it can be a really useful option, especially if time is tight and you don’t want to spend any of your valuable holiday time back- tracking on roads you’ve already driven.
You can also be certain of your terms and conditions as these will be available via the website.(A word of caution –it’s worth reading the small print when renting in some countries, Africa in particular, where the local outlet may be a franchise or sub contracted partner.I’ve had experience of my ‘guaranteed price’ incurring additional surcharges locally. If in doubt, contact the company in your own country and clarify what the full cost will be). The staff in the country you’re visiting are also likely to speak good English so you’ll never leave the rental office with the uneasy feeling that you’re being stitched up with some hidden charges or additional taxes you don’t understand.The Car Rental insurance terms should also be very clear.

Some of the major International car rental companies are Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Budget, Thrifty, National, Enterprise, Sixt and companies such as Localiza who operate across Latin America.

Using a local Car Rental company

Finding a reliable local car rental company can be difficult. An internet search can often result in initial frustration. If you enter ‘Mozambique Car rental’ into Google you’ll generally get two pages of international car rental brokers, some of whom won’t even provide cars in Mozambique. These companies will turn up on a car rental search whatever you enter as a destination.

My ‘countries’ page aims to provide details of genuine local car rental companies around the world. In some locations I’ve had to resort to providing details of travel companies who can arrange car hire as none of the rental companies have a website or email address. In a small number of countries I’ve drawn a blank altogether, though I’m still looking!

You may find, certainly in Asia, that local car rental companies advertise ‘car rental’ but are very keen for you to take a driver too, often at no additional cost and some actively deter travellers from self driving abroad.

My advice is to check out local car rental company websites which will often give you a feel for how professional an operation they are. Don’t pin your hopes on one company. I tend to send emails to a number of car rental companies using the ‘contact us’ button on the company’s website. Give them a basic idea of what type of car you want, for how long and where you’ll want to collect it and drop it off.

If you send ten emails you’ll probably get five replies. From these, I will pick a couple based on price and how professional they appear from their email and website. I also tend to look for someone who obviously has a good command of English and has a friendly tone in their reply. I’ll then reply to the likeliest candidates, asking for a bit more detail, and opening up a dialogue. Your contact at the car hire company can be an invaluable resource when planning your trip. They can provide general driving advice, tell you what type of vehicle you’ll need, what the roads will be like at the time of year you’re visiting, and even give recommendations on where to visit! I’ve often struck up a really good relationship with a local car rental company employee via multiple emails in the months leading to a trip. Its also fun to actually meet them when you arrive—they never look as you expected!

A drawback with using a small local car rental company is that they may only have a single branch in one town. Therefore, if you want a one way rental, you will probably have to pay for an employee to drive the car there (or back) for you. This obviously incurs a charge for their time, plus you will be expected to pay for their fuel. Don’t discount this possibility though—most companies will do this for you, the big question mark is the price.
A potential problem with using a small car rental company is that you’re not sure what standard the car will be, certainly in the developing world, and you may also feel that your rental agreement is a little…unofficial. (In the Philippines once I had a rental agreement written on a serviette!).

You therefore need to go through all the detail before you set off with your email contact. Make sure you understand all the charges, whether you’re getting unlimited miles, what the insurance excess is and whether you can leave a deposit by credit card (in many countries they’ll want cash).If you’re worried about car rental insurance terms, you could look at buying an excess waiver policy before you leave home. More details on this can be found in my ‘paperwork’ section below. You may even be able to get the rental company to tell you exactly which car they’ll be giving you- often they’ll have a small fleet so can earmark one for you so you know exactly what you’ll be getting. You should also ask whether the car will be manual or automatic if you’re unfamiliar with either.

You’ll usually get a ‘feel’ for if a company is going to be reliable from their website and your correspondence with them. My advice is that if you have doubts, and are struggling to find anyone reliable, then going with one of the big multinationals is probably the best option.

Check out my ‘Countries’ Pages for further details on local car rental companies around the world.

Using a Car Rental Broker / ‘Best Price’ website

If you type ‘anywhere car rental’ in Google and you’ll return pages of companies with search engine friendly names like CarRental4Less.com, plus the big established players like CarRentalAbroad.com, RentalCars.com and Auto Europe. You enter your destination, dates and type of car. The website will then bring up a list of clearly priced options. You select the one you prefer and proceed to booking.

Its a simple process and everything is clearly presented so you know exactly what you’re signing up to. The prices are usually highly competitive too, when compared with the big international companies, as the broker companies have access to literally hundreds of car rental companies around the world.

Another similar option is to use a site like LastMinute.com or Opodo. Again they act as a broker for various car hire firms around the world, including the big multinationals. As with the specialist car rental brokers they’ll be keenly priced and all the reservations are generally handled by their website. They’ll also allow you to book hotels and other services in main travel destinations so you can effectively become your own travel agent!

So, these sites search all available companies for the best deal, their websites are easy to use and they cover a lot of destinations. Whats not to like?

Well, for me, the only drawback is that generally, you won’t know which rental company you’re actually getting the car from, because these companies are not actually car rental companies. They’re the middle man between customers and the rental companies. Therefore, they’re only as good as their supplier…and you probably won’t know who that is until you’ve provided your credit card details. Even then, the name may mean nothing to you.

I’ve used these sites a lot, and in most cases everything is fine –the car rental company is reputable and you get a good car at a very fair price. I have also had some bad experiences with companies booked through broker sites, usually in countries with a saturated market and thousands of small firms trying to undercut each other, such as in the main holiday resorts of Spain and Portugal.

Personally I only use the broker websites if I’m travelling to Western Europe,USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc where I know there will be plenty of other options if I’m not happy with the situation on the ground when I arrive. If I’m going further afield, and to a country where I’m less certain of the driving conditions and need some driving advice and info on the likely quality of vehicles, I will generally use one of the other two options described above.

2 comments


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