An obvious question but...Do you need a car? If it's just to reach your accommodation and you won't need it until you go back to the airport, it's worth seeing if a taxi or an airport bus is cheaper, depending on your destination. Travelsupermarket.com which compares airport transfer services such as Resorthoppa, HolidayTaxis.com and holidaytransfers.com.
Car hire: what do you need?If hiring a car is the best solution, think about what you need. Automatic cars are common in the USA and cost about the same but they're usually more expensive in Europe and elsewhere where companies have fewer of them so advance booking is important. You may want air-conditioning for hotter countries and unlimited mileage can be useful.
With the type of car, don't automatically pick the cheapest as if it's not right for you, it will cost more to upgrade at the airport. Generally speaking, cars in the cheaper Mini category are fine for a family of four with little luggage, otherwise Economy is a better option. For air conditioning and automatic cars, you'll usually have to pick Compact or Standard while people carriers provide extra comfort for larger groups.
Where to lookThere are many ways to search for affordable car hire. Websites such as Kayak and Carrentals.co.uk cover a variety of car hire companies and you can filter results. It's also worth checking Travelsupermarket.com.
The costs of child seatsChild seats might be another factor and they are compulsory in many countries. They can be expensive to hire (do a search to see) but alternatives include taking your own or renting one at the airport - Malaga airport is one which offers this. If you're bringing your own seats, find out how much to check them in. British Airways allows a free stroller and car seat per child even if you're flying hand-luggage only. EasyJet accept car seats and one other item e.g. buggy or travel cot free for under 2s while Ryanair charge £10 each way for a car seat.
The legal stuffReading terms and conditions is nobody's favourite pastime, but better to know e.g. some companies have a cleaning fee, regardless of the condition of the car. When it comes to age, you usually have to be over 21 to hire a car and drivers under 25 pay extra. If you want to share the driving, specify in advance as that can also cost more on arrival. You'll usually leave a credit card deposit unless you have full excess insurance so make sure your credit limit allows for this.
In Europe, UK driving licenses are fine although some people recommend bringing along the paper accompaniment. In some countries such as the USA, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is needed. It's easy to get from the Post Office for £5.50 (for one year) or by post for £8 from the AA or RAC.
Car hire traps to watch out forExcess charges: Some companies encourage you to take ‘excess insurance' to protect you in the event of a crash or damage. You can buy these types of policies in advance and it doesn't need to be purchased from the same company that you hire your car from. Compare policies on travelsupermarket.com.
Check the T&Cs: Insurance companies will often exclude common damages, like replacement tyres and chips in a windscreen. Double check any policy you take out as you don't want to be caught for the cost of these if the worst does happen. It might cost you a little more to get a comprehensive package but the extra money will be worth it if you're caught out at the end of your trip.
Fuel fiddle: Each firm works out fuel charges differently. The worst deal is to pay upfront for a full take of fuel and then not use it all. The better way is to return your car with a full tank and only pay for what you use. Ask your hire firm if this is possible.
Second driver charge: Check how much this charge is in advance as some companies whack on heftier premiums than others.
Don't forget...Before you drive off, save time, money and hassle in the long run by doing your own inspection of the car and take photos if necessary. Make sure dents or marks are listed on the sheet. Also check the type of fuel the car takes. It's usually labelled by the petrol/diesel cap but if you put the wrong one in, you won't be covered for any problems. Ensure the car contains equipment legally required for that country e.g first-aid kits or spare bulbs and check you've been given the a 24-hour breakdown number too.
Returning the car
Bring the car back on time and reasonably clean to avoid late drop-off charges and cleaning fees. Where possible, be present during the inspection and check the paperwork before you leave. Keep an eye on your bank account or credit card statement when you get home and contact the company straightaway if you spot anything extra.
Have you ever had a car hire nightmare? Share it in the comment box below!