Cheap Car Hire

Hiring a car, whether in the UK or abroad, can be a minefield. How do you know you're getting a good deal? Plus how do you avoid hidden charges and getting ripped off by unscrupulous companies? Here's our step-by-step guide to saving you money.

1. Be prepared to shop around for the best deals

If you’re after a bargain then you have to be prepared to put in the legwork. Set the dates you need - although a little flexibility may work to your advantage - and carefully consider the size of car you need.

Something luxurious might boost the holiday feel-good factor but will cost more per day, as well as using more fuel in the process.

Many of the travel-based comparison sites can search for car hire as well as flights, so they are a good place to start.

In the same way that flights and hotels booked early are usually cheaper, the same goes for hire cars, so the earlier you start to compare prices, the better.

2. Make sure you're dealing with a reputable firm

In the UK, the easiest way to check that a firm is reputable is to look for one that is a member of the British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA). This is a trade body for companies that hire vehicles as well as leasing and fleet management.

Companies that are members of the BVRLA must sign up to a code of conduct which should ensure you get a high level of service. The BVRLA also offers a dispute-resolution service, approved by Trading Standards, in the event that you have a complaint with one of its members.

In Europe there is an equivalent body called the Association of Car Rental Industry System Standards, which also has a code of conduct and works to maintain set standards across the continent.

While membership of these trade bodies does not guarantee good service, it does mean they should reach an acceptable minimum standard and gives you some recourse should things go wrong.

3. Compare prices to make sure you're getting a good deal

There's no shortage of car hire firms in the UK offering everything from city cars to vans and even high performance sports cars. But how do you know you're getting a good deal? We've found quotes from all the big car rental firms to help you compare prices.

Enterprise Rent-A-CarEnterprise -logo

One of the largest and most recognised names in car hire, Enterprise has a huge network of 420 locations across the UK with branches and vehicles within 10 miles of 93 per cent of the population.

How much does Enterprise car rental cost?

The cheapest rates for Enterprise start at around £35 a day for a small city car like the Aygo on a midweek rate. The same car over a weekend is £53.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

City car (i.e Fiat 500)

£34.96

£150 £53.37

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£41.96

£159.99 £63.30

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£51.46

£185.39 £76.41
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £69.99 £249.99 £96.03
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £65.96 £275.97 £152.94

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

ThriftyThrifty -car -rental -logo

Thrifty is owned by the same company that operates Dollar in the UK and combined they have over 110 locations. Like others, it has an Elite range where you can hire cars like the BMW i8 and Range Rover.

How much does Thrifty car rental cost?

The smallest car Thrifty offers is a hatchback like the Ford Fiesta but rates are very low with a day's hire costing less than £28. A Focus is only a few pounds more.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

Small hatch (i.e Ford Fiesta)

£27.49*

£110.06* £75.64*

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£30.58*

£122.11* £84.09*

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£55.71*

£219.42* £152.60*
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £75.97* £318.44* £207.97*
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £71.48* £185.79* £139.02*

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

EuropcarElogo2

Offering car and van rental from 200 locations in the UK, Europcar also offers deliver and collect from £5 each way which is useful if you can't get to a branch easily. You also get Nectar points with every pound spent.

How much does Europcar car rental cost?

Prices start at £85 a day for a small car like a Fiat 500 which makes this one of the more expensive options. A week hire for the same car is £165.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

City car (i.e Fiat 500)

£85.67

£164.22 £87.48

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£94.61

£179.68 £103.25

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£110.78

£241.42 £135.86
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £109.26 £238.31 £115.56
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £153.05 £463.85 £422.89

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

HertzLogo _hertz _app

With more than 200 car hire pick-up branches located around the UK, Hertz is a well-known brand from the US and one of the biggest car rental companies globally.

How much does Hertz car rental cost?

Hertz does some good deals for weekend hire with a small car like a Corsa actually cheaper at £57 to hire from Friday to Monday compared to renting for one day midweek.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

Small hatch (i.e Ford Fiesta)

£82.97

£168.97 £56.95

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£177.97

£179.68 £63.97

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£205.97

£392.98 £137.95
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £200.98 £382.97 £133.96
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) N/A N/A N/A

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.n.

AvisAvis -png -avis -logo -logotype -3229

Avis is owned by the same company as Budget which is why you'll usually see the two brands together in airports and sharing branch locations. 

How much does Avis car rental cost?

Avis prices are in line with Budget prices with a standard hatchback costing £80 a day. However, we struggled to find the same range of vehicles available when searching for prices, so you may be limited in your choice. 

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

City car (i.e Fiat 500)

£44.64

£180.63 £67.60

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£81.60

£227.31 £108.08

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

N/A

N/A N/A
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £81.07 £224.38 £128.94
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) N/A N/A N/A

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

Budget5a 2ae 7a 9db 68181c 8f 184d 5d

Budget is actually owned by the same company as Avis and has branches at the majority of airports across the UK as well as most big city locations.

How much does Budget car rental cost?

Budget doesn't have as wide a range of car types as other rental companies but something small like a Hyundai i10 is less than £70 for a weekend hire.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

City car (i.e Fiat 500)

£44.64

£180.63 £67.60

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£81.60

£227.31 £108.08

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£131.98

£310.09 £268.93
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £81.07 £224.38 £128.94
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £222.70 £684.37 £467.68

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

SixtSixt -logo

Sixt is present at all the major international airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted as well in most big towns and cities. Its cars are on average no more than three months old.

How much does Sixt car rental cost?

Sixt is one of the more affordable hire companies and a weekend with a Ford Focus will cost you less than £90. 

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

Small hatch (i.e Ford Fiesta)

£43.00

£121.98 £76.96

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£49.98

£140.95 £88.96

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£59.99

£168.96 £106.97
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £65.99 £185.95 £117.97
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £84.98 £286.98 £150

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

AlamoAlamo _rent _a _car -logo

Alamo may not be as well known as the likes of Hertz and Enterprise but the US firm has branches across the UK including all the big and regional airports.

How much does Alamo car rental cost?

Alamo offers good value for money with a large car like the Insignia available for just over £50 a day and less than £175 for a week.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

City car (i.e Fiat 500)

£34.61

£138.60 £73.47

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£41.54

£143.55 £88.20

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£50.94

£173.35 £92.64
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £69.99 £205.33 £90.00
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £69.26 £200.00 £184.44

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

Dollar5a 2ae 7cddb 68181c 8f 184d 61

Dollar is owned by Scot Group Ltd, which also operates Thrifty in the UK and is the largest privately owned rental company in the UK. 

How much does Dollar car rental cost?

While Thrifty offers some of the best deals we've seen, Dollar is considerably more expensive for what is essentially the vehicles Thrifty offers. A Fiesta-sized car will cost you almost £75 a day.

Vehicle

1 day hire

7 day hire Weekend hire

Small hatch (i.e Ford Fiesta)

£73.93

£149.77 £104.87

Hatchback (i.e Ford Focus)

£82.76

£166.99 £116.93

Standard (i.e Vauxhall Insignia)

£154.55

£306.01 £214.81
SUV (i.e Nissan Qashqai) £212.44 £447.47 £293.76
MPV (i.e Vauxhall Zafira) £140.30 £257.96 £195.41

Prices based on July 2019 data for a customer aged 30+, renting from central Birmingham with hire starting on a Monday. Weekend prices based on Fri to Mon.

Car hire comparison sites

You can also use car hire comparison sites if you're looking to book on specific dates. The best sites we've seen are Rentalcars.com*, easyCar.com* and Zest Car Rental.

4. Check the car thoroughly before you drive off

If you are hiring a car, arguably the most crucial area where vigilance is required is when collecting (and returning) the vehicle. This isn't always easy if you're tired after a long flight and it's a dark rainy evening.

But the condition of the vehicle when you collect and return it, and any variation between the two, could be the difference between getting all of your deposit back or leaving a hefty chunk of it behind.

There's no shortage of stories where people have been ripped off by unscrupulous car hire firms when it comes to unfairly charging customers for damage that was already present or is non existent.

As much as you will be keen to get going once you have the keys, it is absolutely vital you take the time to check over the car inside and out, making notes and taking pictures of any damage.

Ensure that any damage already on the vehicle is acknowledge by the hire company before you drive away, even if that means returning to the hire desk or sending the pictures via email to the car hire desk - don’t leave without a signature confirming the damage was already present and that the fuel level is as agreed in the paperwork whether that is full, empty or somewhere inbetween.

The terms and conditions will indicate what the hire company deems as fair 'wear and tear' and some of the bigger companies will accept damage within a certain size.

5. Understand the fuel policy

Another thing to watch out for is the fuel policy. Some firms will give you a number of choices while others will not, but generally the best scenario is full-to-full, where the car is handed over with a full tank and you return with it also full, so you only pay for the fuel you use.

Some firms will charge for a full tank of fuel upfront and you are told to return the car as is, but unless you are driving far enough to use a whole tank you will end up losing money, so steer clear.

Another policy you might encounter with full-to-full is that the car hire firm will allow you to return the car unfilled and simply charge you to fill it up, but at an extortionate price per litre. Check the cost before you return the car or better still, fill it yourself.

6. Don't be forced into buying extra insurance

It’s impossible to hire a car without insurance. When you walk into a car hire location or book online, the price you are quoted will include insurance - no car hire firm will hand over the keys without it.

The important point is that car hire companies will try to get you to buy their own additional insurance. If you don’t take out their policy, you normally have to leave a large deposit and any damage will be taken out of that deposit.

However, you are not obliged to take this ‘extra’ insurance at all. Depending on the hire company, they may suggest it is essential, or recommended, or even try to scare you with the prospect of big bills if there is any damage - but you are under no obligation to take it.

The excess insurance offered by car hire companies tends to be relatively expensive, but if you are able to stump up for the deposit you can find excess insurance elsewhere at a much better price and save yourself some money.

7. Organise your own excess insurance

There are plenty of options when it comes to getting car hire insurance, with prices starting from just a few pounds for daily European cover.

BigBlueCoverBig -blue -cover (1)

By far the cheapest excess insurance cover we've found, BigBlueCover covers you for up to £500 for replacing a lost or stolen key and £500 for putting the wrong type of fuel into your hire car.

How much does BigBlueCover insurance cost?

Daily car hire cover starts at just £1.90 a day which is remarkably cheap. Even worldwide cover is only £3.21 making this the best value we've seen.

Policy

Maximum cover

Maximum hire period Cost (Europe) Cost (worldwide)

Daily Car Hire

£7500

180 days

£1.90 £3.21 a day

Annual Car Hire

£7500

62 days

£42.50 a year £52.00 a year

Direct Car Excess InsuranceDirect Car Excess Insurance Logo

A company that does what it says on the tin, direct car excess insurance includes damage to tyres, the windscreen and the undercarriage, theft of secured baggage and rental key replacement costs. Any driver aged 21 to 85 is covered with no change in price.

How much does Direct Car Excess Insurance cover cost?

Daily car hire cover starts at £2.90 a day for cover in Europe while if you want worldwide cover it is £7.39 a day. Both have a maximum cover of £10,000.

Policy

Maximum cover

Maximum hire period Cost (Europe) Cost (worldwide)

Daily Car Hire

£6000

180 days

£2.90* a day £7.39* a day

Annual Car Hire

£6000

31 days

£39.98* a year £49.99* a year

Questor InsuranceQuestor _insurance _home _logo

Questor Insurance provides its own cover as well as partnering with Confused.com. The annual policy covers you for unlimited rentals, with an annual aggregate limit of £10,000. There is the option to increase the cover £75,000 with full collision damage waiver. Drivers must be between 21 and 84.

How much does Questor cover cost?

Daily car hire cover starts at £2.99 a day while if you want annual cover it starts at £41.99. You can upgrade to worldwide annual cover for £52.49.

Policy

Maximum cover

Maximum hire period Cost (Europe) Cost (worldwide)

Daily Car Hire

£10000

180 days

£2.99* a day £3.99* a day

Annual Car Hire

£10000

31 days

£41.99* a year £52.49* a year

8. Consider how many drivers you want

You can add extra drivers to a hire car, but it is best to do this when you make the initial booking. If you do it when you collect the vehicle you may be charged extra, and lose out on any deals you got when you first arrange the hire.

It is also important to remember that any additional drivers must also abide by the same rules as the main hirer in respect of age and the type of licence held.

9. Give yourself plenty of time to return the car

When returning a hire car you should essentially repeat the process from when you collected it, which means checking for damage, checking the fuel level (and filling it if necessary), ensuring all the paperwork is checked and signed, any damage is noted and ensuring your deposit is returned - or at the least when you can expect it to be returned.

The fuel policy should have been outlined to you when you collected the car, but in most cases the cheapest option is to fill it up yourself. Keep the receipt for the fuel and either get a photo of the fuel gauge showing full or better still the acknowledgement of a member of staff that the tank has been filled.

Assuming the car hasn't been damaged in your possession, the damage report should match the one you had when you collected the car.

Again, ensure that a member of staff signs off on this and confirms there is no damage so that your deposit is returned. Ideally you want the deposit to be returned as soon as possible but it normally takes a couple of days - what is crucial is that you get confirmation that there will be no deductions.

Don’t be tempted to sign whatever is put in front of you and dash off to your flight, as you may be held liable for damage that did not occur during your hire period.

10. Check the local driving laws if hiring a car abroad

When searching for car hire firms abroad there are bargains to be had, but at the same time you don’t want to be saddled with a car in poor condition for the sake of saving a few pounds.

Look for a reputable firm, ideally from a personal recommendation or with genuine customer feedback. If you book your hire car as a part of a package deal with your hotel and flights you get an extra level of protection (ATOL), while booking with a credit card rather than a debit card means protection under the Consumer Credit Act if the cost is £100 or more.

Before you get into choosing a hire car and searching for the best deal, think about whether you need a hire car at all. Depending on your destination country and how much you’ve driven abroad before, it may be that using a variety of public transport modes is less hassle and less expensive than driving yourself.

Europe, the US and some Asian countries drive on the left, and depending on how comfortable you are behind the wheel and the amount of experience you have had with left-hand-drive, you might want to take this into consideration too.

You should also look into the rules and regulations of the country you are visiting. Many European countries require high-vis vests, breathalysers and other equipment that can result in a fine if you don't have them. The hire company should help with this, but it is better to check yourself.

1Hiring a car without a debit card

Can you hire a car without a debit or credit card?

The short answer is yes, but you need to check with the hire company first as not all companies will allow you to do this.

As well as one form of identification, your credit or debit card will be used to take a deposit for the vehicle. This deposit is usually not required if you take out the hire company's insurance excess policy, so you should be able to pay in cash.

Alternatively you could provide the whole deposit in cash when you collect the car, but some hire firms rarely deal with cash and may not be able to accept this.

2Disputing a car hire damage claim

How to dispute a car hire damage claim

Taking the right precautions when collecting and returning your vehicle should prevent this, but things can go wrong and you may end up fighting the car hire firm over damage they say you caused, but you know you didn't.

Start with a formal complaint to the hire company, in writing using a signed-for form of postage. Lay out the details of your complaint and provide as much evidence as you can to back up your argument.

Include the images you took when you collected and returned the car, the paperwork showing the damage report, even parking receipts that show when the car was in your possession - but always send good quality copies and not the originals.

3How to make a complaint

Who to complain to if you're not happy

If you have a complaint, in the first instance you need to raise it with the hire company, at the point of hire and then with the head office if required.

If this fails to resolve the issue you can contact your credit card company and ask them to intervene on your behalf.

Under the Consumer Credit Act they may be able to recind part or all of the deposit if you can provide them with the appropriate evidence.

Your last resort is to contact the appropriate trade body. In the UK this is the BVRLA, which has a dispute resolution service, while in Europe you can contact the European Car Rental Concilliation Service (ECRCS).

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