THE ROCKETING price of holiday car hire is putting the brakes on family road trips.
Car rental costs have more than doubled in many destinations since before the pandemic, according to iCarhireinsurance.com.
The average cost for a week’s car rental in Spain is now £609 compared to £258 in 2019.
And in the 12 most popular countries for us to travel to, which also include Portugal, Greece and France, the average price to hire a compact family car for a week this summer has soared to £652.
That’s compared to just £310 in 2019, an increase of £342 – up 110 per cent.
Experts say prices surged because rental companies sold off many of their cars during the pandemic when demand collapsed.
They are now struggling to build their fleets back up now holidaymakers have returned.
We explain how to swerve sneaky charges and drive down costs for your family break.
Before you book
YOU should expect car hire to cost more this year, so if a company quotes rates that look too good to be true, they probably are – and you may end up paying more down the line in unexpected fees.
To shave off some money, do your research. For example, it may be cheaper to hire from the nearest city than the airport.
You could also save money – and time – by hopping in a taxi to your hotel and then getting a hire car delivered to you there.
Think about whether you really need a car the whole time.
With car hire hitting £100 a day in holiday hotspots, ditching your wheels for half or all of your holiday will save a packet.
Combining cabs with public transport could be a cheaper option.
If you do opt for car hire, sort out your own excess waiver insurance before you leave home and you’ll pay a fraction of the cost.
The cover protects you from having to pay charges if your rental car is stolen or damaged.
According to iCarhireinsurance.com, drivers could save £150 on average across Europe buying standalone car hire excess insurance, not from the rental company.
Comparison sites including Skyscanner, Travel Supermarket and Kayak allow you to compare the price at different companies, as well as through third-party car hire brokers, which can have competitive deals.
But consumer expert Martyn James reckons it’s usually best to book direct.
He says: “If you book using a credit card you could get a refund through the Consumer Credit Act if something goes wrong or the insurer goes bust, but you lose those rights if you book through a third-party broker.”
When you pick up
CHECK the small print of your car hire contract to avoid getting stung by nasty fees for extra insurance, mileage charges or confusing fuel policies.
Martyn says: “When you’re hot, tired, the kids are screaming and you just want to get to your hotel is when things can go wrong.”
So keep a cool head and make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Agreements should also be provided in English at the desk, so insist that you get one you can understand.
Average price of car rental for one week in Europe: 2019: £310; 2022: £652
Avoid paying over the odds for add-ons like sat-navs or child car seats.
You can use your free apps on your phone to find your way around but first check what you’ll be charged for using mobile data.
Some airlines, including Jet2 and easyJet let you take your own kids’ car seats for free.
Before you drive off, check the car thoroughly with someone from the hire company, taking pictures inside and out.
“Don’t forget the boot,” warns Martyn, “I’ve heard of people being charged for missing spare wheels.”
Take a snap of the fuel gauge too and make sure you understand the policy.
Some firms will charge you if you don’t return the car with a full tank, others insist you return it almost empty.
When you return the car
IF you need to return the car with a full tank of fuel, try to fill up before you get close to the airport where prices will be higher.
Then ensure you check the car over with the car hire firm as thoroughly as when you left, taking reams of photos again as proof.
Stacey Belcher, 41, from Wolverhampton, knows how important this is.
The civil servant and her husband Rob, 64, an engineer, were shocked to be charged £419 by Goldcar in Alicante.
She says: “The car park where I picked up the car was quite dark but nevertheless, I looked over the car carefully, including the boot and the inside. I took videos of everything.
“We hardly used the car that week, and certainly nothing happened when we were in it that could have caused the scratches.
“It was parked on a quiet road, with the passenger side away from passing cars.
“When we took it back a week later, they brought out a mega bright light and went around the whole car to check it out.
“Then they went back to where they started and said there were two scratches. You couldn’t see them with the naked eye, only under this light.”
She believes the scratches were there before she hired the car but Stacey had £419 taken out of the £1,200 deposit on her credit card.
Fortunately she had taken out an excess waiver insurance policy, costing £37.99 for the year, which paid out, but the experience has left a bitter taste with her.
Martyn says: “Make sure you inspect the car with the car hire employee when you return it and confirm they are happy before you leave.
“If you end up being billed for a repair, ask to see proof it’s been done. If they don’t give it, ask for the cash back.”
If you remain unhappy, tell the company the money has been taken “under protest” and inform the credit card company you used to pay the deposit about the dispute – it is jointly liable and you could make a claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
A Goldcar spokesperson said that in Stacey’s case, the correct procedures were followed for assessing the vehicle and the repair charges were based on criteria set out in its terms and conditions.
The company spokesperson added: “The customers signed the rental agreement at the end of the assessment to confirm the damage identified.”
Goldcar offered to refund Stacey as a goodwill gesture.
‘I couldn’t believe that cost shot up from £70 to £1,000’
SOARING rental costs are so bad some drivers are being forced to ditch car hire altogether and get by with occasional taxis.
Wellbeing coach Marie Paterson, 59, from Fife, has had to do just that when visiting her elderly parents, Angela and Patrick, both in their 80s, in Ireland.
Marie flies into Ireland West Airport Knock, County Mayo, a few times a year and then hires a car to drive the 50 minutes to her parents’ home.
She says: “Until recently I could hire a car for three days for £70. When I travelled back in April this year to visit my elderly father, who was in hospital, I booked my Ryanair flight and then clicked on car hire.
“I couldn’t believe it when it said it would be £1,000 for the smallest car
“I immediately thought there must be a problem with the site so I went on travelsupermaket.com to see what they could offer. The cheapest I could find was around £700.
“I thought ‘This is nuts’. I really could not understand why this would be the case so I phoned the Europcar branch at the airport, which is where I usually hire my car, and asked to book a car directly with them.
“They gave me a quote of £570 as their best price.”
Just five months before, in December 2021, she had booked a car with Europcar for the same period of time for around £70.
“Needless to say I could not afford nearly £600 for a three-day trip.
“I ended up getting a taxi from the airport to my parents’ house each way, costing me £150 for the return trip.
“I faced exactly the same problem when I visited again in June, although when I looked recently for a future trip some quotes were much lower, which suggests prices might be starting to come down.”
Consumer expert Martyn James reckons there’s only so much renters will put up with before they vote with their feet and dump car hire firms.
He says: “There’s a lot holidaymakers can do without their own wheels – and companies would be foolish not to realise that.”
But drivers who do decide to fork out and rent a car despite the soaring costs need to be on high alert for rip-off extra charges. The industry also has a poor reputation for treating people unfairly.
“Not all car hire companies are terrible – but there are a lot of things you need to watch out for, so you don’t get hit with a nasty surprise on or after your holiday.”