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Holiday car hire: What to look out for

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A change to the way drivers’ points and convictions are recorded is just one of many pitfalls to be aware of when hiring a car on holiday.

Children in car

On 8 June 2015 the paper counterpart that has long accompanied the photocard driving licence was scrapped.

Instead, you can now view the information it contains, such as endorsements and fines, online.

Foreign car-hire firms frequently ask to check the paper counterpart to see if their customers have any motoring convictions, so what should you do in its absence?

What to do when hiring a vehicle

The DVLA has set up a system which allows licence holders to obtain a code online before they travel.

Staff at the rental office can then use the code to check the customer’s credentials and make sure they haven’t been banned in the UK, for instance.

This check code, which you can also get by phoning 0300 083 0013, will be valid for 21 days.

A government spokesman says: "Not all vehicle hire companies will ask for this information and we advise that you check with your hire company."

'Hang on to your old licence'

But the AA has recommended still taking the paper counterpart on holiday in case overseas rental offices don’t realise that it has been phased out.

AA president Edmund King says: "Not all car rental companies will be aware of the changes, so a 'belt and braces' approach of also taking the counterpart might help."

Nine common car hire pitfalls to avoid

There are a number of other potential pitfalls awaiting car hire customers: if you’re aware of them, you might be able to save a lot of hassle and money.

1. Book before you go  

Leaving your rental until you've arrived at your destination means you're likely to pay the top price, plus there's a chance no cars will be available.

Booking in advance means you can shop around for the best deal, comparing basic prices. 

2. Watch out for added extras

You're likely to be charged extra for the likes of child seats, a sat nav, adding a second driver, and dropping your car off in a different location to where you picked it up.

Different firms charge different rates, so do your homework before you book. Try to book any extras in advance – doing so when you pick up the car is likely to be more expensive.

Also, it could be cheaper to take child seats with you, even if your airline charges you for taking them on board.

Children in car

3. Pay by credit card 

Most car-hire firms will ask for a credit card when you pick up the car so that they can deduct the cost of any damage from it.

But is also worth paying for the booking by credit card if it costs more than £100: this means both the hire company and your credit card company are jointly liable in the event of problems, thanks to a piece of legislation known as Section 75.

So if the hire company goes bust, or takes more money from you than it is entitled to, you can ask your card company for a refund. 

4. Check for damage before driving off

You will no doubt be eager to hit the road as soon as you get the keys to your car hire, but wait.

it's vital to check your vehicle first. It's not unknown for companies to charge customers several times over for the same scratches and dents.

If you spot any problems with the vehicle which haven't already been noted, tell the hire car rep and have details added to the rental agreement.

As back-up take a video and pictures of the car on your phone. 

5. Beware of the fuel factor

It’s worth checking how different firms plan to charge you for petrol or diesel before you sign a car-hire agreement.

There are two main methods: either you are given the car with a full tank of fuel and you have to return it full, or you get a full tank but can return it empty.

The second option will probably mean the overall hire package is more expensive, but it can be quite difficult to arrive back at the car-hire office with no fuel left.

Most people will be more likely to end up returning with perhaps a quarter-tank of petrol: but in effect this means you’re giving the rental firm free fuel.

6. Extra insurance

A typical car-hire agreement will insure you against accidents or damage that is your fault, but you’ll typically be liable to pay an excess of several hundred pounds on any claim.

You can buy an extra insurance policy called excess insurance which will refund this excess charge. This offers extra peace of mind and can potentially save you a lot of money, but beware.

Buying cover from your car-hire firm is likely to be much more expensive. A better alternative is to shop around for a policy from a specialist insurer before your trip.

7. Settling up on arrival

Securing your booking with a deposit and paying the remainder of the bill when you arrive can sound like a good deal.

But this may mean you're liable for local credit card surcharges or a "loading" rate of around 3% which applies to most cards for payments abroad.

8. Don't be a second late 

Don't turn up half an hour late when returning your car as you may be billed for the extra time. Depending on the small print in the contract, this could mean a full day's rate.

9. Collect evidence of the drop-off

Leaving your car and putting the keys in a safe box may be your only option when returning vehicles late at night or to small local companies.

If your vehicle isn't checked by a rep when you drop it off, you could be charged for damage that occurs after you have headed home.

In this case, park in the designed space, take photos as proof of the car's condition, and ask for confirmation that the car has been safely collected.

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