Hiring a car shouldn’t be a stressful experience. A good start to ensuring that is by choosing the best deal for you in the first place. In this post, we take you through what to look for when booking a car hire so you can do that. Do also check out our guide on what to do when collecting a car hire.

What to look for when booking a car hire

To get your car hire experience off to the best possible start, don’t just look at the rental rates. It’s just as vital, you read the conditions of each deal you’re considering. You should be able to find the conditions under ‘important information’, ‘more information’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’. Making sure you know and understand the conditions of the deal is the best way to avoid potentially costly surprises when it comes to picking your car hire up.

Why this is important is that different suppliers will have different conditions and different charges for things. The conditions may also vary between the type of car and the location. And all this information could impact the final cost of your rental.

Things to look out for in the conditions include:

Valid credit card required

In general, car hire companies require a valid credit card in the renter’s name to release the car. The renter is the main driver that will be on the agreement. And their credit card will need to have sufficient funds available to cover the deposit if there is one (see the next point). If you turn up to collect a car and don’t have a valid credit card in the main driver’s name, you may not be able to rent the car. You could also end up losing any payments you have already made.

Why is a credit card needed for hiring a car? The main reason is that it’s far simpler to block a certain amount on a credit card for a deposit and to release it when the car is returned as per the agreement. The alternative would be leaving a cash or debit card deposit (unlike credit cards, debit cards would actually be charged for the deposit so the amount would be taken out of your account) and suppliers would rather not do this.

Excess and deposit if required

As we explained in our guide to car hire insurance, the vast majority of rental rates you see already include the legally required insurance. However, there is usually an excess. This means the renter (main driver on the agreement) is liable for any damage up to a specified amount. The excess and deposit can range for several hundred Euros to a couple of thousand Euros so, we’re talking a lot of money. And unless you take out the supplier’s own additional insurance (which generally costs a lot more than getting it elsewhere), the renter is required to provide a credit card with enough funds on it to cover a deposit for the excess. If you don’t, you may not be able to hire the car. Some suppliers may even keep any deposit you may have already paid!

For more information about car hire insurance, do also check out our post on getting excess insurance.

Fuel policy

Fuel Policies | Car Hire Guide | DriveSpain

Always check the fuel policy!

The fuel policy is also very important. It covers whether you will need to pay for a tank of petrol in full when you collect the car and whether you will get a refund of what’s leftover when you return it. Many customers get caught out when they pick up the car because they didn’t realise that the conditions include paying for a tank of petrol in full on collection. Not all suppliers do this but many do.

The best way to avoid additional charges or potentially higher fueling costs is to return the car in line with the fuel policy.

Here’s what the most common fuel policies mean:


This means you get the car with a full tank and need to return it with a full tank. If not, you’ll be charged for the missing fuel plus the cost of refueling. Some suppliers also require an upfront deposit for fuel, which could be the cost of a full tank of petrol. This will then be refunded when you return the car as long you return it with a full tank of petrol.

Return it with the same amount

This is similar to ‘full-full’ but the tank may not be full when you pick it up. You will just need to return it with the same amount. If it’s less than the amount when you picked it up, you’ll be charged for missing fuel plus a refueling charge. You may also be required to leave a deposit for fuel on collection.

Refund unused

The rates for deals with this policy are usually cheaper but include an additional charge so remember to factor it in. Cars will come with a full tank (check this before you drive off) and the cost of this is added to the agreement plus an administration charge. This will need to be paid on collection. As ‘refund unused’ suggests, you should get a realistic refund for the fuel left in the tank when you return the car. However, the administration charge is NOT refundable.

Collecting a car hire outside of opening hours

Another point to check is the office’s opening hours. This is especially the case if you’re arriving really late at night or really early in the morning. Some locations may also close during lunch or open only on certain days. Fortunately, many suppliers do allow collection out of their normal office hours. However, there is usually an administration charge for the service. There isn’t usually a charge for returning a car outside of opening hours but it’s worth checking that too.

Beware that some comparison sites will show you the rental rate without including any additional charges. So, make sure you add this to the rate when picking a car hire. If you’re picking up a rental after a flight, we always recommend giving your booking agent the flight details. This is so the supplier can be aware of any potential delays. But do check conditions around late arrivals.

Optional extras and additional charges

Do also just check what the additional charges are for each supplier for any optional extras you might require. And do add them to the initial rate so you get a clearer picture of how much the deal will cost you.

This includes:

  • Driver age surcharge: some companies add a charge for younger drivers and/or older drivers.
  • One-way: many suppliers offer one-way car rental for an additional charge.
  • Extra driver: suppliers also often charge extra for an additional driver. This is usually via a day rate up to a maximum. However, some suppliers do occasionally offer a ‘free extra driver’ as a promotion so if you know you’ll be needing one, this could make a big difference in the final rental rate you pay.
  • Items such as child seat and GPS/SatNav are all optional extras: if you can, it’s best to bring your own to avoid the cost. It’s also worth checking whether deals already include things… For instance, some cars come with GPS so there’s no need to add it as an optional extra or to bring your own!

On-site vs off-site car hire

At many airport and train station locations, there are ‘on-site’ and ‘off-site’ car hire suppliers. Those on-site at an airport, for instance, tend to have desks in the terminal and cars parked in the official airport parking. Whilst off-site car hire tend to pick up passengers at the airport with a free shuttle before bringing them to their office. The advantages of an on-site car hire are obvious. You don’t have to go anywhere else to pick up your car hire so it’s easier. However, the advantages to an off-site supplier is that rental rates tend to be a little cheaper. You may also find the queues at the off-site office are smaller. But that’s hard to predict!

Faster check-in service to avoid queues

Speaking of queues, if you are booking a car hire during a busy holiday period and want to avoid potentially long queues, it’s worth considering forking out extra by booking a faster check-in service. Not all suppliers offer this service so this is something you’ll have to check in advance.

Cancellation policy

Checking the cancellation policy is also very important. Plans change and you don’t want to be stuck with a car that you no longer need. Most suppliers allow cancellations but there is usually a permitted timeframe to do this in. So, make sure you’re aware of what it is in case your plans change.

Once you’ve booked a car hire, it’s important to read all the information in the Terms and Conditions. They usually reiterate the information you’ll already have read but there may be additional details, which you missed. And if there’s anything you’re not happy with, this is the best time to query it with your booking agent or to cancel the car hire altogether and look for an alternative.

Other useful information when hiring a car