Avoid the rip-offs: How to get the cheapest rate for a car rental

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Avoid the rip-offs: How to get the cheapest rate for a car rental

By Brian Johnston

During the coronavirus pandemic, car-hire firms divested themselves of their fleets. The result now that travel has returned is car shortages – and higher prices for hiring them. There are, however, ways to mitigate the pain.

Shop around, and book early. Paying in full up front brings better prices compared to policies that allow you to cancel later.

Avoid hiring at the airport if you can.

Avoid hiring at the airport if you can.Credit: iStock

Use your frequent-flyer or other loyalty program for a discount, though be aware that you may still be paying more than with a rival company.

Plan an itinerary that returns to the same location, since drop-off fees are ridiculously high. Stick to a single driver if distances aren’t too great, as additional drivers typically add $10 a day – or more if the driver is under 25 years old.

Car-hires invariably try to sign you up to extra, comprehensive insurance which is always overpriced. Check if you aren’t covered through your credit card or travel insurance. Or take the risk if you’re a confident driver with no history of prangs.

Don’t bother with the GPS, as you’ll pay a handsome additional fee for its use. You can download Google maps on your phone using free hotel Wi-Fi and navigate using that, even if you don’t have phone coverage – though best have someone in the passenger seat to direct.

Drive a manual if you’re able. Manual cars are considerably cheaper, especially in Europe, where they’re the norm. As a bonus, you’ll use less petrol.

Manual cars are usually cheaper to hire, especially in Europe.

Manual cars are usually cheaper to hire, especially in Europe.Credit: Getty

You shouldn’t pick your car up at an airport if you can avoid it. A cheap public-transport fare will take you into a city car-hire outlet – many are at train stations – where prices will be almost certainly cheaper. In fact, 26 per cent cheaper in the USA, according to a Nerdwallet study of 20 key cities.


Consider local car-hire companies rather than the big brand names. You won’t get flashy offices and might have to queue, but prices are often better. The caveat? Check over the small print to ensure there is unlimited mileage and no hidden fees.


If you have flexibility, fiddle with the pick-up time and compare prices. Sometimes collecting your car even an hour later or earlier alters the cost, as rental companies change their prices several times daily.

If you’re looking to rent a car for just a day or two, then be aware that you’ll get better deals on certain days of the week. Plan to avoid Mondays and Tuesdays, which are peak periods for corporate clients.

Thursdays often have the best rates, as do weekends except over summer months. Winter is a bargain season, but that doesn’t apply to rentals from cities near ski resorts, such as Denver, Geneva or Vancouver.

Be sure to return the car with a full tank of petrol, as charges for this by the hire company are outrageous. And lastly, be sure the rental firm has signed off on your inspection form that the vehicle is undamaged – you don’t want to pay for scratches you haven’t caused.

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