The Definitive Guide to Renting a Car: Tips and tricks to help you save

The Definitive Guide to Renting a Car: Tips and tricks to help you save

You’re always at risk of getting ripped off when you rent a car abroad. This guide will make sure you don’t get taken for a ride.

Are you unsure about rental car excess insurance? Want to know when’s the best time to book a rental car? Or are you worried about the potential pitfalls and hidden costs you may encounter whilst abroad? Below are the rental car tips that will put Australians firmly in the driver’s seat of renting a car. .

Get rental car insurance online

When it comes to buying rental car insurance, stick to the basics. Rental car companies make most of their profits by trying to sell you add-ons and extras. These are usually very expensive and cover you for very little.

The best way to avoid this is to get properly covered well in advance with trustworthy and highly regarded online car insurance providers like Not only will this save you heaps of cash, it lets you know what you are and are not covered for, so you’re not tempted by any add-ons.

Make sure your insurance policy provides full protection products for your rental car - this includes full protection against expensive damages and theft as well as supplementary protection such as lost keys, headlight repairs, flat tires and more.

Book in advance

As soon as you’ve confirmed flights, it’s worth arranging a rental car. The earlier you book, the cheaper the deals. If there are plenty of rental cars available for a certain date, the price will inevitably be lower because so is demand.

Shop around

Shopping around online is the best way to find cheap deals. Comparison sites like RentalCars, Skyscanner , Expedia and VroomVroomVroom let you search the rental car market quickly and easily. You can then click through to a rental car company  such as Hertz, Avis and Europcar to finalise the rental.

Once you’ve found the cheapest deal, look for discounts or promotional codes online – they could save you as much as 15%.

Watch out for car rental excess

Rental car excess insurance is one of the biggest problems travellers have with rental car companies in Australia. If you want to lower your excess below $1000, it can cost you as much as $40 extra a day, on top of the initial rental price. What may have seemed like a good deal at first quickly becomes a bad one.

The best way to avoid this is to get independent rental car excess coverage insurance. This could save you up to 50% of the cost of buying insurance at the rental desk.

If you are involved in an accident, you may have to pay the car rental company for any damages and administration fees. However, you can claim that money back from your chosen insurer. It may be less convenient than at the rental desk, but it could potentially save you thousands.

Avoid the upsell at the rental desk

When you collect your car, it’s very likely the rental agent will try to sell you some ‘comprehensive cover’ they claim you can’t live without. A common add-on by rental car companies these days is collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance. However, a lot of CDW insurance only covers damage caused in a crash or collision with another car: not single-vehicle damage. It can also exclude any damage to the wheels, mirrors, windows, bodywork and undercarriage.

No matter what kind of insurance is offered to you at the car rental company– whether it’s Excess Reduction, Excess Waiver, Super Collision Damage Waiver or Super Loss Damage Waiver – you don't need it if you’ve been smart enough to get rental car insurance beforehand.

If you already have rental car insurance with an online site like, it’s likely they’re trying to sell you something you’ve already paid for. Rental car  companies are under no obligation to refund you because you bought two policies, so ignore the sales pitch.

Pack your own GPS

One of the best rental car tips you can get is bringing your own Sat-Nav. A lot of rental car companies charge you a daily rate for hiring a GPS. Even if you’re travelling within Australia, you could be looking at spending over $100 a week. Prices only increase overseas, especially in more remote areas.

If you don't own a GPS, you can easily turn youre phone into one. Google Maps is the obvious choice but if you don’t want to use data, there are plenty of other free options including HERE We Go Maps, Mapfactor, Sygic and Polaris GPS Navigation. They come with pre-loaded maps, route planning and voice navigation, so you don't need to worry about a hefty phone bill at the end of your trip.


Bring your own child and booster seat

While child and booster seats aren’t a legal requirement in places like Indonesia or Fiji, they are in Europe and America, sometimes up to the age of 12. Booster seats can cost as little as $30 to buy in Australia. However Thrifty and Budget charge up to $88 dollars for a child car seat, while a seat with Avis and Europcar could set you back $77.

That’s why it makes sense to take a car seat with you. Many airlines accept a child seat as part of checked baggage. For example, with domestic and international short haul flights, Virgin allow adults accompanying children to carry 1 car or booster seat per child as checked baggage for no charge, irrespective of the weight. Similarly, Jetstar allow booster seats to be carried free of charge as checked baggage.

Check the fuel policy

A common scam is to give you a full tank that you pay for upfront. You're then told to return the car empty as you’ll receive no refund for unused fuel. If you’re not travelling far or renting a car for long, this is a huge waste of money. It’s also likely you’ll pay a lot more than you would at a gas station. Full-to-empty fuel policies are particularly common in Europe and should definitely be avoided.

Photograph the car and note all damage

Before you leave the car park, take a slow walk around the car and take note of any scratch, mark, bump or knock. Check there is no damage to the wheels, make sure the spare wheel is also there and inflated, and record the mileage.

You should also take photos for back up and get someone at the rental desk to acknowledge the damage by signing the sheet.

You should also photograph the car on return. Take photos of each panel, the wheels and the mileage. In the past, car companies have charged customers for damage they did not commit, which is why it’s crucial you have as much evidence as possible. All of this could save you from having to pay for any damage you weren’t responsible for.  

Avoid the fancy car

It may be tempting to hire the shiny new BMW or Mercedes convertible, but if you want to save, stick to what you need – be practical and sensible. Classes vary between companies, but the smaller cars are usually the cheapest option.

Airport pick up

While airport pick-up services are usually more expensive than collecting your rental car from a city depot, it really depends on your location. For places like New Zealand, public transport can be very expensive, so it might not be worth your time commuting in to the city for a slightly cheaper deal.

Be sure however, to avoid any premium location surcharge fee. These are really common in airports. For example, Avis have a 27% surcharge if you're renting from Melbourne airport.

Hidden fees charges

There are several hidden fees that can be applied to the total cost of the bill you should be aware of. Some of these fees and add-ons include:
  • Additional driver fee: Many hire companies including AVIS and Hertz charge you per day for additional drivers. Unless you’re planning on taking a long road trip where you’d need to take turns, it’s best to stick to one driver.
  • Additional mileage: Some rental car companies set a cap on how many kilometres you can travel per day. This is more common with some smaller, local companies throughout Europe, so be sure to read the fine print.
  • Administrative fee: It's common practice among rental car companies to charge an administrative fee of around 3.5%, which you can do little about.
  • Credit card surcharges: Check your credit card statement a few days after you make the payment. Make sure no extra surcharges have come out and all excess charges, including fuel, have been returned to you.
  • Late pick-up: Always enter your flight details when you rent a car. This means staff know if your flight is delayed and shouldn’t rent your car to another customer. If you're not collecting from an airport, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the depot and always inform them of any delays.
  • Late return: When returning the car, many companies give you a 'grace period'. However, many companies, including Hertz, start charging an hourly rate after 29 minutes. Most rental car companies calculate charges in 24 hour blocks so if you rent a car at 12pm, put the return time at 12pm, even if you plan on returning the vehicle earlier. It gives you some flexibility should something delay you.
  • One-way/relocation fees: Road trips in places like New Zealand and the Australian coasts are common and sometimes there’s little you can do about relocation fees. However, there are now services in places like New Zealand which offer free car travel so rental car companies can get their vehicles back to their original branch. This is potentially a very cheap way of travelling – just make sure you still have insurance.
  • Refuelling fee: If you haven’t chosen a pre-paid option and don't return the car with a full tank, you'll be charged a premium fuel price.
  • Vehicle registration recovery fee: This fee is often added to your quote and charged as a set daily rate in order to recover the costs of registering the vehicle.
  • Young driver fee: In Australia the minimum age you’re allowed to hire a car is 21 and drivers under the age of 25 are usually charged a fee. Hertz charges an extra $16.50 per day, while Thrifty charges $27.50 a day for anyone aged between 21 and 25.