Car rental: save money on your vacation rental with these tips

Comfortable and affordable car rental is one of the key components of foreign adventures.

But, as with airfares, is one of the parts of the holiday that becomes more expensive as the cost of fuel rises across Europe. Car owners will be no strangers to the Volatile price of gasoline and diesel on the esplanades, and it is unlikely to subside any time soon.

Renting a car can be a tricky business at the best of times, as there are often hidden costs, additional fees, and lots of insurance extras involved. So if you’ve booked a vacation this year and plan to rent a car as part of your trip, how can you keep costs down?

Read on for our handy guide to car rentals in 2022.

Do not leave it for last minute

It’s a well-known fact that buying something urgent at the last minute is likely to result in higher costs. From train and plane tickets to accommodation, as the urgency increases, so does the cost.

This is particularly pronounced in the current context, as several car rental providers have sold their fleets to stay afloat during the pandemic. “The manufacturing shortage, coupled with an expected increase in travel, means that demand will inevitably outstrip supply,” explains Rory Sexton, managing director of independent car rental broker Zest. “We strongly encourage our customers to book early and secure their car rental.”

Some countries also have higher rental demands. There are likely to be more people looking to rent a car in popular summer destinations like Italy and Portugal, which will drive up prices.

Check the car before leaving

One of the most important things you can do is check your car before you pull out of the parking lot. While car rental companies will be quick to tell you that the vehicle is undamaged, be sure to make a note of any existing problems so you can’t be blamed once you return it.

Inspect the car carefully for dents, scratches, and cracks, especially in common places like the rearview mirrors and bumpers. Point them out to the dealer and write them on the contract before you and them sign.

It’s also a good idea to take photos and videos of any pre-existing damage, which will be time-stamped.

Book a car with a local company

While it can be tempting to book a car with a big global brand, smaller rental companies are often cheaper. As with most things, it’s worth shopping around, but it might also not be wise to book with a company you’ve never heard of.

Using a trusted car rental broker like Zest or Skyscanner will give you peace of mind and help you compare small businesses based on a wide variety of factors.

Stay away from airport car rental companies

Although it may be easier to get your car from a car rental company at the airport, the convenience will cost you. Cars are in demand in these transportation hubs, so there is a price increase involved in renting one here. Smaller companies that aren’t based at the airport are likely to be significantly cheaper, so make sure you’ve planned ahead.

buy third party insurance

Buying insurance directly from the car rental company is usually more expensive and less comprehensive. Instead, purchase your insurance from a third-party provider.

In the UK, which one? has a good guide to auto insurance companies. While many car rental companies will try to pressure you into buying their insurance if you know you have good coverage beforehand, their sales pitch will be easier to ignore.

Pack a map or download a navigation app

If you can live without sat nav, your car rental costs will likely be cheaper, since you’ll be able to get a model without all the added tech frills.

While the maps may seem a bit dated by today’s standards, if you’re good at navigating and traveling as a couple, it’s worth considering. Reading a map will also help you get to know the local area and you may discover some lesser known beauty spots.

Alternatively, if you don’t think your navigation skills are up to the task, consider downloading a sat nav app on your phone. That way you can choose a cheaper car without satnav.

Find out how you’re paying for fuel

Gas prices are high and probably taller as the year progresses, so saving fuel is one of the easiest ways to lower the cost of a car rental.

In general, there are two ways to pay for fuel on a rental car: you can sign up for a full-to-empty policy or a full-to-full policy.

While the full-to-empty scheme may seem easier, you’ll pay the rental car company’s costs for that full tank. Although it means you won’t have to fill it up before returning the car, these prices are unlikely to be the cheapest on the market. Also, if you don’t use the entire tank, you will also lose money.

This makes full-to-full the most cost-effective option if you’re unlikely to use a full tank, you’ll only need to top up a bit, plus you’ll be able to find the cheapest gas station in the area.

Find the best gas prices

Although it might seem that fuel prices are universally high, some gas stations are still cheaper than others. As a general rule of thumb, you should always avoid buying gasoline at a highway service station, where the price of filling up the tank is almost always going to be higher.

Get off the highway and you’ll likely find cheaper prices. The supermarket esplanades are usually the best option, and if you are on vacation you will already know which ones have the cheapest offers. Also make sure to sign up for supermarket loyalty cards, as many of them offer points towards petrol schemes.

If you are traveling in the UK, the Petrol Prices app will be able to direct you to the cheapest petrol station in your area. Many other countries also have their own version, including Germany’s Clever Tanken app and Gas Buddy in the US.

Drive efficiently to save fuel

It may take a bit of brain training, but driving efficiently can also help you reduce the amount of gas you use while traveling in your rental car. Driving faster uses more fuel, so accelerating slowly will lead to better fuel efficiency.

Driving in the highest possible gear within the speed limit is the most fuel efficient way you can drive. Similarly, maintaining momentum will also keep fuel consumption low. While this isn’t always possible due to traffic jams and stop signs, keep in mind that slowing down and speeding up will be bad for your mileage, so try to keep it to a minimum.

If you are in a temperate country and you really don’t need to use the air conditioner, turn it off. Having the air conditioner on all the time will also use fuel, so always remove your sweater before reaching for the AC switch.

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