Hiring a car in the UK

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Whether you own a car or rely on public transport on a day-to-day basis, if you're going on holiday in the UK and would prefer not to drive to your destination or have a motor that is less than reliable, it could make sense to hire a vehicle for the duration of your break.

Before you sign on any dotted lines or click any 'pay now' buttons though, here's what you need to consider, and how to get the best deal.

Book early and get online
The best deals on car hire are generally to be had well in advance, with many firms offering a discount if you book online ahead of your date of travel. The internet route is also a good way to research who has got the best prices, or which companies have offers like unlimited mileage. Of course there are many comparison sites that will allow you to check the prices of both big and budget hire companies, and this is a good place to start. But if you are in any doubt whatsoever about exactly what is included in the price, call the company in question and ask for all the information you need. Hidden extra charges are one of the major pitfalls of hiring cars both here and abroad.

Get what you need
Just as you would with a holiday car rental, it's wise to stick to the size and spec you need if you want a good deal. As tempting as an all-singing, all-dancing vehicle might be, little luxuries like air-con and satnav can quickly bump up the cost. Other extras like child car seats are, of course, essentials and will come at an extra cost so do make sure you've included those. Similarly, if more than one of you intends to drive, check how much the firm charges for adding an additional named driver - some rental companies offer an extra driver for free so take advantage if that's the case.

When you hire a car, there are three legal insurance requirements; third-party liability, a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and theft protection. Most rental companies will be only too happy to supply you with insurance, but it generally comes at a high price and with a sizeable excess. However, you don't have to take them up on the offer. There are specialist companies that offer hire car insurance as a standalone policy at a much cheaper price. Just be sure to take all the documentation with you to show to the agent. And if you already have comprehensive insurance on your own policy you may well find that rental insurance is included, so do check before forking out for the hire company's cover. It may also be possible to take out breakdown cover separately, but it's worth checking prices against those offered by the hire company first.

What to watch for
As mentioned, vehicle rental firms are notorious for their extra charges so it's important to be aware of exactly what you're paying for before you sign anything or hand over that credit card. For instance, check to see if there is a premium to pay if you are under 25 (which is usually the case), and find out what the mileage arrangement is. If you're likely to be driving long distances, search for an unlimited mileage deal to avoid getting stung.

Also enquire about fuel options. If possible, avoid picking up a vehicle that has a full tank, as you'll generally pay inflated prices. Far better to fill up once you can choose your petrol pump.

Pick up and drop off
These days it's common for rental firms to allow you to take the car as soon as you've signed on the dotted line. But it is essential that you inspect the car fully before you drive off, taking note of any damage, even the smallest scratch, if you are to avoid paying for someone else's mistake. If needs be, take photos so that you can prove the damage was there when you picked up.

Similarly, leave plenty of time when you drop the car off. Don't be fobbed off with, 'We're too busy to inspect the car.' All too often the firm will later find some 'damage' and you'll be in no position to argue the point, so insist that they join you to inspect the vehicle and sign it off.

Do you regularly hire a car in the UK? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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