How To Avoid Unexpected Costs When Returning A Hire Car

As I discussed recently, car hire companies sometimes get a bad press for charging customers unexpected costs after they have returned their hire car.

Although this does happen, it is not very common and can usually be explained – and often prevented by you, the hirer, taking a few basic precautions. Here are a few ideas based on my own experience:

  1. Make sure you return the car with the correct amount of fuel in it – normally, this means as it was when you collected it. Failure to do this will mean that the rental company will charge you an inflated rate for refuelling.
  2. Check the car carefully for damage yourself when you pick it up. Make sure the rental company agent marks down all the existing damage on the check sheet – otherwise they can blame it on you when you return the vehicle.
  3. Consider taking additional insurance to reduce your excess. That way, if you do cause any damage, your maximum payout will be considerably reduced.
  4. Don’t be late. Late returns mess up the rental company’s bookings – they will penalise you for being late.
  5. Don’t leave any litter in the inside of the car and clean up any spilled drinks, excessive mud, etc.. Although these things do happen, unusual levels of dirt may mean that the car hire company levies an additional cleaning charge on you. Don’t worry about the outside of the vehicle too much – normal road dirt is fine, although excessive mud from off-road use may arouse suspicion…
  6. Pay any tolls, charges or fines you have incurred. These include parking fines, congestion charges, road tolls and speeding fines. You are liable for anything incurred while you are driving the car – don’t try and avoid them as they will come back to you and often increase with late payment. The rental company may also charge you an administration fee if they have to chase you for the money.
  7. If you rent any additional accessories – such as a GPS unit – then make sure that these are returned complete, undamaged and together with the car.
  8. Finally, if you have had a puncture and changed the wheel yourself, ring the hire company and notify them as soon as possible during the hire. Do not fail to mention it when you return the vehicle. Although technically you may be liable for tyre damage, I don’t think this always applies to honest, unavoidable punctures – the one time I had a puncture in a hire car (in Madeira), I did not have to pay anything extra for the damaged tyre.
  9. If you are collecting your hire car from the airport, always provide your flight numbers when booking – here’s why.
  10. If you have had an accident or breakdown, make sure you report it to the police and/or the hire company’s emergency assistance number, as per the instructions you are given by the hire company. Do not try to sweep it under the carpet.

So there you have it – just like most things in life, the risk of problems can be reduced by taking a few simple precautions.

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