I step up to the Budget car hire desk in Turin airport in trepidation, tensed in expectation of the Inevitable Issue. Just next to me, a group of young British men have already encountered theirs: despite having paid for their luxury class automatic drive Audi, the named driver needs not one, but two, credit cards to cover their worst-case-scenario-deposit. They can sum up two credit cards between them but nothing can be done; it was written in the small print.
With slight stomach butterflies and sweaty palms I hand car hire voucher, driver’s licence, passport and (one) credit card over the counter. The first question I’m asked is whether or not we have much luggage. Well, we do a bit, I think, slightly perplexed: skis, snowboard, three cabin bags and a sizeable suitcase. That’s why I’d opted one up from the “mini” class of cars when booking. After much deliberation, I’d reckoned that we could jam all our gear into a Ford Fiesta ‘or equivalent’ and so splashed out on an “economy” range of car, a whole £20 more than the dinky Fiat Panda (or equivalent…) that I’d otherwise been considering.
“Because a Panda is very small, eh?” the Budget car hire lady continues.
Erm… what? Oh, ok, so it appears we have found my car hire issue…
Despite the hours (and hours, very literally) researching, comparing, reading reviews, recommendations, dos and don’ts, and tying myself in knots – what insurance do I take?, should I go for snow tyres (double the cost!)? or just make do with snow chains (gah – will it snow or no?!)?, and which brother-fudging car will fit all our gear?! – it seems that I have still missed a trick on my first go at being responsible for hiring a car abroad!
Oh well, I have nevertheless learned some general points always to be considered and, for my own future reference more than anything, I’ve included them here:
- Go for the most basic insurance that the car hire company offers you (always included in the price) because you’ll pay an arm and a leg for full coverage with them. BUT
- MAKE SURE you buy separate extra insurance – usually called car hire excess insurance – to cover all the other stuff that could possibly come up. Check out moneysavingexpert.com for getting discounts as, through them, I got a week’s cover for £15.57 with reducemyexcess.co.uk.
- Choose car hire where you pick up and return the car with a full tank. Everywhere says to do this, so I see no reason not to comply!
- For sure go through a comparison site to find your car hire deal cheaper but do be aware! Autoeurope.co.uk offered far more categories of car than existed for the individual hire companies, e.g. seven, as opposed to Budget’s three. In my case, I’d opted for a slightly bigger car at a more expensive hire cost to only find myself with the too small car that I was trying to avoid but could have paid less for at the outset, and all my crucial, mental car packing completely come undone! (I’m still waiting to see what Autoeurope have to say about that!). Double check on the company’s site to not get caught out!
- Paper counterparts to your driver’s licence are becoming obsolete, so you may need to get a code from DVLA to give to the car hire company which shares the extra information not included on your driving license card. Super easy and quick to do here.
- Finally, expect the unexpected. If you’ve covered all the above, then you shouldn’t have too many nasty surprises other than a different car from the one you booked… the more unexpected bit, however, was that, although car hire companies have a reputation for giving you an unpleasant sting somewhere along the line, that doesn’t mean the employees behind the desk have to: our Budget car hire lady saved the day by throwing in a ski rack for free (!), taking pity on our too much luggage for a Fiat Panda situation.
Remaining calm, polite and even friendly probably helps matters, I think, as I walk away from the desk, leaving my compatriots with their credit card mishap still wrangling with a now slightly angry Italian car hire man.
I am relieved. I was expecting worse and, although we still have to play Tetris with our luggage, it should now all fit. My relief is but momentary, though. Slight stomach butterflies and sweaty palms rise again as my thoughts turn to the next, probably even more stressful step ahead: car picked up, I now have to actually drive in Italy.