Martin Lewis: How to beat the holiday car hire cowboys

It shouldn’t happen to a Money Saving Expert (or anyone else for that matter), but it does. I’m not immune to bad service, especially outside of the UK (where no one has a clue who I am).

A month or so ago, I felt the full brunt of pig-headed, unapologetic, hard-sell at a Spanish car hire desk – not too much of a surprise – my mailbag has been full of others’ similar stories for years.

Admittedly though, I did deserve it, as I’d done something awful – I’d got the car hire for a super cheap price via a broker – and there’s nowt some car hire firms hate more. They fired salvo after salvo at me aiming to up-sell and fear-sell. I resisted. And so now, I want to use that experience to ensure you can do the same.   


The timing couldn’t be better, with summer holiday’s approaching, if you’re planning to hire a car overseas you can save yourself hundreds, and drive down the cost of holiday hire with my five key need-to-knows…

Book now via a comparison to grab the cheapest price. Generally the earlier you hire your car the better. Don’t leave it until you’re there or just going. For example, walk in during the summer holidays and it can be £40+/day. Yet book now for mid-August and an economy car in Malaga can be less than a fiver a day, or in Gran Canaria less than a tenner.

To find your cheapest, use as many comparison sites as you’ve time for including and for breath, and if time, and Then once booked double check the details with the car firm.

Get car-hire excess insurance BEFORE you go and save £100s. At the pick-up desk, they often try to fear-sell ‘excess’ protection as an add-on, with “without excess insurance, you’ll pay the first £1,000 of any damage”. And indeed, have a scratch and some unscrupulous firms charge many times the repair cost (even if they won’t then bother to repair it).

Yet the price they charge for this excess insurance is commonly exorbitant. These add-on policies can cost an extra £150+/week. But you can get a standalone policy before you go for as little as £15/week via comparison site or to cut costs further see the list of discount codes on

When you arrive at the car hire desk, they’ll offer you the add on cover, just politely tell them you don’t want it (they may say the stand alone cover you’ve bought isn’t valid, but it is), and they’ll then ask you to leave a large deposit often of £800+.  

They don’t want you to do this, so will have strict rules, usually only a credit card (not debit) can be used, and it must be in the name of the person who did the booking. I’ve seen people at desks offer their partners cards, but been turned down. Be prepared – you have to be ready to jump their hurdles.

If you do it this way and have an incident, they will take the cost from your deposit, then you get the reclaim that from your standalone policy.

Compare fuel polices. Car-hire firms vary greatly when it comes to fuel policies. When you first receive your car you’ll often have to pay for a full tank of fuel, but when it comes to returning it some want it back full (and then they refund the cost minus an admin fee), some want it empty, and others just give a pro-rata refund of unused fuel.   

So check the T&Cs carefully before you book to check its fuel policy. The comparison sites above let you filter results by fuel policy, so you can select which one you want.

Be prepared for the hard sell – they tried it on with me. I arrived at the desk, and knowing the drill immediately gave them my booking reference, passport, driving licence and credit card.  

After three times trying (and failing) to sell me a car upgrade – where I patiently explained the car I’d booked met my needs and I didn’t need more – the pick-up desk salesperson switched tack to try to charge me to “upgrade my mileage allowance” even though I’d more than enough miles. I pre-empted the ‘excess insurance’ hard sell by explaining I had my own policy and would pay the €1,200 deposit needed. She informed me my insurance was worthless. I disagreed.

Frustrated, she started on a long script to push me again. Starting to get more than a little frustrating, I jumped in and interrupted to say I knew the rules, could we just process the deposit. In fury, she left the desk, and shouted “you listen or no keys.” I wanted to walk away but decided better revenge would be to get the cheap deal without paying more. So, with gritted teeth, I smiled, faced 5mins’ more sell, got the keys and left.

Take pics of the car before and after to avoid any disputes later. Sadly, international car hire can be tricky, it can even feel dodgy. If something goes wrong, fixing problems isn’t easy. Many people return cars in what they believe is the same condition as they picked it up in, only to find £100s in charges taken from the deposit later. So one way to avoid disputes is to take pictures of the car at pick-up and drop-off.

Take notes of its condition on the car hire company’s form, especially and scratches and dents, that way there is evidence if they bring up an issue.   And if you have a standalone excess policy, never just give them the keys and walk away, stay with them while they check the car, so you can dispute there and then if they claim any damage you didn’t cause. 

Martin Lewis is the Founder and Chair of To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to



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