Hiring a holiday car is never as cheap as it appears from the basic rates quoted by the hire companies in their brochures. Most holidaymakers know that, by the time they have added on insurance and a collision waiver charge, the daily rate can rise considerably. But that foreign holiday could turn out even more expensive than planned if hidden charges not included in the usual "excess" cover insurance kick in.
Insurance for your hire car is often bought in the worst of circumstances. You have just recovered from a cramped aircraft seat but have yet to adjust to the heat of your holiday destination. On arrival at the car hire desk you are presented with an insurance document containing pages of small print. A queue of equally disoriented holidaymakers is building up behind you. After a cursory explanation, you sign on the dotted line and, without properly checking the condition of the vehicle you have been allotted, off you drive.
When you return the vehicle, you hand the keys over, again without checking its condition. If you have not taken out excess cover you could be faced with claim for scratches or dents that were already on the vehicle.
If you have not bought excess cover you could be faced with a sizeable bill. Which? Holiday recently calculated that the excess charges levied at Cork airport in Ireland by the five leading UK car hire groups ranged from £614 to £1,535 depending on the type of car. So failure to take out excess cover could be expensive.
But while buying excess cover might seem a good choice to avoid all these problems, it can also prove expensive. Like many forms of "bundled" purchase, buying excess cover from the car hire company is unlikely to get you the best rate. And even if you take out excess cover, it will often not cover the vehicle’s underbody, roof, tyres and windows, often the most vulnerable parts of a vehicle.
Damage to windows, tyres and undercarriage are generally excluded from excess policies in France, says Larry Ursich of insured4carhire.com. Yet average excess costs in France can range from £550 to £750. In Italy some policies provide cover, some do not, though excess costs can be as high as £1,000.
Fortunately for travellers, there is a growing number of independent insurers that will provide cover at much better rates. They will also cover damage to parts of the car that are routinely excluded even from so-called excess insurance provided by many leading car hire firms.
Insurance4carhire.com offers a daily rate of £3.99 or annual cover in Europe for £49, rising to £59 for annual worldwide cover while worldwideinsure.com has an EU-wide policy for £2.50 a day, £55 a year with worldwide cover available at a daily rate of £3.50 or £65 for the year. Questor-insurance.co.uk quotes a daily £2.98 for a typical European country. All can be booked online before leaving for the airport giving you time to compare prices and policy details at your leisure.
By Charles Batchelor