Travel Comment
Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Which way to go - buy, hire or lease?

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When you're past the days of hitch-hiking or dossing down in the back of a Kombi, there's no such thing as the "best way" of criss-crossing the lanes and byways of Europe.

Buses are absolutely fine if you don't want the hassle of driving and are happy to trip from city to city following an hour-by-hour schedule.

But if you can handle stress on the road and have a decent navigator (perhaps backed by a GPS), you simply can't beat your own wheels - going where you want, when you want. Even if parking can be a nightmare.

So what do you do - rent, lease or buy?

Buying is for the confident, and that probably eliminates most of us who would pause before paying £5000 ($13,000) or so for a used wagon that may or may not get us there and back.

Renting, of course, is the way most people go. It will not be cheap - typically, a French pick-up (and return) for a 10-day hire of a 1.6l Renault Scenic will be slightly under $1000.

The same hire for a 1.6l Peugeot 307 station wagon will set you back about $880.

So that's around $90-$100 a day before you start thinking of insurance. Full cover will add another $32 or so a day.

When you push the hire to 17 days, the Renault jumps to nearly $1600 and the Peugeot to a little over $1400. Twenty-one days: $1700 for the Renault and $1650 for the Peugeot. All plus insurance.

Of course, marketing ploys here and there will give you the odd free day or other bonus.

But for a vehicle that will comfortably take two couples, you can expect to pay, all-up, between $114 and $126 a day for a 17-day hire, and a dollar or two less for a 21-day hire. Ouch.

Which is where the lease operators come in.

The big French car manufacturers, Peugeot, Renault and Citroen, lease brand new cars to tourists and, once the lease period is completed, are able to onsell vehicles tax-free on the local second-hand market.

This year, around 2000 leases will be written for New Zealanders visiting Europe and most of them will save hundreds of dollars by choosing lease over car hire.

The only spanner in the works will be the time they need their wheels: lease periods carry a minimum of 17 days for Peugeot and Citroen, and 21 days for Renault.

But even if you want a car for just 14 or 15 days, you may find it cheaper to go the leasing way because of the high add-on costs of standard car hire in Europe.

Fully comprehensive (no-excess) insurance is part of the deal for car leasing, and there's no charge for additional drivers and few restrictions on the countries you can visit.

Pick up or drop off outside dozens of locations in France, and there will be a fee (from $300 at Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels or Zurich, to $500 at Madrid, Lisbon, Milan or Rome, and an ugly $700 in London).

But make your booking early enough and you can often get a 50 per cent discount on that charge.

So all that aside, what does it come down to in dollars and cents?

As an example, let's go back to that Peugeot 307 station wagon (diesel-powered, 1.6l).

This year, a 17-day lease would have cost you $1639 all up - a saving of more than $300 over a standard 17-day rental car hire using the same vehicle with similar insurance cover.

But the big advantage comes over time: the longer the lease, the greater the value, with extras days charged at just $40 (as opposed to over $100 per day for the rental).

And that's just the beginning.

Renault, Citroen and Peugeot will bring out their 2009 deals in November and, if they follow the path of recent years, will offer extra incentives for booking before March 31.

Like seven days' free hire, as Peugeot offered this year, for that 307 station wagon. That gave 24 days for $1639 - around $68 a day for the freedom to go where you want in Europe. Hard to beat.

- Bruce Morris

Check out these websites for full details on the lease programmes offered by Peugeot, Citroen and Renault:

Minimum leases are 17 days (Peugeot and Citroen) and 21 days (Renault), and pick-up and drop-off points outside France incur extra charges.

Discount deals are often available, but the most common are "earlybird specials' giving an extra seven days at no cost on the minimum lease.

All companies suggest you visit their New Zealand showrooms to check out vehicles before making your choice.

- Bruce Morris

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