Hiring a car is risky for your finances. They've gotcha on all fronts. Kiwis have found themselves hit up for thousands of dollars in excesses, seen the price balloon with extras or been squeezed out of a few dollars with poor exchange rates. Here a few tips on how to protect yourself.
Read the fine print
Car hire agreements are not all created equal. Sometimes there are exclusions that might surprise you. One reader found the insurance through the car hire company didn't cover her if she broke the road rules, such as speeding. You may find there are hefty "administration" charges if you fail to pay tolls or get stung with fines through speed cameras. And does it cover for driving on unsealed roads?
Photograph/video the car's condition
My friend Maciek has protected himself more than once this way. On a trip to Romania recently the rental company tried to sting him NZ$520 for the full excess for a tiny black spot on the paintwork. Detailed pre-hire photos on his iPad and arguing skills got him off.
"The car hire was very cheap, hence they try to make money by ripping people off on the insurance," he says. This is one of many reasons to beware of cheap car hire firms. The prices are good, but they're less worried about reputation.
Watch out for the extras
Many car hire firms charge through the nose for GPS, child seats and whatever else they can. After a week or two of hire you may as well have bought the items new. Rented child car seats can be of dubious safety, too.
Get your own insurance cover
Car hire insurance is confusing. The basic insurance, if included, will have eye-watering excesses. Even if you pay for the overpriced excess waiver from the car company you're probably not covered for some accidents – such as damaging the roof of the car. "Car excess waivers sold at car rental depots are excessively high," says Natali Mansberg, digital content specialist at Compare Travel Insurance.
Most people think "she'll be right, I've got travel insurance". But ordinary travel insurance policies often only pay out unless you've bought the overpriced extra insurance form the car hire company. Be aware that generally your own car insurance won't cover you for damage to a rental vehicle, says Tim Grafton, chief executive of the Insurance Council of New Zealand.
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Consider a standalone policy
You can buy good-value standalone cover to reduce your excess. TripCover.co.nz, for example, charges around $14 a day for rental excess insurance in Australia and $16 for worldwide. Less if you hire for multiple days. When I checked one of the big companies on the Gold Coast the daily rate for excess waiver insurance was NZ$29.
Mansberg points out that rental car companies and travel insurers often exclude important things like keys, windscreens, tyres and underbody damage, whereas standalone car hire excess companies provide this additional cover for a lower price. TripCover covers these and charges less.
I noted that Rentalcarprotection.com.au offers single-trip and annual policies for Kiwis holidaying in Australia. UK-based Worldwideinsure.com offers single policies and an annual multi-trip policy for New Zealand residents costing NZ$225. That covers rentals in virtually every country in the world and even includes local hires here. Any disputes would have to be handled through the UK, however.
Don't hire a car at all
Here's a radical idea ... just use Uber or similar. I did just this in Brazil for trips of up to an hour. It cost less than hiring a car without the risk. The downside is you can't stop for a photo or coffee.
In Australia, an Uber fare from Surfers Paradise to Movie World when I checked was NZ$28 each way. An economy rental from Europcar for a week would be NZ$50 a day including all the insurance. If you're pottering around the beach for several of your holiday days, Uber wins and you don't have to pay parking costs.