Look, I’ve got to be honest, until this summer of UK staycationing (thanks corona) I was absolutely terrified of driving on a motorway.
I know this might sound crazy given the stuff I’ve got up to in my life, but hear me out!
I grew up in a tiny island, where we don’t really have dual carriageways, let alone motorways; our speed limit is 40 mph and many of our roads are so narrow, or banked by thick stone walls, that pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders are given right of way and cars have to stick to 15 mph.
What this means is that, when I learnt to drive in Jersey, I just did not learn some of the key skills driving in the UK (or anywhere large than 45 sq miles) requires.
Reversing down small narrow lanes into field entrances so other vehicles can get past, tick. But gunning it onto 3 lane highways at 70 miles per hour, nope sorry not in my driving repertoire.
And so it was that I’d largely resisted hiring a vehicle anywhere in the world that required me to drive on big scary roads, let alone on the other side of the road!
New Zealand’s south island I coped with and Cyprus was ok too (they both drive on the left and have minimal motorway action) but outside of that, it was a resounding no from me!
Even in the UK.
Fast forward to all my travel plans being abruptly scrapped in 2020 however, plus my non-flying pledge, and an extended staycation in my homeland seemed the best (if not the only) option to keep my wandering soul and travel business on the road.
But there was one obvious problem – to discover many of this country’s best parts, the rambling countryside, the remote national parks and the hiking highlights, I was going to need a car.
Public transport would just not cut it.
And so it was that I plucked up the courage to have some additional driving lessons to get me up to speed and feeling confident on the motorway, in order that I could feel comfortable renting a car in the UK and get the best out of this staycation stint.
And I’m glad to say I did… get the best that is and feel comfortable. Heck, I even enjoyed it!
Yup having completed the relevant up-skilling, I am now actually quite a big fan when it comes to rental cars in the UK.
Of course, I’ll still use public transport where I can – environmental crisis imminent and all that – but sometimes, hiring a car in the UK is the only way to access some of the bestest, wildest spots over here.
The spots I’m all about quite frankly.
So, having done it a few times now, I’m happy to say I’ve picked up some key UK car rental tips, especially for those of us looking to road trip on a budget.
And here they are – my top 12 tips when it comes to getting the best deal on your rental car in the UK…
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#1 Consider Your Age
Unfortunately, there’s not a huge amount you can do about this one if you’re hiring a car solo and are young… or old!
But, if you fall into either of these categories, and can instead rope someone else in to do the driving for you, then it’s worth it, because getting a driver aged over 25 or under 75 is going to make hiring a car in the UK a lot cheaper.
Generally, rental cars in the UK have fixed prices if you fall in between these 2 ages, but at either end of the spectrum i.e. under 25 or over 75, you’re going to end up paying a lot more.
And that’s simply because you’re considered high risk… sorry!
Whether that’s true or not of you as an individual, it’s certainly true as a general statistic and therefore getting the named driver to be someone aged between 25 and 75 is my first key tip when it comes to saving money on your UK rental car.
#2 Get a Manual
The second way you can keep your hiring costs down when getting rental cars in the UK, is to opt for a manual vehicle.
While this may be more problematic for those of you coming over from North America (know you guys love an automatic) for us Europeans, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
We learn to drive manuals usually and therefore opting for this type of vehicle shouldn’t be too stressful for you.
What it will do (and hopefully stress you out is not on this list) is get you as low a hire price as usual because, in the UK, rental cars which are manual cost less to hire.
#3 Choose the Smallest Vehicle
And while we’re on the subject of vehicle types here, it goes without saying (although look at me saying it!) that opting for the smallest possible vehicle for your needs is also going to give you the best rental deal too.
Most rental cars companies in the UK offer a “mini” option, which is usually something like a Fiat 500 – if there’s only 2 of you (or you’re road tripping solo) then this should be perfectly adequate as you can stick to the front seats and use the back for your luggage – no boot / trunk space really required.
#4 Have No Claims or Conviction
Of course, those loaning you a rental car in the UK want to limit their risk as much as possible, which is why having no recent claims on your insurance or no driving offences on your record is a sure-fire way to get the best price.
Similar to the age of a driver, claims or convictions suggest you are a risk (waaa-aaay) and therefore have an increased chance of doing damage to the vehicle and costing the company more.
For that reason, they’ll add a surcharge and bump up the costs of your hire car package in order to cover their backs.
At worst, they may even refuse to rent you a car, full stop.
Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen to you!
#5 Save Rental for Outside Cities
Ok, so now we move away from the more generic points and get onto some country-specific tips, which will certainly be usefully when you’re looking for rental cars in the UK.
First up is the point that, if you’re only visiting cities in Britain (that’s cities in the countries of either England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for those of you that may be confused), then I’m going to put myself out there and say, actually, you really don’t need a rental car at all!
All cities and major towns in the UK are serviced by excellent public transport links, especially from London, and using public transport can be just as cheap, easy and convenient to get between major destinations, especially if you’re travelling solo on a budget.
With public transport you don’t have to worry about excess fees, insurance, terms and conditions, speeding fines or parking tickets – you just book your train and bus, chill out on the journey and get off, happy as larry, on the other side.
Because the UK is small, relatively speaking, it’s fairly easy to get almost anywhere by train in a day – even London to Edinburgh is do-able.
As always, when it comes to booking trains or buses for travel in the UK, I opt for Trainline – who give the best deals (care of an automatic split-fare system) and a huge range of times, classes and prices.
And not only are cities and large towns easy to access in the UK via public transport, but they are also easy to get around on public transport too.
Many are small, meaning their centres can easily be traversed on foot or bike.
Otherwise in big cities, such as London, amazing public transport networks mean this is by far the cheapest and simplest way to get around.
Vehicles in London are subject to huge traffic delays as well as congestion charges and should be avoided!
Seriously, take a tip from me and stick to public transport in the capital.
And while you’re at it, download the free app, Citymapper, for the best way to plan your journey when using public transport in London.
#6 Hire from London Airport
And while we’re on the subject of London, I want to cover another very important tip when it comes to getting the best deal on your UK rental car.
If you’re planning to start your road trip journey from London and want the cheapest rate, then do not rent a car from the centre of London.
Not only will this leave you subject to traffic and congestion fees, but the prices of the rental are likely to be much higher too.
Instead, the best place to get the cheapest car rental in the UK, if you’re leaving from London, is to pick up your vehicle at a London airport.
All the major airports around the city (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stanstead and Luton) have car hire outlets from major rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Budget and these guys can certainly provide you with some of the best prices going.
The way to choose which airport to start your rental at is to see which direction out of London your chosen destination is and to simply hire your vehicle from the airport on that side of London.
For example, to get to Wales from London you want to use the M4, which means Heathrow is the best place to hire a car because you then don’t have to drive around, or navigate going through, the capital.
Use public transport to get from your London location to the airport you’re hiring the car at or, if you’re flying into a London airport, simply collect your vehicle from there – simples!
And if you need to cross from Gatwick to Heathrow, or visa versa, check out this post on how to do it.
You can learn more about what’s required when picking up your rental car, as well as the perfect way to do it, in this handy article.
#7 Go for a 3 Day Minimum Hire
I know it sounds crazy, but I also know it’s true.
Yes, 3 day car hires tend to be the cheapest.
Definitely cheaper than 2 day hire periods, 3 day hires are generally cheaper than 1 day rentals too.
And I know this because, every time I’ve looked for rental cars in the UK I’ve found the same thing.
I also know this because, when I spoke to a representative of a major UK hire car company on the phone, she confirmed it’s true – a 3 day hire is the sweet spot to go.
Obviously, if you need the car for longer, then you’ll have to hire it for longer and the per day price will decrease the longer you hire for.
Seriously, if you’re only on a short trip, then do consider hiring a vehicle for 3 days instead of 1 or 2, it likely (and weirdly) cost you less!
And when I say 3 days, I mean anything over 48 hours, because if you pick a vehicle up at midday on Monday and return it at 1pm on Wednesday, that counts as a 3 day hire because it’s over 48 hours!
#8 Get Separate No Excess Cover
This is another absolutely killer tip if you’re looking to get the best deal on rental cars in the UK because, trust, me, those hire folk will try to flog you all sorts of add-ons either when you book the vehicle, collect the vehicle, or any time in between.
And the greatest carrot they’ll try and snare you with is paying to reduce the excess of your vehicle.
Excess is the amount you pay if you’re involved in an accident or there is damage to the vehicle you caused.
Even if you’re covered by insurance, you’re likely to pay excess, which is the additional part of any repair work that needs doing.
On most standard policies, excess costs are over £1000.
Now you can pay a great rental amount to have your excess lowered – usually there ia an incremental tiering, so you pay a bit more to have a lower excess or a lot more to have no excess – but here’s the way to get around.
Pay a separate company for excess cover and stick to the most basic policy with the rental company.
What this means is that, instead of paying the hire car company to lower your excess or reduce it to zero (expensive) you pay a separate insurance company to do this for you.
Outsourcing this excess cover to another company can be as cheap as £40 for the whole year, or you can buy it for single trips too.
Either way, it works out a lot cheaper – you don’t have pay crazy amounts for a no excess package with the rental company and you don’t have to pay crazy excess amounts if you’re involved in an accident.
Personally, I’ve used Insure4CarHire for my annual excess cover.
I’m in no way affiliated with them, but I thought it might be useful to name a company so that those of you who are short on time know where to go for a reliable option.
#9 Don’t Speed or Use Your Phone!
It’s an obvious one, but it cannot be said enough.
If you want to keep the costs of renting a car in the UK (or anywhere) down to a minimum, then do not occur a fine when driving the vehicle.
Ensure you check the rules about driving in the UK beforehand and especially avoid speeding or using your mobile phone when at the wheel.
And it goes without saying, drink driving is a no-no too.
If you do this, you’re an idiot.
It’s as simple as that.
#10 Check Parking Rules
Less obvious than road rules but still important, you do not want to get a parking fine when hiring a car in the UK either.
This will catch up with you (because the relevant authority will get in touch with the hire company, who will get in touch with you) and you will have to pay.
Parking fines in the UK can be hefty, especially if they’re left unpaid for a long time, so always check the parking rules anywhere you pull up.
If you’re not from the UK, then you need to be warned in advance that paid parking is the common thing in all towns, cities and sometimes even villages and attractions too.
If in doubt, presume you have to pay and check around for signs about where and how to do this, as well as what the costs are.
The general rule of thumb in the UK is that free parking is the exception, not the rule.
#11 Fuel Up Yourself
And now we move to the point of returning your vehicle.
And again, another thing that hire companies will try and flog you either when you reserve or pick-up your vehicle, is the option to have them refuel the car for you.
Normally you’ll be given a full tank of fuel when you begin your rental (although checking this and photographing any discrepancies is key to not getting overcharged too) and you’ll be asked to return it full.
Not doing so will likely involve you being fined.
So the other thing hire car companies will ask if you want, is for them to refuel the vehicle for you.
Now I know this might sound attractive if you’re rushed for time, feeling nervous about doing this yourself or struggling to find a nearby petrol station etc but trust me, the hire company are going to charge you way over the odds for this service.
My advice if you’re on a budget therefore is to decline their kind offer and do it yourself!
Just use Google maps to find the fuel station closest to your rental drop-off point and fill the tank there… allowing time on your return journey to do this of course.
#12 Don’t Return Late
And finally, the last of these 12 tips if you’re trying to get a rental car in the UK on a budget, is to not return the vehicle late!
The drop-off time for your vehicle will clearly be stated on your documents and booking, so do allow ample time to make sure you get it back by then.
Remember traffic, getting lost, taking longer to re-fuel the car, snack stops and toilet breaks can all eat into your journey time and certainly amount to you being late… trust me I know!
Luckily, most UK rental companies give you half an hour grace, which means you can be up to 30 minutes past your stipulated return time and not get charged, but this isn’t a foolproof solution.
If you have found yourself delayed, then it’s always worth calling the hire car company and letting them know to see if they have a grace period or you can sweet talk them into not charging you extra!
Otherwise, you’ll certainly be lumped with a late return fee – not what you want if you’re watching those pennies!
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And there they are, my 12 key tips when it comes to getting the best deals for rental cars in the UK.
These are personal tips I’ve picked up from hiring vehicles in my homeland this year and while 2020 has been such a hard and horrible year in so many ways, I am grateful it’s forced me to explore a bit more of the UK.
It really is a treat of a country.
Have you rented a car in the UK?
Have any additional tips to help a fellow traveller out?
If so, please pop them into the comments below and help share the budget travel love!