The fine art of Spanish car hire

Anyone who visits Galicia is unlikely to be collected from the airport in the tourist busses commonplace in the south or east, and whisked away to their hotel for a week long stay. To see Galicia properly you will need to hire a vehicle, and car hire, with all of the associated extras can be very expensive.

When like us you're saving every available penny, and hoping that the pounds do an adequate job of looking after themselves, car hire is a necessary evil which can really hurt the pocket.  

As we've regularly hired cars abroad we already knew not to accept the cars offered by partners of budget airlines, and not to wait until we were in the arrivals hall hoping to get the best deal, both play on their convenience and mean that you pay over the odds.

In my experience there are three main things to consider;

Insurance

Whenever you hire a car the cost usually includes the most basic level of insurance. If you stick with this alone you'll probably have to hand over your credit card so that the company can swipe a refundable deposit (usually between 150 and 600 Euros depending on the level of car). Some take this as a payment and refund it, giving you issues with credit card cut-off dates and currency exchange fluctuations, and others just hold it without processing.

In addition to the basic mandatory insurance cover all hire car companies will try and get you to pay a Collision Damage Waver Excess (CDWE) insurance when you collect the car. This is usually in the range of £10 to £15 a day and can add a big chunk onto the overall hire cost. The advantage is that you don't need to leave a deposit and any damage is covered, you just hand back the keys.

Car parked pre-bump in Taramundi

A car we hired with CDWE insurance got side-swiped while parked up in Taramundi village with no note left or any idea who'd done it. On return we just handed over the keys with no problems, but it would have cost us our deposit if we hadn't had CDWE.

The second way is to get yourself trip or annual CDW Excess cover. We used insurance4carhire.com where we got an annual policy for the same price as a few days full cover, very useful if you are making multiple trips during a year. You still pay, and potentially lose your deposit, but claim it back from the insurer.

Car hire companies

These come in all shapes and sizes from your massive multi-nationals like Hertz and Europcar to the small single location independents. Rather than go direct to a single company you are almost always best using some of the car hire search engines to secure yourself the best deal.

We tend to go for a 'compact' or 'intermediate' car, avoiding the death-trap 'tin cans' like Ford Ka and Opel Corsa in favour of something with a bit more metal around you. The way that some Spanish can drive is akin to our 'boy racers' so it is worth giving yourself as much chance as possible should the unthinkable happen. Try the comparison sites like; moneysupermarket.com, holidayautos.co.uk, or comparecarhire.co.uk. Five minutes spent on a trawl could save tens of pounds a day.

Booking as early as you can seems to be the trick as prices rise the closer you get to departure date. It may also be cheaper to hire in Euros than Sterling, but keep an eye on exchange rates and factor in any credit card fees.

Getting and using the car

The pick-up is the crucial time. Make sure that any damage is marked on the pick-up schematic (unless you are using full CDW Excess insurance in which case...who cares?). On several occasions we've picked up cars which had clear damage, not marked on the schematics, and which would have cost us when we returned the car. What I usually do is photograph the damage and go back to the hire booth and ask them to mark on the schematic.

Not declared at pick-up

Also, check that the car has a full tank of fuel (we got two junctions down the motorway once before I realised we'd signed for a full tank and only got a half). Make sure that there is enough tread on the tyres (it is your responsibility).

Full tank at collection?

I know what it is like having just arrived and wanting to get on the road as soon as you can, but five minutes checking at pick up could save you hours of aggravation or a lot of money somewhere down the line.

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