How to hire a car abroad

Family in car

Hiring a car is an essential part of many family holidays. But changes that came into effect in 2015 could mean you turn up with both parts of your driving licence and all your booking docs, but find you're unable to drive away. Make sure you're prepared with all the info you need before setting off.

The DVLA have scrapped the paper counterpart of UK driving licences. However, this holds all the information about your driving history and past offences, so presenting it has always been essential when hiring a car overseas.

If you want to hire a car, you'll need to…

  • Log on to the DVLA website the day before travel and input your driving licence and National Insurance number. This will give you a one-off passcode which you then give to the hire company for them to check your records on a central database.
  • This code is valid for 21 days, so you should be able to organise this before you go on holiday. However, if you're away for more than three weeks and not hiring a car immediately, you'll need to use your smart phone (and pay roaming charges) or find an internet cafe/hotel business centre to login while you're away and retrieve the code.
  • You can also download and print out a PDF of your driving history. Whether rental companies will accept this instead of the code, however, remains to be seen.
  • There will be a premium rate telephone line for hire companies to use to check records, but there are no guarantees that hire companies will be willing to make this call or indeed if they can get through.
  • Try to cover all eventualities: speak to your hire company before you go, retrieve your code 72 hours before, print out the PDF and remember to take your national insurance number with you too.

Other things to bear in mind when hiring a car

  • “Look carefully at the petrol purchase options, compare prices and choose the one that suits you. Some ask you to return the car with a full tank, some ask you to pay for fuel at the time of hiring and return it empty. Depends on their policy, just make sure you know what they want you to do. Usually, full to full is the most cost-effective option."
  • “When you pick up the car take photos of any and all damage. Make sure they mark it down on their records so you can't get stung for damage when you return it (take photos on return too)."
  • “The standard insurance usually has a massive excess of up to £2,000 so if any damage occurs you could be seriously hit for costs. They then try to sell you their own (expensive) daily excess waiver insurance on top of the rental charge. To avoid this you can buy your own stand-alone excess waiver policy before you go. With this, you will pay significantly less per day." Mumsnetters recommend both Insurance4CarHire and Questor.
  • “Make sure you have room on your credit card to cover the maximum excess (even if you have your own policy) as they 'block' your card for this amount until the car is returned. They don't charge your account at all, just hold it in case they need to deduct the charge if there is damage, but it does mean you can't use that element of your credit for your holiday. So you might want to bump up your credit limit before you go."
  • “Consider taking car seats for the kids. Most airlines allow them to travel for free in the hold (the seats, not the children!) and you'll at least be confident of the history of the seat and crucially know how it fits in a car. I would bring a roll of parcel tape and a bin bag with you to wrap it up a bit as they do get tossed around and could get wet when moving between the terminal and the plane."
  • “At busy holiday airports, give yourself plenty of time to check your car back in, wait for a transfer to the airport and make your flight check-in time. On average, plan for a minimum of 30 minutes, depending on how far the hire place is from the terminal and the frequency of shuttle buses or if you can walk."