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Once you have the best price, we have our 13 essential tips to avoid being ripped off or seriously out-of-pocket when renting a car in Spain.
Avoid the problems and pitfalls by being aware of what can (and often does) go wrong in Spain where customer service is frequently non-existent!
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13 Essential Tips When Hiring a Car in Spain
Before you book car hire in Spain please read this car hire guide based on our years of experience renting and hiring cars in Spain.
It is an unfortunate fact that hiring a car can be a minefield of potential problems and pitfalls that you may not see coming.
In this article we highlight some of the things that can go wrong when you rent a car in Spain – believe us when we say that we have seen some real horror stories!
We hope that being aware of these potential problems will help you avoid them in the first place.
Some of our tips and advice will also relate to help you to find the cheapest car hire deals on the market so we also include a number of money-saving tips to help you get you the cheapest deals on car rental.
What Is Included and What Isn’t!
You can come across some car hire rates and deals that look very cheap but when you look at the detail you find that the Spanish car hire companies don’t include unlimited mileage, local taxes or comprehensive car hire insurances.
When you hire a car in Spain you may not be doing much driving in which case unlimited mileage may be unnecessary but insurances are essential and does increase the car hire cost in Spain markedly. We usually found these cheap looking car hire prices were really not so cheap after all and could be regarded as a pretty underhand and misleading tactic.
All car hire companies are obliged by law to hire a car that is roadworthy so they will all include the obligatory third-party insurance (responsabilidad civil obligatoria or seguro obligatorio) that is required is Spain but that is a very basic type of insurance, see our article on insuring a car in Spain.
Essentially the third-party insurance will only insure the other car and passenger that you are involved in an accident with.
It may sound obvious but DO check that the cheap price you have found for your car hire in Spain applies to car hire with air-conditioning.
Most rentals will now have air conditioning as standard but this is not always the case so do check!
Temperatures in the summer in Spain will mostly be above 30 degrees Celsius, sometimes over 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
We are often asked if it is cheaper to book car hire at the last minute. The short answer is no!
In actual fact it is likely to be more expensive if you book at the last minute as quite often there will be a shortage of cars and the price would have been increased by the rental companies.
Due to the economic recession many Spanish car hire companies have been slashing costs and holding less stock of rental cars, especially as they have been having problems with leasing cars and obtaining finance from the banks.
It means there are less rental cars available in Spain yet tourist numbers remain high especially in peak summer months of July and August.
Don’t just arrive at the airport in Spain without a definite reservation. When you find the car hire desks they are invariably busy and chaotic with long queues and stressed staff.
It is much better to already have reserved your car hire so you have a reservation with a reference number so at least you know they will have a car ready and waiting.
At least if the Spanish car hire company doesn’t have your requested make and model that you booked they will have to upgrade you to a better model of car hire for free.
Don’t Penny Pinch Like Me!
Some of the models for car hire in Spain differ from those in Northern Europe. We had an experience where the boot of the car was far smaller than the same model of car we owned in England and we were not able to fit all our luggage in the back. It was pretty embarrassing going back to the car rental desk at the airport where another massive queue had formed.
Do consider the large amounts of luggage you will have on your holiday in Spain and maybe go for the next size of car hire up and just treat yourself rather than traveling round squashed in a small car like a sardine! The price difference between different models and car groups is usually surprisingly small.
If you are trying to save money and get the best deal for the car hire then try stick to the car group that will fit you and all your luggage in, as opposed to some of the options for slightly flashier, luxury models that are just an ego boost rather than a practical need.
When we did our price comparison for Calahonda ( a development on the Costa del Sol) we got the basic price of £63 the week. Now granted that was a very small car, a Peugeot 107 or similar, but it does fit 4 people and two suitcases.
Now let’s look at the price for hiring something like a 4×4, SUV, people carrier or luxury vehicles such as a convertible sports car – would you believe that we were quoted a price of £852 for a BMW 3 series Cabriolet!
That is some difference!
When you hire a car in Spain you can usually hire a car seat for children (booster seat) for about an extra €5 a day. Not only can this add-up, it can happen that the message doesn’t reach the local car hire office in Spain.
Often when you make a booking the car seat is added on as a ‘request’ and you arrive at the airport to find they haven’t got any child seats left.
It can often be a no-hassle option to take your own car seat rather than getting angry when after a stressful flight all you want is to do is get your car hire and go. You simply check-it in at the airport with your luggage so it isn’t really much trouble to do this.
When you get to your car hire pick-up point in Spain you must check that everything matches your voucher. When you booked your car over the internet or at a travel agent, you may have requested certain extras such as adding extra drivers and maybe the message didn’t get through. Even check you are getting the right type of car you asked for!
Do all of this before you sign all the paperwork. Make sure you take any print-outs you have so if there are any problems in Spain at the car hire office you have it all in writing.
If you have specified a certain size of car and you are not given this then you are entitled to a refund as the car hire company are legally obliged to actually provide this to you. Often they try palm you off with an inferior car because they have a shortage.
Beware also of the staff trying to sell you extras and upgrades purely to earn extra commissions. Mostly this tactic is to try to persuade you to upgrade to a higher car group. Sometimes they do this because they haven’t got your requested car in stock, so stay firm and demand the car that you have booked.
When you arrive in Spain you often tired after your flight and journey and you naturally just want to get on your way and arrive at your destination but it is worth taking the time to carefully inspect your hire car for damage.
When you sign your contract you are agreeing to be responsible for any damage to the car and you have at risk a potentially very large excess premium.
It is likely that the car already has a number of bumps and scrapes from previous customers who have had accidents or minor collisions. Just make sure any imperfections such as scratches are noted on your rental agreement form so that they do not try to charge you for the damage that someone else has previously caused.
When booking car hire in Spain make sure you opt to take a diesel car as it will be much cheaper to run compared to unleaded petrol as diesel is far cheaper.
The cost of a litre of diesel in Spain in the Costa Blanca region is currently €1.41 a litre (* as of July 2012) as compared to the UK price of £1.37 a litre.
Doing a currency conversion this would be the equivalent of £1.13 so on that basis we can say that diesel is about 20% cheaper in Spain than in the United Kingdom.
For current prices see our dedicated page on the price of fuel/diesel in Spain.
Insurance & Excesses
Most Spanish car hire insurance policies have an excess which means you promise to pay a set amount (say it is €500) if you have an accident and the car hire company cover the rest of the cost of repair. Be aware of how much the car hire excess is because sometimes they can be very high in Spain.
When you are at the car hire office in Spain you may want to consider paying a fairly small extra premium to make sure you are not liable for anything or at least lower the excess, especially as when you are driving in Spain you may not always fully understand the local Spanish road rules.
This type of insurance is known as collision damage waiver or CDW for short. You can even take out this policy over the Internet before your arrival in Spain, you don’t have to take it out with the hire car company that you have booked your car with.
For more info we have a page on car hire insurance in Spain.
How To Get The Cheapest Car Hire Price
Many people are obsessed with saving a very small amount of money when they come to hire a car. Some people will spend virtually all day searching the Internet and phoning car hire companies only to save £5-£10!
Sure, we understand that spending a few minutes of your time to get the best deal is worthwhile but don’t spend hours on this. It can be extremely stressful and the longer you search the more confused you tend to become.
It is often difficult to ascertain whether you are actually comparing like-for-like because many car hire companies include certain items such as unlimited mileage when others don’t.
Our best tip and advice for getting the lowest and cheapest price for car hire in Spain is to use the search engine above which actually compares over 500 different companies. These range from multinational brand names such as Alamo and Hertz to all the major car hire companies in Spain such as Sol Mar, Europa and Gold Cars. Using your unique information such as the dates and the type of make and model you require, you can get a quote in just seconds.
If you are aged under 25 then you are going to have difficulty getting competitive quotes for car hire because the insurance companies in Spain are loath to insure young drivers due to the risks involved.
If you are aged under 25 try put someone older down as the main driver and add yourself on as an additional driver which usually only costs around £50 per week.
Fuel – Empty Tank or Full?
Most people book car hire in Spain without considering whether the car you are renting will have a full tank of fuel or will be given to you almost on empty – so why is this an important consideration?
This is yet another scam and way the Spanish car hire companies will make additional money out of you if you’re not careful.
Most companies will now give you a car which is full of either unleaded or diesel and ask you to return it empty. The problem with this is that often you are charged for a tank of petrol at a much higher rate than you could find yourself from filling up at one of the local petrol stations.
To add insult to injury it is likely that you will return the car with quite a lot of fuel left. Unless you plan on doing a lot of driving it can be difficult to use a whole tank if you are just staying a week or less.
Added to this is the stress of trying to leave the car as empty as possible without running out just before you get back to the car rental depot!
Try finding a rental company who allow you to pick up the car full and return it full. In this way you are in control and you can fill up wherever you like.
Make sure that you do fill up the tank near the airport so that you are not charged a surcharge by the rental company for leaving the tank slightly under full.
Insurances & Extras
The biggest issue and potential problem with renting a car in Spain relates to insurance. We often receive e-mails from people who are stressed and worried about whether their car hire booking includes adequate insurance or not.
People are confused about whether they need to purchase additional insurance. They worry that they will arrive at the car rental desk in Spain only to be sold a lot of unnecessary extra premiums.
In tip number one we covered the fact that your car hire quote will always include the minimal third-party insurance which is obligatory in Spain. In tip number nine we covered the fact that you will be responsible for paying the excess should you damage your rental car and we said that you could pay a small additional premium if you wanted this to be covered.
Now we will explain some of the other types of additional insurances that you might want to take out. If you don’t want to take these then do not give in to pressure from the sales staff who are usually paid extra commissions for the more extras they sell you. At least if you are aware of the types of insurance you can make your own decision as to what level of coverage and risks you are comfortable with.
Generally it is true to say that the insurance that comes with your hire car is aimed at protected the vehicle that you are renting as this is the asset of the car hire company and of course they wish to protect this.
They also wish to protect themselves against potentially expensive medical and injury claims should you injure another person, known as a third-party.
What is probably not included is any insurance for any injury or medical claims should you yourself be injured or even killed. This really isn’t a consideration from the car hire companies perspective so this is something for you to consider in terms of taking out extra insurance for yourself through a life insurance policy or a travel insurance policy.
You will also find that most car rental agreements do not include items such as damage to the tyres or windscreen. In some extreme cases the theft of the car itself is also not included, neither are costs for replacing lost keys which can easily happen if you are robbed or you lose them somewhere.
Car Hire Insurance Explained
CDW – Collision damage waiver. This is the insurance that protects the excess that typically comes with a car rental agreement. In Spain expect an excess of at least €500 and often nearer €1000. Clearly this is a lot to lose should you be involved in a collision or accident which may not even be your fault.
TW – Theft waiver. This is an additional theft protection insurance that protects against the theft of your hire car.
SCDW – Super collision damage waiver (SCDW) – This insurance covers elements of the car that the standard insurance included in your quote does not cover you for such as the tyres, roof and windscreen.
PI – Personal insurance. This insures you against the costs if you accidentally kill or injure yourself or one of your passengers.
PEC – Personal effects cover. This insurance covers the contents inside the car such as luggage, cameras, laptops, i-pods etc which are often left in the car when you’re stopping at places en route.
In conclusion we would say do not get overly stressed about the subject of insurance and your car hire in Spain. The quote you will have received would at least include the basic insurance required on the roads in Spain.
You may well rent your car and have a fantastic holiday and hand your car in without anything going wrong but if you are concerned about the risks of driving in Spain and the potential for theft and burglary then by all means take out these additional insurances.
Remember that you can take out policies over the Internet rather than paying at the car hire desk where you would inevitably pay more than if you organise them yourself in advance.