Car hire can seem a little bewildering, particularly if you’re a first timer.

With so many car hire companies, websites and rates on offer; it’s hard to know who will offer the best rental experience.

Here are 8 tips to maximise your car hire, first time and beyond:

1.  Compare and save

Though your first instinct may be to Google the companies you know, a general search for car hire and the location you’re after is likely to present some great comparison sites.

These sites provide a combined look at the rental rates of big car hire players. Broker sites like Webcarhire will even go to the next level, displaying the deals negotiated just for you as well as rates from small but reputable car hire companies.

2. Expect a car in the ‘class’ or ‘group’ you’ve booked

People are often confused about the car they’re actually reserving for hire.

If you read the terms and conditions, you will see the words “or similar”.

This is because car hire companies will guarantee a ‘class’ or ‘group’ of cars, not the make or colour. That is, cars are grouped in size and features (like air conditioning) and this is what you’re actually booking.

3. Choose a hire car based on your needs

Though the idea of hiring your dream car can be a fun one, you’re actually best to look for a car that suits your needs – and wallet.

Luxurious and bigger cars tend to cost more, while small cars are not only cheaper to hire but also boast better fuel economy.

Consider the use of the car you need and base your search on this.

4.  Consider older cars for hire

Some independent car hire companies, like some of our New Zealand suppliers, stock cars older than the industry’s average (most car hire companies replace vehicles when they hit 12 to 18 months in age).

Though older cars carry a few more miles, you are guaranteed the same reliability – usually at a lower cost.

5. Keep pick up and drop off times at similar hours

Car hire is charged in 24 hour periods. This means if you hire a car to pick up on Thursday at 6pm, and return on Saturday at 9am you can expect the total charge to be for 2 days car hire, not 1 ½ days as you may like to think.

Stick to similar hours for pick up and drop off, with variation of no more than 1 hour.

6. Beware of airport surcharges

Car hire companies who operate in airport terminals pay for the privilege to be there – and this is reflected in your rental rate.

Certainly there is a distinct convenience in picking up a vehicle directly at the airport. Just make sure these benefits outweigh the additional cost listed in the quote.

7. Research car hire insurance before you reach the counter

Relying on over the counter insurance limits your chances of securing the best (and cheapest) cover.

Thorough research before you pick up your vehicle is likely to help you find zero excess insurance at a great price. When comparing insurance packages, be sure to read their Product Disclosure Statements.

8. Read the terms and conditions carefully

This will help you avoid any nasty surprises like mileage limits and licence requirements or anything else which could mean an extra charge.

The terms and conditions are made available for you to read prior to reserving your vehicle, so make sure you read them carefully before you push ‘Book now’.

Webcarhire offers cheap car hire and zero excess travel insurance around the world.

Image credits @sxc

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