8 essential rental car tips to get the best deal (2024)

rental car tips

This is a guide filled with rental car tips for a safe and scam-free trip!

Renting a car online is one of the most frustrating and anxiety-inducing things to do when you’re planning a trip. It’s a ridiculous hassle and a chaotic mess of insurances, options, fuel policies and fees that can drive you crazy.

The best way to avoid bad surprises is by booking your rental car online now with Booking.com.

If you need help to do so, check this complete guide on how to book your rental car.

Renting a car is a low margin business. Most of the car rental companies profit comes from the desperate upsell of all kinds of expensive extras, insurances, and upgrades to your rental.

So here are 8 rental car tips & hacks for your Spain road trip. They’ll surely prove helpful to avoid these traps and to save you some time and money.

Follow these basic rental car tips

  • Verify that you can drive with your driving permit in Spain. Or carry with you an international driver’s licence.
  • Don’t forget to bookmark the reservation confirmation email, print it, or write down the booking number.
  • If you plan to stick to the main highways and bigger cities, then renting a big car is fine. But if you plan to venture into the smaller villages and really explore Spain, then don’t hire a big car!
  • Read the insurance conditions and don’t be shy to spend a bit more on an additional coverage if you plan to drive a lot.

Decide if you want a car with automatic transmission

When considering your car rental options, don’t assume that most Spanish rental cars have automatic transmissions.

In fact, most of the rental cars in Spain are stick shifts. Because of this, sometimes it’s actually difficult to book an automatic transmission rental.

If you only know how to drive an automatic, I’m afraid that automatic rental cars are more expensive than stick shifts. Most rental cars in Europe have manual transmissions. So, assume nothing!

Avoid renting a car with limited mileage

Some rental car companies set a cap on how many kilometers you can travel per day. This is more common with some smaller, local companies throughout Europe, so be sure to read the fine print.

Inform the car rental company of a potential late pick up

If you plan to rent a car at the airport, for example, be sure to give your flight number and scheduled arrival time. If the flight is delayed, your car rental reservation will be preserved.

If you’re not collecting from an airport, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the depot and always inform them of any delays.

Rent a car with air conditioning

Make sure the car has air conditioning. It would be really odd if a car rental in Spain offers you a car without air conditioning. But confirm it, just in case.

Once you verify this, check out that the engine is powerful enough to cope with some decent speed and the air conditioning. I once rented a car I had to drive at 80km/h (50 mi/h) on the highway because the poor thing couldn’t handle going uphill.

Check the car rental’s fuel policy

The 3 most common fuel policies that car rental companies use are:

  • Full to full: You pick the car up with a full tank of fuel and then return it with a full tank of fuel (most frequent).
  • Pre-purchase: You pay for the initial fuel tank ahead of time and then return it with however much is left in the tank (try and aim for empty though).
  • Free fuel: You get a free tank of fuel (very rare).

Double check the fine print to see which fuel policy your car rental company uses because if you don’t, you’re going to end up paying an extra charge:

  • Fail to fill up to full after you’ve agreed that you will, you’re going to be charged a fee and a premium for the rental company to fill it up again.
  • Fill it up to the top and drop it off with half a tank left, there’s no way that you’re going to get the difference refunded.

Check your fuel policy in the fine print and save yourself some cash.

Again, if the car rental company’s fuel policy is pre-purchase, try to specify that you don’t want a full tank by the time you pick up your vehicle. The company will charge you a fortune for this gasoline.

Check the car thoroughly when picking it up

Before leaving the car rental office car park, always make a thorough inspection and take photos and videos of the vehicle.

  • Take photos and videos of absolutely everything you notice when walking around the car (and inside!).
    • Check all the exterior of the car for dents and scratches, including the back of the mirrors.
    • Don’t forget to check the roof! It’s often forgotten, but the staff will check it when you return the car.
    • Look under the bumper.
    • Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels).
    • Inspect the interior for any damage.
  • You should check the tires visually to make sure that there is no uneven tread that is significant in indicating a problem with the car. Also, check if the tires are inflated properly.
  • Have a close look at the spare tire by looking for it in the trunk to see if it’s inflated properly. You should also check if the lug wrench and jack are in the trunk in case you need to change the tires. It’s common for tools to have disappeared from rental cars.
  • Ideally, you should also open the hood to check on the fluid levels. Knowing how to check the antifreeze, oil, and washer fluid will be ideal. If not, you can call in for a quick visual inspection to see if things are in order under the hood. If it’s dark, the headlamps you brought along will come in handy here.
  • Check the mandatory equipment is in the car. In Spain, the following pieces of equipment must be available in the car:
    • 2 warning triangles.
    • Reflective vest or jacket.
  • If you notice something that has not been reported in your contract, tell the staff immediately. Point out to the staff any scratch or imperfection you notice on the outside and inside of the car, no matter how trivial it may look. This can come in handy if they later decide to charge with you some damage fees (happened to me in Ibiza!).
  • Once inside the car, turn it on, and let it warm up as you check the gas gauge to see if it reads full. Use this time to adjust the temperature controls.
  • Get familiarized with the car. Do this by adjusting the mirrors and seat. See if the window controls are working properly and if the hazard lights turn on or not. See if the headlights, turn signals, and windshield wipers are all in proper condition.
  • If you feel ready, you can take the car for a quick spin, not too far, just around the block, making some turns, braking, and listening. This way, you’ll be able to identify if there’s any problem with the car’s brakes or if any strange noises are coming from the vehicle. It’s better to be able to identify these issues beforehand rather than getting any nasty surprises while you are on the road.

Check it again when returning it

In similar fashion, before you return the rental car, take a slow walk around the vehicle and take note of any scratch, mark, bump or knock. Check there is no damage to the wheels, make sure the spare wheel is also there and inflated, and record the mileage and the fuel tank level.

You should also photograph the car. Take photos of each panel, the wheels, the mileage and the fuel tank level.

I once did a road trip around Ibiza and when returning the car, the rental car company charged customers for damage I didn’t commit. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any proof that it wasn’t my fault. I learnt the lesson the hard way…

That’s why it’s crucial you have as much evidence as possible. Following this rental car tips could save you from having to pay for any damage you weren’t responsible for.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Best way to travel across Spain: road trip or train?
2. Full guide on traveling to Spain by car
3. 10 epic Spain road trips to do on your own
4. How to book your rental car online
5. How to find cheap car rental rates?
6. 8 essential rental car tips to get the best deal
7. Drive in Spain with an international driver’s licence
8. Guide for getting around Spain: rental car
9. 6 essential tips for driving in Spain
10. Guide to car parking in Spain: tips, costs, and regulations

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