Cars can be a great way to get around when travelling (but aren't always), and, unless you’re travelling directly from your home, you will probably want to hire a car at your destination if a car is your chosen method of local transport.
When you hire a car there is always the chance that it will be damaged while you are responsible for it. The car-hire company will charge you for any damage that happens to the hire car while you have it, and dealing with damage to a hire car could be unpleasant, expensive, and time consuming, so it’s definitely best avoided. You will probably keep all this in mind while you are driving around – but sometimes things happen that you just can’t control.
Surprisingly, my experience is that car hire companies don’t care much about minor damage to their cars. When I return a hire car the person receiving it usually gives it a quick look over lasting no more than a minute or two – if there’s no obvious gross damage that’s usually it. However, you can’t count on this – I’ve heard stories of hire companies finding (or saying they find) damage subsequently and charging the hirer’s credit card for it; if you actually read the fine print of the terms and conditions of your hire contract you will find that you have given them permission to do this.
I’ve certainly managed to avoid chargeable damage to the many cars that I’ve hired, but I’ve had my minor scrapes and scratches. Mostly, they have been scraping the underside of the spoiler when entering or leaving driveways, or opening a door into an adjacent wall or post. The most serious damage I’ve incurred was hitting a very nasty pothole on a freeway in Pennsylvania, USA, damaging the wheel rim, and popping off the wheel trim. Fortunately I was able to find and recover the wheel trim before someone else ran over it, and I got the wheel repaired myself, so it wasn’t too much hassle. Here’s the nasty pothole:
Of course, damage to your hire car is not always under your control – someone else can always run into you hire car and you may not be able to avoid it, especially when you are away from the car.
You are unlikely to get a brand-new car when you hire a car (although, it happened to me recently) and chances are that a previous hirer has done some damage to the car before you get it. You will have to pay for any damage that occurs to your hire car while you have it, so you need to know what damage is already there to separate it from any damage that you do.
When you collect a hire car the company usually gives you a ‘map’ of the exterior of the car showing any existing damage, so that you, and they, can be sure of any new damage that has occurred during your hire. The map will look something like this one:
You should check the car against the map yourself to make sure there is no damage that isn’t recorded. Don’t forget to check the windscreen carefully as windscreen damage is hard to see.
Don’t forget to check the interior of the car, too. Look for tears and stains on the seats, and damage to the door linings, as damage to these areas is easy to miss, and commonly isn’t noticed by the hire company staff.
Tell the hire company if you find any unrecorded damage, so they can add it to the paperwork.
It’s a good idea to supplement your inspection with a quick round of photographs of the car before you take it away.
Photographs may be a better record of the state of the car than the map, as both you and the hire company may have missed some damage.
Photographs are easy and quick to get, and will assist you in proving that any damage was there at the beginning of your hire, and may alleviate your worries if you find previously unnoticed damage later on.
Here’s an example of the latter: I collected a hire car after flying into Southampton airport in southern England. The flight was late, and we were booked onto a ferry to the Isle of Wight, which was departing shortly. We threw everything into the car and I raced around and got a quick set of photos and off we went. We made the ferry, and drove across the Isle of Wight, banging along on its potholed roads. When I started unloading at our accommodation at Sandown I noticed a wheel trim was missing! My first thought was that I had probably lost it on a pothole somewhere (as I had done recently on a freeway in Pennsylvania; I was lucky to get that one back before someone drove over it!)
I was concerned that I would be charged hundreds of pounds to replace the wheel trim (hundreds of pounds for a wheel trim? Well, this was England!) Certainly, it wasn’t noted on the damage map in the paperwork. Should I drive back and try the impossible task of finding it? Instead I checked my photos, which included this one:
The wheel trim was missing when I collected the car, and I overlooked it in my great rush to get going!
While your hire car will be insured by the car-hire company that owns it, the insurance won’t cover all of the cost of the repair. You will have to contribute to the cost of repairing any damage that happens while you are responsible for the hire car.
You can find out more about insurance for hire cars, and how you can minimise your contribution to any repair cost in another article, here.
I’ve based this commentary on my personal experiences, circumstances, and impressions, and my limited research on dealing with possible damage to a hire car – it isn’t the result of an exhaustive study about possible damage to a hire car. It may not apply to you, or your circumstances.
Over time, the things that I say here may become out of date, and, while I’ll correct anything I know is wrong, I’m not going to be excessively conscientious about ensuring that it is current. So, treat this commentary as a great place to start, but do your own research and confirm everything that you read here before deciding to hire a car!
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