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Why you need to read the fine print before hiring a car

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Before COVID-19, Australia's $1 billion car hire industry was in a period of growth as increased travel and positive business confidence encouraged demand. And according to researcher IBISWorld, consumers had become savvier in booking hire cars online, meaning there was increased price competition.

With borders and businesses slowly reopening, car hire is again becoming a viable choice of transport.

Of course, car hire doesn't have to be just for holidays or business. Vans, utilities and small trucks are often hired to assist in moving house, waste disposal or renovation work around the home, for example.

what to check when hiring a car

So before you take the leap and decide to hire a car, there are several things you need to know or ask your car hire company. Here are a few:

- Car hire companies generally require drivers aged 21 and over to have a full driver's licence. If you're aged between 21 and 25 you're likely to pay a premium on top of the regular daily rate.

- Prices aren't fixed. What you're charged to hire a hatchback in mid-January will likely be different from what you're charged in mid-May. And prices will vary from company to company, as well as location - for example, you may have to pay a premium for airport pick-up and delivery.

- Membership discounts. Your insurer, super fund, union and credit card provider may provide discounts when it comes to car hire. If it's not obvious on the car hire company's website, ask which discounts and promotions they're offering.

- Negotiate on insurance. While it's convenient to accept the original insurance offer from your car hire company, you might find a cheaper deal elsewhere through a third-party insurer. Or you might already be covered by your travel insurance or credit card. Alternatively, there's no harm in asking for a discount. Over the 2019 Christmas break I travelled interstate and, after rejecting the original insurance offer from the company, I was able to negotiate a 20% discount. It must be said, though, it's always important to read the fine print of your insurance policy - or at least ask your car hire company what is covered. On a trip to New Zealand a few years ago the GPS that came with our hire car blew the cigarette lighter/power socket - luckily this was covered. However, we had to pay the excess when an oncoming tractor flung a rock across our windscreen and cracked it. Also, one of the common "hidden" fees is applied when you reduce your excess.

- A question I always ask is how many kilometres you're allowed to travel during your hire period. Most of the time it's unlimited but it's always good to double-check.

- Book early. If you want a specific model or vehicle size, it's best to book as soon as you can, especially at peak times.

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Darren Snyder was the managing editor of Money magazine from March 2019 to November 2020. Prior to that he was editor of Financial Standard.
Comments
david taylor
November 12, 2020 11.59am

Another safeguard when hiring a car that is easy to do, is to use your mobile phone camera to 'walk around' video the car in the presence of the person signing over the car to you (this date stamps the video). Then in your own time before driving off take a close up photo of each panel, the windscreen and also the tyres! If there is any dispute over damage when returning the car (particularly windscreen chips and tyre cuts) then you will have some photographic evidence if they were already there at rental pick-up

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