Ways to save on car rentals
Planning another roadtrip this summer? Don't jump straight into hiring a car, camper or motorhome without poking around under the bonnet first.
Research agency Canstar Blue has just released a hire car consumer satisfaction survey, based on the responses of 360 recent customers. The company that came out on top was the appropriately named Apex, with an overall satisfaction score of five, followed by Thrifty with four out of five stars.
But the survey tells us a whole lot more than that. Whichever company you choose, there are steps you can take to save a lot of money and potential headaches.
Here we've gleaned seven top tips for getting the most mileage out of each dollar spent.
1. READ THE PAPERWORK
It's no wonder some people get tripped up by nasty surprises when they come to return the car or check their credit card statement.
Fewer than six in 10 of those surveyed bothered to properly read the terms and conditions, with men aged over 45 particularly bad at fishing out their reading glasses.
Almost 80 per cent thoroughly checked the vehicle condition report, which is somewhat better.
And this time it's the younger generation letting the side down, with only 65 per cent of 18-29-year-olds making the effort.
It's also Gen Y that keeps getting pinged with extra charges: more than a third of those surveyed have been caught out. There are all sorts of conditions around cleanliness, equipment hire, extra days, extra drivers, distance travelled and petrol.
Canstar New Zealand general manager Derek Bonnar says you need to allow time to fill up the car with fuel when returning it, for example.
"Hire car company refuelling charges are generally considerably higher than the going rate for petrol."
2. DRIVE CAREFULLY
This seems so obvious that it's not worth mentioning, but some people are apparently not getting the message.
A staggering one in three Gen Y respondents admitted to driving hire cars with less care than their own precious ride - which was six times the rate of the sedate Baby Boomers.
So it's probably no surprise that Gen Y also managed to crash or dent hire cars six times as often as the oldies. Way to break down those boy racer stereotypes, guys.
For the record, men and women overall were equally good (or bad) at driving, with an 11 per cent crash rate.
3. WEIGH UP INSURANCE
Hire cars usually come with full insurance, but the excess you have to pay in the event of a claim is painful: typically around $3000.
You can choose to pay an extra charge each day to reduce that to a few hundred bucks, but weigh it up carefully. Based on the evidence in point number 2, careless drivers should definitely do so. But if you've never had a crash and you're a nana behind the wheel, it's probably not worth it.
One colleague who recently rented an Avis car ended up paying an extra 50 per cent in insurance charges on top of the daily hire rate. When he returned the car he still had to pay a $300 excess for a minor graze on the door he hadn't even noticed.
In a way, you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Personally, I'd take my chances. But if you can't handle the risk of getting nailed for several thousand dollars, think about coughing up for the extra insurance.
4. LOYALTY PROGRAMMES
"Even if you only hire cars every once in a while, make sure you join the frequent customer programme," says Bonnar.
Only 22 per cent of those surveyed did so, even though they're free to join and can score you free upgrades and faster bookings.
Hertz' Gold Plus Rewards, for example, offers one rewards point for each equivalent US dollar (NZ$1.22) spent.
Leaving aside the bizarre choice of currency, it's a good idea to sign up. You can spend the points on free hires once they accumulate, and they won't expire as long as you're renting once every two years.
A word of warning: don't let your loyalty scheme with any one company stop you from hunting out the best deal in the market, says Bonnar.
5. COMPARE PRICES ONLINE
This is another no-brainer, and yet 16 per cent of those surveyed still book a car without even having a look around online to see what's available.
Surprisingly, the 18-29-year-olds are lagging again here.
There's a plethora of online price comparison websites which make the process simple, like Expedia or the easy-to-remember onomatopoeic VroomVroomVroom.
6. RENTAL RELOCATIONS
If you're really on the ball, you could even snag a trip for free.
Most car companies offer discounted or free one-way relocation trips to help get their fleet back to the main centres. Often they're willing to throw in sweeteners like a free tank of gas to help enlist drivers, so everybody wins.
Again, there are aggregator websites like iMoova, TransferCar and DriveNow, which lay out all the rides on offer.
7. AVOID AIRPORTS
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed usually hire cars from airports compared to other locations.
There is a cost to that convenience, says Bonnar. Most hire car companies charge a non-negotiable surcharge for picking up from the airport or ferry terminal. For example, Hertz' is roughly $50. Think about taking a bus ride into the city and picking up a car from the depot there, instead.
"If you're serious about reducing the amount you spend on car hire, you'll need to make a trade-off between convenience and price," says Bonnar.
TO RECAP: Before you put the pedal to metal on your next roadtrip, make sure you've read all that pesky paperwork and know exactly what you've signed up for.