If I am wanting to hire a car, rather than check through lots of different car hire sites, I go to Auto Europe to research the deals on offer. I have used Auto Europe in several countries in Europe, and also in the USA and South Africa, and have been pleased with the service they provide.
Car Hire Excess Insurance – I used to pay a little more for a ‘fully refundable excess’ when hiring a car. However in many countries including Spain and Italy, this will not cover for tyres, windows, under-car damage, etc.
In order to have a true fully refundable excess including all these aspects, I now take out insurance with carhireexcess.com. This costs about £2.50 a day in Europe or about £40 for a year, but can give peace of mind when driving in an unfamiliar country. World cover costs about £4 a day or about £50 for a year.
Beware hiring a car from Goldcar in Spain! They attempted to rip me off with a false claim of damage to a car I hired from Alicante airport and I have heard of several attempts by that company to cheat people.
Driving in Europe
Fuel Prices – If visiting more than one country, it is well worth checking beforehand on fuel prices in countries you will be driving through. According to Fuel prices Europe you would currently pay about 20% less for unleaded petrol in Austria or Luxembourg compared with Belgium or Germany. And prices are often much less away from the main motorways.
Busy Roads – If you want to avoid the busiest traffic when travelling in Europe by car, then avoid the July-August school holiday period (something you can as a Senior!) and also try to travel at weekends as many countries have lorry bans in force, particularly on Sundays.
Motorway Tolls – Driving on toll roads can be expensive, particularly in France where you will pay about £10 for a 100 miles, so if possible plan your route through toll-free countries like Belgium and Germany, or one’s with relatively small fixed charges like Austria. The AA European Tolls site gives toll charges throughout Europe and Mappy allows you to cost your itinerary for both tolls and fuel. Of course as a Senior you may well have time enough to take more relaxed rural routes avoiding the toll roads.
Keep Right! – If you are not used to driving on the right (or the left), then tie a piece of ribbon on your steering wheel to remind you! (That tip is from William Croft, the author of Old Trails and Frontiers – Driving the American Southwest.)
Sat Navs – Whether you are driving your own or a hire car, a sat nav is really a necessity, but see Let the Sat Nav take the Strain for advice on sat navs and keeping them updated. Take your own if hiring rather than pay several pounds a day. Don’t forget to switch off your speed camera indication when in France, or face a heavy fine (see European Driving Rules).
Driving Elsewhere in the World
I’ve driven widely in the USA without any major problems. Many of the tips above apply including checking fuel prices, which can differ a lot from state to state.
Also be careful about driving on toll roads. Even when I’ve paid extra to a car hire company to cover for tolls, I’ve received charges afterwards as the extra charge did not cover all toll roads. This proved a particular problem in Miami area where there are several different toll operators.
I found driving in Australia and New Zealand again to be straightforward, although take care with speed limits which tend to be lower than in the UK and are well policed. I was caught once when just above the speed limit in New Zealand by a police car that was approaching me.
Bear in mind as well that fuel stations are often spaced far apart – don’t drop below half full.
If you are hiring a car to drive around New Zealand, it is often a lot cheaper to hire in the South Island and drop off to Auckland in the North Island. That’s because most people do it the other way round!