Recently, I’ve been away in the Algarve. If any of you have ever been to Portugal before, you can appreciate that although the country itself is small, it’s often the case that you need a car to get to where you want to go. So, upon arriving at the airport we got straight to our car rental desk (we’d booked in advance) and the process began. Fortunately for us, we’ve been through this rigmarole more than enough times – there are even a few tricks of the trade that I can pass on. So, without further ado:
- Firstly, I’d say it’s probably better to go for one of the lesser well known or less popular rental companies. This means of course ruling out Avis, Hertz etc. For example, in Portugal we always choose to rent from AutoJardim. They are a relatively small Portuguese rental company, renting mainly to Portuguese nationals and a few tourists, like us. As they aren’t as well known, they don’t get as much business, and thus the cars are more well maintained. They’re also usually much cheaper to rent from, so you’ll be saving money whilst driving a better quality car. Another bonus is that the queues to pick up the car aren’t often long, if at all existent, so you don’t have to waste any time standing around.
- Next, I recommend that you complain a lot – this really is the golden rule. Most of the times we’re picking up a rental, we don’t accept the first thing we’re given. Think about
it logically, and you’ll realise that the company will try to offload its older cars on you. In Portugal, we had specified that we wanted an Estate car, not too much to ask. We were then escorted out into the lot, to a 3 year old Ford Focus Estate that had clearly had its day. Not only was it beaten up from all angles, but the battery was flat. 1 car down. Fortunately, I’d spotted some new Kia Cee’d Estates on the lot, on the way to our first car, so we specified for one of those. It’s a pity that the one we were lead to hadn’t been cleaned properly, and there was grey hair on all of the headrests. 2 cars down. Finally, a clean, brand new Kia Cee’d was offered up to us. We stopped complaining, we’d got exactly what we wanted. Remember! The company cannot legally refuse you another car if you aren’t satisfied and the transaction has already been made, so keep on at them. They will have new cars stored as it is illegal for them to rent out cars that exceed a certain mileage, you just have to ask.
- In the event that you do complain, always angle for an upgrade. It’s surprising how easily they will give in sometimes, often in the hope that it will get rid of you. We were once given a free upgrade by AutoJardim from a Ford Focus to a brand new Ford Galaxy, that would have cost twice as much had we booked it in advance.
- When you’ve finally stopped complaining, take out your fine tooth comb, and before even starting the engine of your rental, go through every inch of the car looking for scratches, dents etc. The rental company are obliged to give you a document containing all of the details of each separate piece of damage done to the car, so check it thoroughly and alert the company should any damage that has already been done, go unnoticed. If you don’t do this, you can be subject to a fine and a repairs costs which will be taken out of your deposit (for a car in the Kia’s category, the deposit would be €2000) if any new damage is found upon the return of your car.
- Always purchase improved insurance from your rental company – it’s much easier to have an accident on foreign roads, so it’s better to be safe.
- Finally, you’ve got to remember that in most European countries, the steering wheel is positioned on the wrong side of the car, hence, you’ll have to operate a manual gearbox with your right hand as opposed to your left. This can be quite difficult to perfect if you don’t make the transition regularly, but you can always book an automatic car in advance if needs be.