When’s the best time to rent a car — before you travel or after you arrive at your destination?

Any travel agent worth his or her salt will always recommend that you book your car hire before you travel, rather than doing it locally — and with good reason! Take price for example: it is a little known fact that car rental prices work along similar principles to published air fares. That is to say that the nearer you get to your pick-up date the more expensive the rental is going to be. It’s the old rule of supply and demand. Another benefit of booking early which consumers rarely consider is the fact that you tend to get more choice when it comes to vehicle selection. But perhaps the most important reason for booking in advance and particularly with a large, reputable company is safety. Local operators may not always adhere to the highest maintenance standards. To illustrate this last point graphically, I am ashamed to admit that even I got caught out on this last point many years ago whilst holidaying in the Algarve in Portugal.

I had gone to Praia da Rocha for a week to join my family who were already holidaying there. While I would normally rent a car in advance, on this particular occasion I forgot to do so but figured I would have no problem once I arrived in resort. As it turned out, the local offices of National, Budget and Avis were completely sold out of rental vehicles so I was obliged to use the services of a local car hire vendor. Much to my surprise, they were able to offer me the option of renting an Opel Corsa convertible. I didn’t know that Opel did a corsa convertible. I had never driven a convertible before and as the price seemed reasonable and the weather ideal for driving, I signed on the dotted line. Much to my alarm, when I went to collect my ‘convertible’, I discovered that it had been modified from a normal hard top saloon by the questionable use of an angle grinder! Foolishly or otherwise, I still went ahead with the rental — probably breaking every law known to man and invalidating my travel insurance in the process. Suffice to say that my three-day rental proceeded without incident and I lived to tell the tale. To add insult to injury then, the car hire vendor then proceeded to debit my credit card after I had arrived back from holiday with an £80 charge for supposed ‘damage’ to one of the tyres on the car. This was back in the early nineties when I could probably have purchased the car itself for £80. Despite my best efforts to have the charge reversed, I ended up losing on that front as well with the result that not only did I end up renting a crap car but I also paid more than I would have, had I booked one in advance through a reputable source.

The moral of this story? Book your car hire with your travel agent before you travel and as far in advance as possible so you get to enjoy the most competitive rates; the optimal selection of vehicle and the guarantee that it will not have been modified by someone who has watched way too many episodes of Pimp my Ride!

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The art of getting a quote that is both competitive in price and relevant to your needs starts with gathering all the right information about what you want to do (or think you want to do!).