Car hire

How to deal with a car hire catastrophe

5 February 20186 min read

A close up shot of a broken car wing mirror after an accident

Millions of Brits hire a car abroad every year, and while most trips are relatively hassle-free, sometimes things do go wrong.

In those unfortunate circumstances it can be a lot less stressful if you know the best course of action, so if you’re caught in the middle of a car hire catastrophe, don’t panic! Here’s what to do next.

Check your policy in advance

Sifting through the ins and outs of your car hire policy might not be the dream start to a holiday. But before you employ the classic “I’m sure it will be fine!” technique, consider the headaches you could avoid by giving it a few minutes’ scrutiny.

When you arrive to pick up a car, look out for what your rental policy covers you for in the event of an accident. As part of your rental agreement, most reputable companies will include collision damage waiver (CDW), while third-party liability insurance is mandatory across Europe.

These two will cover basic damage to your car or another driver’s, but check the small print – things such as windscreens, roofs, wheels etc. are very often not covered. It also pays to ask what the process is in the event of an accident – who you should call and what steps to take.

What to do if you’ve had an accident

Car accidents are stressful and unpleasant wherever you are in the world – the main thing to remember is to stay calm. Once you and your family are safe, you can start dealing with the vehicle.

Much like you would at home with your own car, collect evidence of the incident by taking photos and getting a witness account of what happened. If a third party is involved, you must also make sure you get their details. The language barrier may be a problem, so at the very least get their name and phone number so they can be contacted at a later date.

With most suppliers, you will be required to notify them of the accident within 24 hours. Remember though, if you have been in an accident, even if it’s only a minor one, you may still be a little shaken. Take a moment to collect your thoughts before calling the car hire company.

Some companies will also require a police letter for damage over a certain amount – more information about what is required should be outlined in your policy. Of course, if your accident is serious or if anyone has been hurt, you should contact the emergency services as soon as possible.

What to do if you break down

A breakdown might be inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to spoil your holiday; knowing what to do will mean less time stranded at the side of the road and more time lounging on the beach.

Firstly, you need to know who to call. Your supplier should have given you a number at the pick-up desk when you collect the car.

Secondly, check that recovery is included in your rental policy – it should be part of the package, but it’s always worth making sure. If this is the case, everything should be taken care of by your supplier, which means no extra charge for you. A replacement car will usually be provided for you at no extra cost, but again – check the documentation.

If you break down on a busy road or motor way, take the same precautions as you would at home. Pull over into a sensible place, put on the hazard lights and ensure all people are out of the car and stood a safe distance away from the vehicle and the traffic.

What to do if you fill up with the wrong fuel

A facepalm moment of the highest order, filling the tank up with the wrong fuel can happen to anyone – although if you’re abroad you can at least blame it on “those confusing pumps”!

The main thing to remember here is not to drive the car – at all. Just leave it exactly where it is (provided it’s in a safe place, of course) and call your rental agency for instructions immediately. Driving it will only make things worse as it’s likely to damage the car further.

Putting the wrong fuel in your hire car will not be covered by your excess, so if the engine or anything else is damaged as a result, this will be taken through your excess.

Always ensure you ask your rental company representative about what fuel the car uses before driving away.

What to do if your car is damaged or stolen while you’re away from it

No matter how cautious you are with your rental car, you can’t account for other drivers crashing into it while you’re on the beach sunbathing. This is probably the most frustrating type of rental car incident because it feels like you’re helpless to prevent it.

However, there are still steps you can take to avoid an incident. Try not to park anywhere that looks like an accident waiting to happen. Cramped alleyways, isolated streets, busy main roads – these are the places where your rental is most likely to get damaged, vandalised or even stolen. Ideally, a secure car park or personal car parking space is what you’re after.

Remember, check the car over for damage again and clean the inside thoroughly before you return it. If the car has been bumped, scraped or damaged you will need to pay the excess on the damage – there’s a reason we highly recommend car hire excess insurance!

If the car is stolen, contact the police to report it, making sure you note down a reference number, then contact your car hire and insurance companies.

What to do if you need to claim on your car hire excess insurance

We mentioned earlier that your car hire policy will probably include a collision damage waiver (CDW) and third-party liability insurance. If you have an accident, the costs will largely be “waived” as a result of these. However, there will still be an excess fee to pay which in most cases is between £500 and £2000.

The rental company will charge you for this when you return the vehicle. If you have car hire excess insurance, you can claim this back when you get home. To do so, you will need copies of the following:

  • Vehicle rental agreement
  • The rental company’s damage report
  • Invoices and receipts confirming any amount you paid in respect to your claim
  • Credit card statement showing proof of payment for the damages you are claiming
  • The police report – however, this will usually only apply if the accident was very serious or if the vehicle was stolen

Once you have all the details, call your insurer and make the claim. Some will also allow you to start the process online. Either way, do it as soon as possible after you have been charged by the rental company, as most insurers have a deadline (usually around 60 days) which starts from this point.

Bear in mind, while you can get car hire excess insurance from the company you rent the car through, it’s usually much cheaper to shop around and organise this before you pick up your vehicle.

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