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Renting a car in the UK: lessons learned

Last month I had not one, but two business trips to the UK. The trips, to my pleasure, combined time in London and Liverpool, and I could not wait to explore both cities. Even though I had actually lived in London before, I had to be honest: didn’t know it as a traveller. But first things first: renting a car in the UK was the only option to ensure the smooth (and rather inexpensive) transportation of 4 people.

Renting a car in the UK or not? This is the question!

Looking at train tickets before heading off to the UK got my wallet trembling in fear. A one-way ticket from London to Liverpool was in the range of 80 – 120 euros. No direct trains though – had we opted for this we would have to make a minimum of two changes. When you do the math – tickets for 4 would cost the company a minimum of 240 euros. Not counting UBERS & other transportation from the train station to the AirBnB we had booked.

What was my joy when we found out that a rather large SUV, which would perfectly fit both us and our luggage, would cost us about 150 GBP for 3 full days! So, as you can see, when travelling with more people that’s really a no-brainer.

On the negative side…

Driving in the UK-traffic

…getting from London to Liverpool appeared to be rather frustrating. I am absolutely sure that this will soon change, but in our particular situation – summer 2018 – there were construction works spread across the entire highway. Endless traffic jams and what seemed like thousands of other cars was what we had to get through to arrive in Liverpool approximately 5 hours after we started from London.

On the positive side…

…driving in the UK is quite easy. If you’re not afraid to drive on what the rest of the world calls “the other side” of the road you’ll be fine. Speed limits are very reasonable and drivers really tolerant which makes the trip a smooth experience.

The most important lesson for renting a car in the UK, however, was that you have to be super cautious with damages!

For several reasons we had one car rented that took us from London to Liverpool, and then another one (from another company) couple of days later from Liverpool to Luton airport.

Car 1

Renting a car in the UK - car 1

When we got the first car, naïve as we were, we did not even bother taking a look at the condition of the vehicle, nor its reservoir. That, quite expectedly, came to bite us in the bum when we returned it the next day. A bruise on the wheel was almost blamed on us. For the record we were 1,000,000% sure that there was no way we had caused the damage. This is one of those things that can’t happen without you noticing. Luckily, the lady that accepted the vehicle was a reasonable woman who promised to carry out a full investigation. Since she did not get back to us I am confident they’ve found out how that damage occurred.

Car 2

Renting a car in the UK - car 2

With the lesson learned we carefully checked the second car we took. There were no damages on the vehicle whatsoever and we were in total piece. We reached Luton, found the car rental parking, parked and dropped the keys with the clerk on the desk inside. Documents were signed and we left.

Note: there’s a free shuttle service between the car rental parking and Luton airport which runs every 15 minutes.

Imagine our surprise when on the first following working day we received an email claiming we had returned the car with 2 damages on it. Once again – this was 1,000,000% impossible. “But no one came to take a look at the car when we left it!” – I emailed them back. Those damages must have been caused after we parked the car. You have no damage report which claims those things and is signed by us!” – I continued in a rather angry email.

The only result – they waived 50% of the claimed damage fees, yet continued claiming we had caused them. Finally, we were charged with 70 pounds for something we hadn’t done.

As you can see from the pictures it’s not even clear what are those damages…

And then, with the lessons learned…

… we did not make the same mistake on our next trip. Upon receival of the car we diligently marked all bruises and damages along with the car rental company representative. We did the same when we returned the vehicle and of course, this once, everything was fine.

So, what you need to know when renting a car in the UK is:

  1. You should check every part of the car for damages before accepting it and ensure that the car rental company has those damages noted. Only sign the papers if all damages are entered in their system.
  2. Check the reservoir! It seems that companies aren’t really cautious about it and you can easily get a car without a full tank. Piece of advice: take a pic of the dashboard before taking off.
  3. The difference in price is minor. When getting a car in the UK the difference between the car costs is minor, so our advice is to get the car that you’ll feel most comfortable with. We use this engine to research cars and it has proven super effective thus far.
  4. Car deposit is 200 GBP in the UK regardless of the car type. The company will hold the deposit approximately a week after you’ve returned the car.
  5. It’s cheaper to rent a car for long-distance travel than to ride the train. Buses (coach) are an even cheaper option, but it takes forever.
  6. The above is valid for more than 1 person 😉
  7. The highway speed limit is 70 miles/hour. That’s 113km. Driving with 75 won’t be an issue but don’t go above that.
  8. If there’s a construction of the road the speed limit is 50 m/h. That’s 80 km/hour. Yes, it is painful to drive this slow.
  9. Driving in the UK is easy. As mentioned above driving in the UK seems like a stress-free experience. That’s only true for those who don’t feel like speeding. Alternatively, driving with 112 km/hour can drive you nuts.

By Nina Alexander

Nina is the big sister. She's a marketing professional by day, traveler by heart, tech geek, bookworm, beer lover and an amateur photographer. Her motto is Friedrich Nietzsche's famous quote "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

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