Renting a car in France: 11 tips to avoid extra costs

From insurance deals to advance booking, these tips could save you money this summer

Comparing offers and trying smaller companies are just some of the ways to save
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Renting a car can come with extra costs, from insurance to hidden charges - but with some precautions you may be able to avoid being hit with a higher bill in France this holiday season.

Travel and rental experts have suggested their top tips for renting a car, especially with the busy summer period coming up, to Le Figaro. We summarise some of the best advice.

1. Reserve as far in advance as possible

This is especially advised if you are going somewhere popular with tourists, such as Corsica, where visitors tend to hire a car even more than in other tourist destinations. 

Booking in advance can save up to 15-20%, says consumer magazine UFC-Que Choisir. Not only that, you may also have more chances of getting the type or model of vehicle you prefer, rather than have to settle for what is ‘left’.

2. Compare offers and quotes

Comparing deals and offers may be the best way to save. You can use comparison websites such as Carigami, Liligo and Rentalcars, but sometimes going directly to the rental company website can also be the best value choice. 

3. Try nearby towns

If you are staying in a busy centre, you may have more luck - from availability to cost - if you are happy to go a little out of town. For example, Toulon instead of Marseille, or Ajaccio instead of Calvi.

4. Try alternative companies

While the major players such as Avis, Hertz, Europcar and Sixt are most well-known, there are other providers in France that could be cheaper (while still being reliable). 

These include Getaround (formerly Drivy) and Turo (formerly OuiCar). They often have rates some 15-30% cheaper than the major players. 

However, you may need to travel a little further to pick up and drop off the car, and it is still advisable to be alert to hidden costs and the condition of the vehicle before and after your rental.

5. Read reviews

Reading ratings, reviews, and previous customer experiences can be a good way to see if a price looks ‘too good to be true’. Some companies may appear the cheapest, but charge you unexpected fees. 

A ‘good deal’ may turn out to be more trouble than it is worth, or end up being more expensive after extra fees are added.

6. Consider if the insurance offered is necessary

Insurance offers can make a serious difference when it comes to rental costs.

Sometimes it is not needed as you may already be covered by an existing policy or bank card insurance terms. This is especially true if you have a top-of-the-line bank card, such as Visa Premier or Gold MasterCard. Double-check your existing insurance policies before paying more.

“It is advisable to take out insurance to reduce the amount of the excess you have to pay in the event of a problem, but check that your bank card doesn't already give you this cover,” says UFC-Que Choisir.

A hire company will typically offer third-party insurance as standard, but it rarely covers theft or damage. These are often extra, so it makes sense to be 100% clear about what you are paying for.

“It all depends on the degree of risk acceptance on the part of the customer,” said Pierre Feisthauer, from the comparison website Carigami. 

“My advice for destinations such as Corsica or Southern Europe, where the roads are overloaded and narrow, is to take out glass breakage or damage insurance so that you can rest easy and not have to pay an excess in the event of a problem,” he said.

7. Try to book extras and confirm online

If you need extras, such as a baby seat, GPS, additional drivers, or even the option to drive the car into neighbouring countries, a good tip is to confirm your needs and extras first and pay online (or use a debit or credit card to reserve). 

Then, print out your proof of purchase or reservation before you head to the rental car hire counter at the airport.

This will ensure you get all the extras you need, get the best online deal and let you prove what you have paid for beforehand. This may also stop you from being ‘upsold’ further options at the counter.

8. Consider the bank card that you use

Some hire companies require a certain type of bank card to pick up the car. 

For example, the Centre Européen des Consommateurs (CEC) warns that while you may be able to reserve a vehicle online using a debit card, you may need a credit card - in the name of the main driver - when collecting the vehicle.

If you are not able to provide this, you may be required to take out more insurance at the time of pick-up, so it is advisable to check the rules in advance.

9. Take photos of the vehicle before and after

It is advisable to take your own photos before and after you rent the vehicle.

Firstly, take photos before you set off. Check everything, including:

  • Bumpers, doors, rims, windscreen

  • Any scratches or marks

  • Interior damage or marks 

Take a photo of the fuel gauge too, so you can fill the car up to the same amount on return. 

Check any notes with the vehicle before you drive off, and take photos of any existing damage. If you find damage or visible problems that the company has not mentioned, be sure to let them know before you set off. If you do not you may later be deemed responsible for damage that was not your fault.

Take photos of the same areas when you drop off the vehicle too. That way, if the company tries to claim money for damage later, you can compare their notes to your photos to check whether you were responsible or not.

10. Consider fuel costs

Some companies will require you to fill the tank before you return the vehicle, even if the tank was not full when you left. 

Even if the company says that this is not required, it is generally advisable to do this, because hire companies may charge you for the fuel on return, at much higher rates than local fuel stations. 

11. Check breakdown options in advance

If your vehicle breaks down during the hire period call the hire company first - or check their process in advance - as they may have preferential agreements with local breakdown services.

Never get the car fixed without checking with the hire company first (except in a genuine emergency). This can prevent excess charges and later problems. The hire company may have their own protocol in the event of a breakdown, depending on the cause. 

They may be able to offer preferential repair rates, or provide a replacement vehicle. It is always best to check in advance, even if (hopefully) you will not need the information during your hire.