Car rental comparison: what you need to know

If you’re planning on renting a car while you’re on vacation, car rental comparison is a must. But for many of us, it can all be a little overwhelming. Car rental deals include and exclude different things in the prices they display, so not only do you not know the final cost until you’re 99% of the way through the booking process, but you also have the added confusion of having to sift through the multiple options of insurance and various other waivers and fees.

Luckily, if you do your car rental comparison on momondo, the prices you see are the prices you pay – no surprises and no hidden charges (the price might change if you choose any optional extras like a GPS, or child seat, etc.). CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), Third-Party Liability Protection and Theft Protection (more on these three later) are automatically included in the price, so you’ve already got your must-have insurance set up front. Easy!

Some roads can be pretty daunting ... Make sure you're fully covered just in case!

But what about all the other options you might be faced with? Do you need LDW? What about LIS or SCDW? And let’s not forget RA and LIS …

Confused? Then read on: we’ve broken down all the acronyms and insider lingo to help you become a car rental comparison pro. We’ve also shared our 15 top tips on how you can get the cheapest and best car hire deals available, so buckle up and get reading!

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)

Please don't hit the car don't hit the car don't hit the car don't hit the car

CDW is the international version of the USA’s LDW, and it’s not really insurance. Rather, it helps protect drivers from repair costs that might arise from accidental damage of the vehicle. Unlike LDW, which waives all financial responsibility if the car is damaged during the rental period, CDW coverage relieves you of damage costs beyond the excess stated in the car rental conditions (the excess is the maximum amount of money for which a driver can be held responsible). For example, if your excess is $500, but you end up with $1,000 worth of damage, you wouldn’t have to pay any more than $500.

Theft Protection (TP)

TP works just like CDW: instead of damage costs, you are protected against potential theft of the vehicle and liable for no more than the stated excess amount.

Third-Party Liability Protection (TPLP)

Driving in countries with different types of traffic can be pretty scary

TPLP covers damage to other people’s property, such as a third-party’s car and medical costs for injuries which you, or another authorized driver, is responsible for. The maximum coverage limit is listed in the rental conditions and depends on the supplier and the pick-up location.

Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)

Whilst TPLP covers other people’s property damage and injuries, PAI covers you and your passengers against medical expenses and accidental death, sustained as a result of an accident during the car rental period (check your private life or health insurance before purchasing this at the car rental desk, as you may already be covered).

Liability Insurance Supplement (LIS)

LIS is an extra coverage that protects you and all authorized drivers against third-party bodily injury and property-damage claims. It can be purchased at the car rental desk and increases the maximum coverage limits of TPLP.

Roadside Assistance (RA)

Not a good place to breakdown. Nice view though

RA provides you with assistance and financial coverage in the event of operational difficulties or an unexpected emergency, such as lost keys, tire replacement, vehicle lockout, battery failure, fuel delivery, etc. This is not to be confused with Breakdown Assistance, which is a basic coverage protecting you against mechanical failure of the vehicle through no fault of your own (check with the supplier for their Breakdown Assistance plans – many include it in the price).

Top 15 tips

Whatever you do when you’re looking to rent a car, keep our top 15 tips in mind, all for your car rental peace of mind.

1. Talk to your insurance/credit card provider about what kind of cover you have for rental cars. You might be able to get the same or better insurance via your own company for just a little extra (you also might already be covered for some of the options, like PAI)

2. Make sure you have unlimited mileage for your rental car – otherwise you risk a heavy fee when you return it

3. Check if the car is on or off airport – you might have to travel some distance to pick it up

4. Remember the magic three when you pick up the car: drivers licence, credit card in the name of the main driver and printed voucher (and make sure your credit card can cover the required excess/deposit with the supplier)

5. Check to see if the supplier charges border fees if you plan to drive in to any other countries

Crossing a border? Make sure you're won't get a fine

6. Read everything thoroughly before signing. If there are charges you don’t understand, ask about them straight away – if the total shown is more than that printed on your voucher, you may, unwittingly, have signed up for optional insurances, you do not need

7. Check the vehicle for any damage, and photograph it to make sure you’ve recorded it before you set off

8. Book full-to-full (you pick up the car with a full tank of petrol, but must return it with a close-to-full tank) or face extreme fuel and refuelling charges

9. Ask at the car rental desk where the closest petrol station is, so you can refill before dropping it off

10. Check rules of the road for where you are (You can find tips and advice on Europe from The AA, Australia from the official tourism site, and the US – note that each state has its own rules – from USA.gov)

But does the law require snow chains?

11. Book far in advance and keep your eyes peeled for special offers

12. Bring your own GPS and child seat. The daily charges for each can really add up, and in fact, many airlines will let you bring a child seat (and stroller) for free

13. Play around with your booking dates – sometimes adding a few hours or even days to make full week means you can take advantage of special weekly rates or weekend rates (even if it works out as the same price, those extra hours give you some leeway in case of delays etc.). But be warned – some companies charge for early returns! Be sure to ask when you pick up the car

14. Be honest ­– don’t try to cheat the system. Insurance is tricky business and the last thing you want – if the worst happens – is to have to explain why you lied about your age or said you were a resident of another country because it made the deal cheaper

15. Stick to your guns – don’t let them scare you into buying extra insurance or add-ons at the car rental desk

Now you’re all caught up and in the know, you can get planning your next adventure safe in the knowledge that you’re a bone fide car rental comparison expert!

Itching for a road trip? Check out our 17 tips for the perfect road trip, then choose between a whisky trail road trip through Scotland, a gourmet adventure in Italy, or the Garden Route in South Africa