You can make discovering somewhere new even more exciting in just the right rental car. Find out how to pick your ideal wheels for your next road trip.
It might take months of meticulous planning, but there are essentially only three things you need to guarantee an amazing road trip: the right car, the right route and the right companion/s. Here's how to choose the right car for your road trip – the rest is up to you.
Things to think about before you hire a car
What size car works for you?
If you're going on a family holiday, there's no point hiring a two-seater convertible – no matter how tempted you are to leave the kids at the airport after a stressful flight. So, make sure your hire car has enough seats for everyone who'll be travelling (having passengers sat on knees is never an option, even for really small children).
If you're booking your car online, it should show exactly how many seats the car has – smaller cars tend to have only two seats in the back whereas larger models will have three, for example. If you have passengers in the back, it's worth booking a car with at least four doors, so everyone can get in and out easily.
How big a boot do you need?
Consider how much boot space you're going to need, bearing in mind that everyone's luggage will have to fit in the trunk as roof bars and boxes are rarely, if ever, an option when hiring a car. The only exception to this is if you're going skiing – you can get a rental car fitted with a ski rack.
Leaving luggage on view on the back seats isn't a good idea either, as it can attract thieves and may compromise your travel insurance.
Is fuel economy important?
Although the idea of hitting the open road in a V8 gas-guzzler is undoubtedly tempting, you might not want to blow half your holiday budget on fuel. So, working on the assumption that smaller cars are generally more fuel efficient, map out how far you'll be travelling, then calculate roughly how much fuel this will use in your preferred type of car.
Specific models can't be guaranteed at the rental counter, so think the class of car instead, such as compact, economy, luxury, SUV, etc. Also keep an eye out for the rental car company's fuel policy, a 'full-to-full' fuel policy is the most common, and often the best choice, especially for road-trippers.
If you're used to driving a car with automatic gears/transmission and want to stick with what you're familiar with, look out for the type of gears each car has when you're booking. It's worth looking out for when you're choosing your rental car, particularly if you're travelling to a country where most cars have manual gears/transmission.
Do you need any extra kit?
If you're travelling with children, check the child seat policy of the country you're travelling to, as it may be different to what you're used to. If you need child seats, it's best to reserve them at the same time you book your hire car, as they won't come as standard. The same goes for GPS/satnav systems. You'll pay for these when you arrive to pick up your car, and rental companies can't usually guarantee them. These extras are charged at a daily rate, so you can save money by taking your own. And, if you're travelling anywhere hot, make sure the car has air conditioning, or your road trip might quickly become too hot to handle.
Is the hire car in your price range?
Upgrading to the bigger or faster model can be very tempting, especially if it looks like it won't add much to the overall cost. But that little extra each day can quickly add up over the course of one, two or three weeks' worth of car hire. And then there are the added fuel costs, bigger security deposit and higher excesses that come with bigger cars. Once you've chosen a model that comfortably ticks all your boxes, you can happily resist hard sell at the rental counter, and stick to your budget.
Then there's just one final thing to bear in mind – not all road trips are created equal, so you'll have to match your car to the type of trip you're taking. Here are our top picks for specific trips:
Note: The cars below are just examples – you'll find different models available in different countries with different rental companies. And you won't be guaranteed to get the exact model you booked, when you come to collect your car. To find out more, see What does 'or similar' mean in car rental?
What are the best hire cars for city breaks?
Stressed out drivers, congested roads, and baffling one-way systems mean city driving can be hectic – and that's before you consider everyone might also drive on the wrong side of the road. So, it's probably best to go for a small car that handles well on city streets and is easy to park, possibly an automatic, so you've less to think about in the stop-start traffic.
Try something in the Mini or Economy group, such as an eminently sensible and reliable VW Golf or Ford Focus, or a Mini Cooper or Fiat 500 if you're after something that's a bit nippier and more fun to drive.
What are the best hire cars for adventure holidays?
If you're off on an adventure holiday, whether skiing, rock climbing, windsurfing, or whatever you fancy, there's a good chance you'll be lugging a lot of kit around with you, and maybe even driving on some rough roads.
You might be best off choosing an SUV, maybe even a 4X4 model, such as a Skoda Yeti or VW Tiguan, or a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Range Rover Sport if you're looking for a more luxurious off-roader.
Do check where you're allowed to take your hire car. Many rental companies don't allow their cars to be taken off-road.
All of the SUVs above come with loads of luggage space, and if you hire in snowy or mountainous areas, your car will come fitted with a winter safety kit. It's also worth swotting up on how to drive safely in snow, before you set off.
What are the best hire cars for family holidays?
When you're travelling together, you'll want to make sure your car is not only safe, comfortable and spacious, with more than enough room for all passengers and luggage, but is also kitted out with any number of cup holders and USB ports.
People carriers are really roomy and ideal for families. Some have sliding doors for easy access – try a Ford Galaxy, a VW Touran, or a Dodge Grand Caravan, for example. There's no guarantee you'll get the exact model you booked, or that the car you get will come with everything you need, of course. For a comfy trip, it's worth keeping your drinks in resealable bottles rather than cups, and taking USB chargers that plug into the car's 12V/lighter socket, to keeps all those devices topped up.
If you can, it's also worth taking your own child seats and satnav/GPS to save money. For more tips on hassle-free family road trips, check out Enjoying family travel.
What are the best hire cars for multi-location holidays?
Road trips are all about driving long-distances and stopping off at places well off the beaten tourist track, which means you could spend large parts of your trip living out of your trunk. If you're embarking on a multi-location odyssey, you'll want a car that is comfortable enough for long hours behind the wheel, has loads of luggage space, and a great fuel economy. We recommend picking an estate car, about the size of a Ford Focus, Skoda Octavia or VW Passat - anything smaller might feel a bit cramped, while larger models might not be as good on the gas.
What are the best hire cars for honeymooners?
A honeymoon is a time in your life you can enjoy a little luxury and excess, so if you're planning a post-wedding adventure, why not splash out on a luxury car, or convertible? Rental companies offer luxury models like the Porsche Cayman or Mercedes Benz S-Class, or Jaguar F-Type and Mercedes E250 convertibles. Some car hire companies will even guarantee the exact model when it comes to luxury car hire, so if you want to be 100% sure what you'll get rather than go for a lucky dip, check before you book.
Don't forget that storage space might be tight in these luxury models, and certainly will be in convertibles, so make sure there's enough room for any luggage you take.