We compared prices of 13 rental car companies to see how they shape up.
By James le Page
To truly experience everything Aotearoa has to offer, you’ll need a set of wheels.
If you’re looking at hiring a car, there’s a huge difference in what you can pay. We compared costs from 13 companies for a week-long getaway in Auckland and Christchurch.
What we found
You could choose to splurge on the latest model with fewer kilometres on the clock. But if that sort of thing means nothing to you, don’t waste your cash.
For our comparison, we picked a small hatchback. On the day of our search, prices for a seven-day rental ranged from $121 with Pegasus (for a Nissan Wingroad) to $721.67 with Hertz (for a Toyota Corolla) (see our Table).
If you’re picking up and dropping off your vehicle from the airport terminal, you’ll usually be charged a fee for the convenience. To avoid it, you’ll need to head to the company’s nearest depot. In some cases, the rental company provides a complimentary shuttle that’ll take you there.
Keep in mind you’ll need to leave a bit of extra time when dropping off the car so you can catch the shuttle in time for your return flight.
When you hire a car, you’ll be covered by the company’s standard insurance. However, if the vehicle gets damaged, you’ll be up for the excess. And the standard excess can be several thousand dollars.
In our comparison, Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz had an excess of $4000 or more.
To reduce the amount you have to pay, companies promote “excess reduction” packages. These packages are good money earners for the companies, a reason why you’ll often get the hard sell to buy one. They’re also pricey and can double the cost of your rental.
Pegasus had the lowest price for these packages at $70. Europcar topped the table. Its excess reduction cost $314 for our week-long trip.
Some of the big-buck excess waivers include roadside assistance, and glass and tyre cover. Others don’t. But you might be prepared to wear the risk of a flat tyre or a chipped windscreen yourself.
Even if you pony up to reduce your excess, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be off the hook entirely if something goes wrong. The terms and conditions of the excess waiver may not cover you for everything that could go wrong.
Excess reduction alternative?
If you want to reduce the standard excess you’ll pay if your rental car is damaged – but baulk at the cost of the excess reduction package – you could take out domestic travel insurance.
Some of these policies will cover the car-rental excess and they’re cheaper to buy. But there’s are a few hitches:
If the vehicle is damaged, you’ll still have to pay the excess upfront to the rental car company and then claim it back from your travel insurer.
Travel insurance won’t necessarily cover all costs so you could still have to contribute something (up to the value of the standard excess).
If you don’t buy the excess reduction package, the rental company will likely place a hold on your credit card for the excess, so you won’t have the use of this money until the hold is removed.
Most rental prices only include the car itself and if you’re taking younger passengers or can get lost in your own backyard, you’ll need booster seats and a GPS.
You can pay as much as $75 with Avis, Budget and Europcar if you need to hire a seat.
You’ll also pay $35 to $97 for relationship-saving GPS navigation. However, your smartphone can do just as good a job, provided you can get reception.
If you want to hit the mountains, you’ll need snow chains and maybe ski racks. Some companies may require you to hire snow chains if you’re hitting certain chilly parts of the country. We found prices varied widely from $25 to $100.
Before you hit the road
If you’re happy to roam the country in a slightly older model with more miles on the clock, you can keep costs down.
However, if you want a top of the line vehicle, you’re looking at doubling or even tripling the costs. You’ll need to weigh up your priorities before you commit and start your search.
Be wary of aggregator websites. They can give you a steer but they’re not necessarily independent and you may not get the full picture or the best price. Even if the deal seems great, it pays to check the rental company website to see if the price is right.
When you add things up, you might find yourself wondering if you should just take your own car. The trade-offs are convenience and time.
Ask the sales rep to explain the rental T&Cs and point out specific exclusions you need to know.
Name every person who may drive the vehicle. It’s better to fork over the extra cost than to be left high and dry in an accident.
Check with staff what type of fuel the car takes. If it’s diesel, you may have to pay road-user charges at the end of the hire.
Take pics or a video to show pre-existing damage before you get into the car. You don’t have to worry about minor chips or scuff marks but discuss any major damage with staff.
Don’t speed, as no insurance will cover damage caused as a result of illegal acts.
If there are mechanical issues or damage, notify the rental car company as soon as possible.
Top up the car with fuel just before you return it, or you’re likely to face hefty charges for the company to do so.
If you’re issued a parking ticket, pay this off as soon as possible. Pre-pay tolls whenever you can. If the rental company gets involved, it may charge administration fees for its time.