Renting a car: what you'll pay

We compared prices of 13 rental car companies to see how they shape up.

20sep renting a car hero

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.

Excessive reduction

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.

Rental extras

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.

Top tips

  • 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.

Rental car costs compared

Member comments

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Valerie B.
22 Nov 2020
Pegasus excess

Pegasus excess appears to be $2500 now.

It would be good if Consumer could look at what specific other options for excess reduction are available. e.g. as mentioned by John K ? any NZ based, at what cost?

William O.
09 Oct 2020
Pegasus Rental Happiness.

We have used Pegasus Rental Cars in ChCh for some 15 yrs. As we fly in to see family & friends quite regularly, it was convenient to either get picked up at the AP or drop in to pick up a car in their city depot. Their service & cars have always been great, with a a variety of models used, Nissan Sentra, & Corolla early on & lately Nissan Tiidas, 1.6. When I did a check hire with another budget company , I found the car was not as well prepared, & the service by staff a bit indifferent. Since returning to Pegasus, we were extremely well looked after, both before the hire & after. Their new depot is still handy to ChCh AP, but only a short 15min walk, or a shuttle pickup makes it convenient. Once we get back down there to visit family soon, after all this Covid -19 inconvenience, I'll be more than happy to preorder another car from them, online, pick it up & tour around again when we the Sth. Is. again.

S J Meredith
05 Oct 2020
Go Rentals

I use Go Rentals all the time. They make everything easy from booking to airport shuttle and pick up of the vehicle. They are always courteous and efficient and fast. Insurance excess reduction is usually about $20 per day on top of the rental. I haven't tried insuring a rental car with my own insurance company, I didn't realise you could do this!

B A S.
06 Feb 2021
Go Rentals have good rates for AA members

But just remember if you have a break down you may have to pay the callout fee upfront if you are in a rural area. far from the AA garage. Go Rentals include everything free for AA members and in our case the zero excess (for mechanical problems) was the most important. This may be a temporary offer.

Michele M.
04 Oct 2020
Own insurance

I haven't done this myself but surely you could buy your own insurance cover for a rental car from your own company?

Robert H.
03 Oct 2020
What about RaD

I have used Rad (used to be called Rent a Dent) and have found them competitive for price with slightly older cars

Sarah L.
04 Oct 2020
Rad Cars

I have used Rad Cars from Whangarei and found them to be great except there is no airport pickup

Brian L.
02 Nov 2020

RaD are brilliant. Cheap and the cars are pretty good.

John K.
03 Oct 2020
Good price for handy world wide insurance

We've used a UK car insurance company for all excess everywhere, including NZ, though not had to claim. Check out details with search: moneymaxim.