Cape Town - Holidays are meant for leaving your stress behind at home, but whenever you throw a rental car into the mix it can feel like the most stressful babysitting gig ever.
Unlike your own car, you have to be extra careful for dents and scrapes, and hope that other drivers managed to pass their license exams so that you're not left completely out of pocket.
But don't let the big credit card authorisation or accident paranoia deter you from car rentals. It's easy to make sure you get the most out of your rental without having to pay up for unexpected dents, and we asked the experts at Hertz and Bidvest for a few extra pointers to keep you and your wallet safe.
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When making the booking
If you're looking for a small car to runaround in a city, booking is pretty straightforward, but if you're looking for a longer rental that may take on a couple hundred kilometres, it's important to book in the right category.
Bidvest's National Customer Care Manager Renette van der Merwe advises to talk to the rental company before you make a decision based purely on rate. The number of passengers travelling with you, how many kilometres you will be driving, the amount of luggage you may have – this kind of information can help them find the best option for your specific needs with the least costs and risk.
If your rental car and holiday activities don't mix, you may also void your waivers. "If you use a city runabout to undertake a game drive and write it off, you will, in most likelihood, not be covered," says Hertz Consultant Margie Gawith.
Also know that you are not guaranteed to get the car you want, but you can always make a request. If you're looking to buy a new car, this is the time to do a bit of test driving. If their website says nothing is available, call them. They may have a cancellation and sometimes the website takes a while to update, and is especially useful for last-minute bookings. You can also scour third-party websites if you're completely stuck, as they may have some cars 'booked out' for their own customers.
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A credit card is the best way to pay for your rental. Debit cards sometimes works, but rental companies normally need the whole amount for the rental period paid upfront plus a fuel and liability deposit, making it easier to authorise on a credit card. Always make sure your card's limit is enough for all the deposits, as well as some moola left over for your holiday.
Never rent a car for someone else on your credit card - you will remain liable for costs incurred. If you're considering getting a 4x4 for more rugged terrain, always opt for a Super Waiver and look for unlimited mileage deals if you're going to do a lot of game drives.
When selecting a waiver, Van Der Merwe advises to think about where you will be driving and where the car will be parked overnight, as this could either put you at low-risk or high-risk and you could adjust your waiver option accordingly. Remember - even if it's not your fault you're still responsible for the car and not everyone on South African roads have insurance.
When picking up the car
When picking up the car, there are a few checks that you need to do before you jet off to your dream destination. Make sure all the drivers have their driver's licences on them and that all are present when checking out the car, as they normally need to sign disclaimers. These are the only people allowed to be in the driver's seat - anyone else and you could lose your waiver.
If you're going to cross a border with the car, inform the rental company and make sure you have all the documents you need for the border. Communication is key for a positive rental experience.
When checking the car, be as thorough as possible, inside and outside. Take photos of any marks or dents (make sure the date and time are correct on your phone), and make sure the representative notes it on their form.
Also check the petrol tank, and if it's not full make sure they make a note of it, as it will have an impact on whether you need to fill up when you bring it back.
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During your rental period
Always check if everything feels fine while driving, and report anything weird as soon as possible to the rental company. "Allow them the opportunity to change the vehicle, at a time and place convenient to you, rather than report it on your return, when nothing can be done to improve your rental experience," says Van der Merwe from Bidvest.
Always stick to the speed limit, as many rental companies have trackers in the cars and can check them if there's an accident. Some will even send you an SMS to warn you about the speed limit if you exceed it. You have to pay any fine you incur as well as an admin fee to the company.
All rental cars in South Africa are fitted with an e-tag for toll-roads in Gauteng, and you will be charged afterwards if you use any of them. This does mean though that you can breeze through the e-tag sections at tollgates, cutting down your travel time.
Gawith from Hertz also cautions against handing anyone the car keys of a rental that's not on the drivers list, as this could void your waiver. "A situation as simple as giving a safari lodge staff member the rental car keys in order to move the vehicle to the wash area could prove a problem. In the event of any damage caused, you could be liable."
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If an incident does occur, document everything and get the details of everyone involved. If it was a serious accident you have to get a case number at a police station before you can return the car (if possible). Again, communication is important so always let the rental company know if something happened to the car instead of trying to fix it yourself.
You can also always extend your rental period, but you have to call the rental company before the car is due back. Rental companies charge per day, thus if you picked up the car at 11:00, if you bring it back anytime after 11:00 it will count as one extra day.
Returning the car
If you've been taking on a lot of muddy or dusty roads, and the kids have smeared everything they can on the seats, just take the car for a professional clean before you return the vehicle. Some rental companies will charge you extra if there's any deep cleaning required, especially in Namibia.
Normal practice is to fill up the tank as they will charge you extra for it, although Gawith notes that Hertz prefers to fill it up themselves as they can't confirm if the tank is properly full, thus always check with the rental company.
Always double check the car with the representative taking the car back before you sign anything, and always inform them of any scratches or accidents. This includes changing a flat tyre, which counts as an incident. You can always use the photos you took before taking the car if there's any disputes, and don't sign anything if you don't agree with a certain dent or mark. Signing means you agree with their assessment, thus always make sure everything is sorted and agreed upon.
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Always get a copy of the signed assessment and make sure you take a note of the name of the person who checked in your car, especially if you had to file an incident report. Sometimes you have to drop off the car without anyone checking it - if you have a very late or early flight - and there's normally a place to drop off keys at the office. In this case take photos of the car again as you left it, in case the car gets a dent after you dropped it off.
You won't be able to get an invoice for your total trip costs on the spot as this is only calculated later, including traffic fines and e-tolls, but make sure to get your total invoice emailed later to double check the charges.
But most important of all...
Enjoy your holiday and don't drive like Mad Max.
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