Looking to hire a car? Here’s our rundown of the best UK car rental firms
It’s not hard to understand why many drivers choose car rental over ownership: new-car delivery times are often in excess of six months, and used-car prices are at an all-time high. Car hire – either by the hour or by the day – means you don’t have a depreciating asset on your driveway, and you’re not responsible for costly repairs, maintenance or road tax.
It’s especially true for motorists living in towns or cities with limited on-street parking. But for any motorist, car rental can be the perfect solution for those ad hoc journeys with a bit of forward planning.
And if you need to travel for work, hiring a car in the UK limits wear and tear on your own car. You simply pay for the time you need, or the mileage you’re going to cover, and away you go.
The prices below are based on the cheapest available city cars, collected and returned to Birmingham airport for a week-long loan.
How to choose the best car rental UK for you
How much does it cost to hire a car?
With such a wide range of car rental firms around the UK, it pays to shop around; our recommendations below represent the most well-known players, so are excellent starting points. In the most basic terms, you can expect the city car rental costs to start at around £70 a day, while executive saloon rental could cost close to £200 a day. Costs will vary according to where you’re collecting the car from, how long you’re booking it for, how many miles you’ll cover and your age.
What car rental extras should I pay for?
Depending on the car-hire company you’re dealing with, you can rent child seats, portable satnav units or even pay for carbon offset. You can add additional drivers to your car rental agreement, too. But what’s worth considering for all car renters are the range of insurance protection policies; for a fee you can reduce the excess you’ll need to pay if the car is damaged, or if you pick up a puncture. These costs can be steep – some have a car rental excess of more than £1,000 – so adding a few pounds to the total car rental cost could offer real peace of mind.
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What sorts of cars can I hire?
Short answer: you can hire pretty much anything. The national players major on the common-or-garden models you’d expect: Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Astra, Nissan Qashqai. If you’re willing to pay more you could find yourself behind the wheel of something more luxurious such as a Mercedes E-Class or more spacious seven-seat Volkswagen Caddy.
Hire cars really are a broad church. If you’re looking for something more exotic, there are even supercar rental companies out there.
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How old do I need to be to hire a car?
The older you are, the cheaper hiring a car is likely to be. As a general rule, you – and any other drivers you add to the policy – will need to be 25 or older. Some will hire cars to younger drivers, but you can expect costs to escalate. Regardless of age, some car-hire businesses may want you to have held your licence for a certain length of time and you’ll be required to show your driving licence photocard and complete a DVLA check code, allowing them to see how many penalty points you have.
How we test car rentals
Hiring a car is often one of several things you might do before embarking on a holiday or work trip, so we begin by evaluating the clarity of information on the website and general user experience. We note the number of steps required to book a hire car and the speed of the website. We attempt to book vehicles from a range of locations, and are seeking out information regarding damage waivers, young driver surcharges and fuel policies – all vital in order to make an informed choice and to get the best deal.
Armed with this information, we compare costs for booking cars from Birmingham Airport to judge the premium placed on rentals from major transport hubs. On the way, we look at the number of rental locations available, their geographical spread and whether pick-up and return facilities are offered. We examine the types and brands of vehicles included in rental fleets, and whether electric models are offered. For pricing, we focus on the smallest city cars – typically a Fiat 500, Kia Picanto or Toyota Aygo.
The best car rentals in the UK in 2023
1. Alamo: The best car rental for model choice
Price: £318 | Buy now from Alamo
Alamo is a brand more familiar with travellers to the USA, but it’s now operating from 40 sites in 27 cities around the UK, from Aberdeen down to Truro. It offers a particularly wide range of models, from city cars through to people carriers and the usual smattering of SUVs and hatchbacks – plus convertibles, limos, electric cars and hybrids.
The website is relatively easy to navigate, though some of the terminology leaves a little to be desired: what is Class F Standard or Elite Compact?
Still, for a Toyota Aygo or similar, Alamo’s prices are competitive, and the costs for additional drivers and excess-reducing waivers are at the lower end of the spectrum – which is just as well, as the standard £1,500 excess if you’re involved in a bump is the joint most expensive here.
There’s a decent amount of flexibility, though. There’s no fee if you cancel with more than three days’ notice; Alamo will refund £40 or the total cost (whichever is less) if you cancel with less than three days’ notice.
Key details – Locations: 40; Cost per week: £314; Minimum age: 25; Mileage limits: Unlimited; Standard excess: £1,500
2. Sixt: The best car rental for young drivers
Price: £201 | Buy now from Sixt
German firm Sixt boasts that its cars are, on average, less than three months old – and that alone could be a clincher for those seeking to get behind the wheel of something modern.
It’s not the only reason to recommend, either: our pricing analysis revealed that collecting and returning a car at Birmingham Airport could cost only £28.70 a day, or £201 for the week – comfortably the cheapest of the car-hire firms here. Of course, this will vary according to date and location, but it’s still mightily impressive. And it’s the best choice for young drivers, with a minimum age of just 21.
Naturally, Sixt doesn’t have it all its own way: it’s the only one of our conventional operators with a mileage limit, though you’d be hard-pressed to drive more than 1,200 miles in a week. And at £18.17 a day, the additional driver fee is the priciest here. But it pulls back with a £1,000 excess which can be reduced to zero for a £149 one-off fee.
Key details – Locations: 79; Cost per week: £201; Minimum age: 21; Mileage limits: 1,200; Standard excess: £1,000
3. Enterprise: Best car rental for nationwide coverage
Price: £317 | Buy now from Enterprise
With more than 400 locations around the country, including 24 airports, no other car rental firm here comes close if you’re looking for a branch near you. Less pragmatically, Enterprise also offers supercar hire with models such as the Aston Martin DB11, Ferrari Portofino and Lamborghini Huracan on its books. Tesla hire, and rental of other exotic electric vehicles is possible, too.
They’re two positives, because the rest of our analysis revealed Enterprise to be rather mid-table. Its policies and costs are virtually identical to sister firm Alamo, meaning the same £1,500 standard excess, £15.60 per day fee for additional drivers and £140 waiver cost. Curiously, while Alamo allows drivers as young as 25 access to its cars, you’ll need to be at least 30 to hire an Enterprise car.
Key details – Locations: 414; Cost per week: £317; Minimum age: 30; Mileage limits: Unlimited; Standard excess: £1,500
4. Europcar: best for weekly car rental
Price: £175 | Buy now from EuropcarEuropcar is one of the most familiar names in the UK car rental business and operates in more than 100 locations around the country. In our analysis, it proved to be the cheapest place for weekly car rental by quite some margin: a Fiat 500 (or similar) could be rented for only £175 for the week, compared with £118 for a day.
Additional drivers cost £14 a day, which also represents a good saving against rivals here. But it’s not all good news, because while drivers as young as 22 can drive Europcar vehicles, there’s an additional £273 charge for drivers aged up to 25, which makes Europcar pricey for less experienced motorists. The waiver cost to reduce the excess from £1,100 to zero is the priciest, too, at £159.
Key details – Locations: 111; Cost per week: £175; Minimum age: 22; Mileage limits: Unlimited; Standard excess: £1,100