/ Motoring, Travel & Leisure

Why pay extra when rental cars break down abroad?

I’ve never broken down in a hire car, and hope I never will. But if I did – I’d expect any costs incurred as a result to be picked up automatically by the car hire company. But is that really the case?

Surely if a hire car breaks down and it’s not the driver’s fault, insurance for any breakdown expenses should be included in the basic price of the rental?

Considering this, we were surprised to hear reports from Which? members that they’d been asked to pay extra for breakdown cover when they’d picked their hire car up abroad. If they didn’t pay, they ran the risk of being left stranded if there was a breakdown.

High and dry at the roadside

When we looked at car hire providers’ and brokers’ policies, we found that breakdown cover was not included in all cases. This is important because UK car breakdown services like the AA, RAC and Saga do not cover cars that are hired abroad.

The issue usually arises if you book your car hire through a broker. These are companies like Argus Car Hire, Carhire3000 and Holiday Autos. These companies don’t rent you the car themselves, but book you a vehicle with a company that provides the cars.

The three brokers mentioned couldn’t guarantee that breakdown assistance would be included by all the car providers they used, and they all confirmed that some of their providers would charge extra for full cover.

Unfair to charge extra

Personally, I think it’s wrong to charge extra for breakdown cover. There are too many ‘extras’ that you’re asked to pay already when you pick up your hire car abroad, without adding this one on top.

Adding breakdown cover to a list of extra costs that already includes insurance and fuel, just adds more uncertainty and stress to the experience of renting a car. Do you think it’s fair for car hire companies to charge you extra for breakdown cover? Have you ever had a breakdown in a rented vehicle abroad?


In the past I rented a television from Radio Rentals/DER. If it went wrong they turned out same day to fix it or replace it. I am amazed that a company would consider renting you a holiday car without some sort of guarantee of reliability and help and support if their car breaks down. It’s just another made up reason for getting more money out of you. Who would risk hiring a car on that basis. I expect there’s another company that will insure you for breakdown and other costs not covered by the car hire company cheaper than them.

Whilst living in Holland, I hired a VW Golf from Avis to drive back to the UK for Xmas. It sounded a bit off but it still moved and so I drove it back. Now, the entire route from Noord-Holland to Dunkirk is completely flat (apart from Antwerp tunnels), but when trying to get off the boat and up and out of Dover docks I really struggled.

Then as I got further on the motorway, I couldn’t get past 70 and kept slowing down rapidly on hills. Then on boxing day, it gave up the ghost completely and it wouldn’t go past 2000 revs with my foot flat down.

After a massive game of blame it on someone else and ringing round various people, I eventually got on the the manager of Avis and told them to come and pick the car up and give me another one.

So as a result of them not maintaining the car properly, they ended up with a broken Dutch car in England and an English car in the Netherlands. The lesson being, always check the mechanical state of your hire car before you leave the office. I hired a broken jeep in Ibiza once too, that was Avis as well

I have not hired a car abroad but I have found plenty of problems with ones hired in the UK. Among the problems I’ve found are under-inflated tyres, no manual (both very common), punctures, oil level below minimum, empty coolant reservoir and a leak, missing spare wheel, empty windscreen washer reservoir, faulty lamps, etc, etc. It’s no fun getting back to the UK in the middle of the night and finding there is a problem with a hire car.

The thought of dealing with problems with a hire car abroad does not bear thinking about.

Over the last 20 years flying into the UK, Ireland, the US, the Philippines and Belgium where I lived, I have been a regular renter of cars. I must say that, except for a couple of times where some basics (such as Tax) we add-ons to the price quoted, I have a first class experience, even when cars had some external scratches. The only comment I would make is that I have seen many renters not even walking round the car before they drive off – major mistake! Otherwise no complaints whatsoever.

I hired a car in the US a few years ago which did get damaged. Whilst driving on a coastal road I hit some debris that fell from the cliffs and damaged the underside of the car and put slow punctures in two of the tyres. Luckily I managed to get the tyres pumped up shortly after which gave enough time to get into the nearest major town and find a branch of the rental company, which was Enterprise if my memory serves me correctly. They were totally fine with what happened and changed the car over for one of a similar class within about 30 mins and at no extra charge.

I have no idea what i’d have done had the car been broken so much I couldn’t drive the 50 odd miles to the nearest town and the thought of sitting in the pouring rain on a coastal cliff road with rocks falling around you is one i’m glad i didn’t have to experience. I didn’t check the policy for breakdown cover as I assumed it would have been included, although I wouldn’t have been surprised if a charge had been made. It’s certainly something i’d check for next time.

With regards to the cars being faulty when you pick them up, I wonder how many people would have the knowledge to make checks when they pick it up. I only have a limited understanding of cars, despite travelling way over the national average every year, so unless a tyre looks visibly flat, the bodywork is so damaged I think it will impede driving the vehicle or a dial/light shows on the dashboard then I would be none the wiser if there was something fundamentally wrong with the vehicle. I also question whether some people would have the confidence to raise any queries as anything some hire companies can be quite intimidating and often give off the air that they can’t really be bothered with you and just want to get you & the vehicle away as quick as possible.

Mike says:
29 October 2012

We have just returned from Tampa in Florida. On collecting the rental car we had a hard sell on an add on called Road Safe at $12.95 per day. This was supposed to cover us for breakdowns or any other nasty occurance. Our hire period was 37 days. If you add that up it doesn’t add up . We declined gracefullyas that works best. When they slipped the contract into the wallet we saw those magic words….24 Hour Roadside Assistance 0800…..
Incidentally , the first two cars were clunkers . We took them both back and finally ended up with with something nice. Traveljigsaw refunded £25 for the inconvenience.

John King says:
12 May 2013

It really is a shame we drive on the left in some ways,as when ever l go on holiday to europe l hire a car over there as l don’t fancy trying to cope with driving on the right in a left hand car. Next time l am going to hire an auto as well,anything to make it easier. l always assumed that breakdown cover was included in car hire as the car belonged to the hire company and if l ran the company l would feel it was the companies responsibly to provide that as l think all excesses should be covered. The hire companies have an very cavalier attitude in this respect,but what the answer is l am not sure,as this is a worldwide problem and difficult to fix,you just have to have your wits about you, not always that easy when you arrive at a strange airport or city after a long journey and all you want to do is get your car and get to your destination.

John King says:
12 May 2013

should have been right hand car,in previous comment

Will Hamilton says:
30 July 2014

My experience (July 2014) was that we did have breakdown cover for the vehicle and when I called the emergency number the tow truck was dispatched and arrived within an hour – TO RECOVER THE CAR.
We were expected to organise our own taxi to get us back to the rental company office to arrange a replacement. This was at our expense and as we were over 90 minutes from the Rome car rental the cost of the taxi was around £100.
This was in Italy, the car hire company was Firefly and it had been arranged through Opodo.
When we got to the rental office they didn’t have any cars big enough for our party so we had to go to another rental company and rent a new vehicle, obviously at much higher cost as it was height of the season and we had limited alternatives.
So at the moment I’m out of pocket for two hire cars for the same two weeks and in future I will pay attention to the breakdown cover small print. The stress of breaking down on an Autostrada on the first day of the holiday with a full car and all our luggage, travelling back to the rental company and finally arriving at our destination 6 hours later than planned was not good.

Bert says:
26 October 2017

I recently hired a car through Holiday Autos. The supplier was Centauro at Alicante. They tried to sell their excess cover to me at 8 euros a day but I declined as I had an annual excess cover policy. When I declined they said that without their excess policy I would not be covered for mechanical breakdown. Ludicrous I thought so I still declined but worried throughout the two week holiday. I took this up with Holiday Autos because my hire voucher said breakdown assistance is covered. I am waiting to hear back. However, I have since looked up my annual excess cover ( £39pa ) and breakdown recovery, lost keys, misfuelling etc is covered under this policy so if you want reassurance take out an annual excess policy. It is still wrong that some car hire firms do not include cover in the actual hire fee; it is their car after all !!

I just hired a car at Geneva airport for travel to France for 10 days in March 2018 through Auto Europe which took me to the rental company Dollar (part of Hertz). In the weasel words in the contract, it says that roadside assistance is available for 37.80CHF (£30) per rental. If that is not purchased at the desk when collecting the car and breakdown assistance is subsequently required outside Switzerland then a “handling fee” of 540CHF (£415) will be applied. This does nothing to change my ongoing mistrust of the entire car hire industry and the cynical tricks they continually dream up.
Having said that, adding the £30, still makes my particular deal come out cheaper than the next best alternative, so I’ll be paying it. It’s just the way it is done that irks.
I have an annual car hire excess policy which covers “towing” but that’s not going to be of any use to cover what is in effect a penalty charge if the car I’m paying to use breaks down.