Hiring a car on a holiday abroad is something most holidaymakers have done, and will do again in the future. Signing all the insurance paperwork at the car hire desk is a bit of a chore but it doesn’t have to be so costly and stressful.

Having use of a vehicle while on a foreign holiday can lead to fun adventures and really making the most of a trip. It provides freedom to explore different places at your own pace and can be much more practical and personal than guided tours or trips. Flying to popular European countries like Spain and Italy, for example, and then hiring a car from a local company is usually more cost effective and enjoyable than driving for tens of hours in your own motor.

But it can be confusing at the car hire company when presented with their insurance forms and explanations of why policies need to be paid for. Firstly, most people hiring cars are unaware of the differences between normal car insurance and that needed for hire cars. Any repairs needed to be made to a car because of damaged caused by the hirer have to be made by the company’s approved garage, which can be at an inflated price and something you have no control over. Driving a hire car is often an unusual experience for most drivers. This could be because they’re behind the wheel of a different model car, which may be bigger or smaller than their normal car and have a different sized engine. Driving in a foreign country brings its own risks as drivers adjust to different hazards, local road etiquette and operating on the other side of the road. While most cars in the UK are manual, the reverse is true in the USA. Flashing your lights in the UK may mean you’re giving way (even though the Highway Code states the exact opposite), but in Germany this can mean you’re driving too slowly, and in France that there’s police ahead. Given the UK’s massive proclivity for roundabouts, coming across them in other countries can be a shock, especially when they’re dealt with differently. While the trend is changing in France, it used to be cars entering a roundabout that had right of way, and not those already on it (though there doesn’t appear to be any rules on the Arc de Triomphe).

All this makes the need for good insurance very important. However most car hire companies, from major international brands to small independents, will strongly advise their customers to pay for the policy they offer at the desk. Their staff will be keen to see customers pay for excess insurance or damage waiver schemes they provide, perhaps throwing in scare tactics of forking out £1,000 plus for repair bills for not opting to take them. These will usually be calculated on a per day basis, depending on the type of vehicle being hired, and could be as much as £20 per day for a standard family car. The cost of taking out this cover can easily outweigh the price paid for the hire itself, even on short deals of four or five days. The ‘bargain’ price you thought you were paying for the car before you arrived on holiday suddenly doesn’t look so appealing! Often the insurance comes with quite a large excess as well, meaning that most minor damage is paid from your pocket, without the insurance even kicking in. It’s possible to get insurance for the excess though, meaning you’re covered for the initial outlay after an accident which is often demanded by insurance companies.

The best policies will also cover much more than just damage to the outside of the car and should include repairs to the undercarriage, the cost of towing and the most common problem for car hirers, namely misfuelling at the petrol station. It may seem like a minefield of things that can go wrong, but the potential problems are greatly outweighed by the benefits. Getting to drive a well maintained car, trying new models for any future potential purchases, getting to leave your car at home, while still retaining mobility in your host country and keeping the freedom from the overpriced and limited guided tours.

Car hire insurance policies should not turn a dream holiday abroad into a nightmare. Getting behind the wheel in sunny Spain, fabulous France or awesome America should still be fun and open up the road for an exciting time.