Hiring a car
There are no specific EU rules on hiring cars, but you still benefit from your basic consumer rights when you rent a car in another EU country. This includes:
- the right to clear information
- the right to a fair contract
- access to alternative dispute resolution in case of disputes with the rental company
When you book a car, you should distinguish between rental companies and intermediaries or brokers. Intermediaries do not provide the rental car themselves, but book a car in your name with the rental company. In case of disputes, the rental company is the one responsible for the implementation of the contract, unless stated otherwise in the contract.
Limited right to cancellation
If you have booked a car online, by phone or email in the EU, you don't automatically have the right to cancel and claim a refund, although the car hire company's terms and conditions may allow it.
Car hire is not covered by EU rules entitling you to a 14-day "cooling off" period.
Car rental firms are free to set their own prices and conditions across different EU countries based on the costs they incur and other factors. However, when you hire a car – either online or directly from the premises of a car rental firm – EU rules ban discrimination on the grounds of nationality or the country where you live.
Stefanie, from Germany, wanted to hire a car in Ireland. The price quoted on the car hire firm's website was EUR 70.
But when Stefanie told the firm where she lived, the price shot up to over EUR 140. The reason given was that she was not an Irish resident.
Feeling this was unfair, Stefanie contacted the European Consumer Centre, which got the car rental firm to bring its policy in line with EU rules.
Look before you book!
Make sure you understand the terms and conditions before hiring a car. The main things to look out for are:
Every rental vehicle needs to be covered by the third party liability insurance, which is valid in all EU countries. This insurance should be included in the rental price.
You can also take out optional insurance, covering other risks, e.g. injuries to the driver, damage to your vehicle, theft of your vehicle/its contents, vandalism, and legal assistance.
Make sure you know what damage your insurance contract covers. You should find this in the terms and conditions of the rental contract.
Driving a hired car in another country
If you're planning to drive your rental vehicle in several countries you must inform the rental company when booking the vehicle. If it allows you to take the vehicle to another country than the visited one, it can ensure you have the correct vehicle documentation, insurance and breakdown cover.
If you live in the EU and you rent a car in a non-EU country, such as Switzerland, special rules apply when driving it in EU countries.
If you plan to travel with your rental car both in EU and non-EU countries – for example from Switzerland to France, Germany, Austria or Italy – you need to tell the rental company in advance. They can provide you with an EU-registered car in order to comply with EU customs laws. Most car rental companies in Switzerland provide cars with EU number plates for EU residents in order to comply with EU customs rules, but you should check with your car rental company.
The car rental company must also ensure that the car complies with the customs and traffic rules of the country where you will travel. For example, in many countries winter tyres are compulsory during certain months of the year.
Check road safety information when driving in another EU country.
Driving licence validity
If you are planning to rent and drive a car in another EU country, you also need to check that your driving licence is valid there.