Will I Be Charged if My Hire Car Breaks Down?

It is likely that you will be charged for breakdowns in a rental car, but it will depend on the circumstances and which rental company you are using. Often, you will need to take out additional cover, but even then, some charges may apply.

Firstly, it should be said that rental cars rarely break down as they are usually quite new and have to be regularly serviced to maintain their manufacturer's warranty. However, even new cars can occasionally develop faults.

What is Included in Rental Car Basic Cover?

All that is generally included in the basic price of your car rental is the minimum level of insurance required in the country where the rental takes place. This usually covers third-party damage, fire or vandalism, or theft of the vehicle. Even in these events, you will be liable for a large insurance excess for the claim.

For breakdowns, the rental company requires you to contact them with the details, and call the designated roadside assistance company. If the vehicle can't be repaired, it will be recovered to the nearest rental location, or to a locally authorised repairer.

Depending on the rental company and location, they will either bring you a replacement vehicle or require you to get to their office to collect the replacement. Another vehicle will be subject to availability.

What Will I Be Charged For?

If the vehicle can be repaired at the roadside, you may be charged for any parts that are needed. If the car has to be taken to a garage, the amount you will have to pay could include the callout and recovery, parts and labour for the repairs, loss of use, and a processing or administration fee.

Here are some examples of the breakdown charges imposed by rental companies:

  • Lost or damaged key: £130 - £540
  • Flat tyre: £140 - £290
  • Putting in the wrong fuel: £395 - £670
  • Clutch damage: £655 - £730
  • Engine damage: £6,400 - £7,100
  • Flat battery: £100 - £110

These prices are only for guidance and can vary greatly. If the driver is in breach of the rental agreement when the damage occurs, there may be additional fees and penalties.

How Can I Avoid Rental Car Breakdown Charges?

You can't avoid breakdown charges entirely, although you can reduce your liability. The rental companies offer additional insurance which sometimes includes breakdown cover. Where breakdown is not covered by this insurance, you may have to take out a roadside assistance package, which again can vary from company to company.

Roadside assistance may cover you for:

  • Misfuelling, as long as you didn't drive the vehicle afterwards.
  • Running out of fuel (you would have to pay for the fuel).
  • Locking in or losing the keys.
  • Damage to the clutch.
  • Flat battery.
  • Recovery charges.

However, you may still have to pay for parts and labour, and a claim administration fee. Tyres, wheels, glass, mirrors, and the underside of the car are not usually covered.

If you are booking online, the additional insurance and/or roadside assistance might be cheaper to purchase at the time of booking than waiting until you get to the rental counter.

Private Hire Car Insurance

As an alternative to the rental company insurance, you can take out your own hire car insurance. It can cover a single trip or, if you hire regularly, it can be an annual, multi-trip policy. This can be significantly cheaper and provide you with more comprehensive cover.

In the event of a claim, you would have to pay off all the costs required by the rental company, but you would be reimbursed by the insurance company. You would need to produce all receipts relating to the claim, photographs where applicable, and correspondence from the rental company.

When taking out a hire car insurance policy, make sure that the underside, tyres, and glass are included in your cover.

Avoiding Breakdowns

When you collect your hire car, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of a breakdown.

  • Check the tyres for any damage to the tread or side walls.
  • Check the oil and fluid levels. You are responsible for these.
  • Check that all the warning lights go out when you start the car.
  • Check that the clutch feels right and the gears shift smoothly.
  • Check the type of fuel, and which side the filler is on.
  • If there is anything you are not sure about on the car, ask the staff.

If a warning light comes on once you are on the road, stop as soon as you can and contact the company. They will advise you whether or not to continue driving. Failing to do so could leave you liable for any subsequent damage.

New cars are more reliable than ever these days, and the odds of a mechanical breakdown are slim. A few precautions and sensible driving should protect you from problems in your hire car.