If you’re visiting Spain (and as the second-most visited country in the world, the chances are high!) then it’s possible you’re looking to rent a car. It’s a great place for a self-drive holiday with a well-maintained network of highways across the country.

There are plenty of rental car providers here and despite what you might read in the reviews most of them, in my experience at least, they’re mostly pretty good.* Hopefully the tips here will help you to be one of the many thousand who rent a car in Spain without incident AND get a great deal!

1 – Plan ahead

Like any country, Spain has busy seasons, and when demand is up (school holidays, public holidays, summer rush) prices go up to so it pays to book well in advance. Ideally, get a deal that offers free cancellation in case you find a cheaper offer.

Check if you really need a bigger car – Smaller cars are cheaper to rent (and run) as well as easier to park or drive down narrow Spanish streets. Modern small cars are also surprisingly roomy inside and a lot come with four doors (e.g. Puegeot 108, one of my favourite). If you’re only on holiday for a short time, don’t have a lot of luggage (if you’re flying with Ryan Air you obviously won’t ;)) and there’s only two of you then a small car will suit just fine. Having said that, I will say I really didn’t enjoy driving the Fiat 500 – sure they look cute but they’re tiny and the short wheel base makes them strange to drive.

Also try to collect from busy locations and plan your drive so you return to the same place – one way trips and smaller pickup points increase the price.

Of course, if you have a lot of flexibility or a good plan B then you can wait for last minute deals to see if anything cheap comes up.

2 – Book online

You probably know this already but we don’t mean with the rental car company directly. Cheaper offers are often found on what are called aggregator sites.

One I’ve used a few times is doyouspain.com. I’ve never had any issues with the booking and the one time I had to cancel it was just a quick email, no fuss, no drama. I’ve rented cars from that site for less than 1€ a day (my record is 0.20/day). This was in the off season so don’t expect those prices June through August.

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3 – Pick the full-to-full fuel option

Some rental companies offer a full-to-empty option which they like to tell you is a great deal (it isn’t). Unless it’s at least 30 euros less than the full-to-full option then don’t go for it AND if you do opt for it return the call FULL. I know that sound backward but let me explain. Returning it full means you (should) get a full refund on the very expensive tank they get you to prepay when you pickup the car. Then all you need to pay is the admin fee, which is generally around €25. Obviously double check with them before booking if you want to be certain.

Seriously, who can return a car empty? What a stupid system but a great little money maker for the rental car company.

Full to full is just nice and simple – just fill up anywhere up to about 15km before the drop-off point (keep the fuel receipt in case they want to see it). This way you’re only paying the going rate for 95 which in Spain is around €1.30.

4 – Get your own excess insurance

This is an old favourite of rental car companies – sell you additional insurance (the aggregator sites do it as well, a little cheaper). They like to scare you into worrying about the possibility of a little damage (even if it’s not your fault) costing you thousands. It does sound scary and because you don’t want to spend your holiday worrying about what might happen you take it. Fair enough but there’s a better way.

Just get excess insurance – a lot of companies offer it and it might even be included with your travel insurance. You can get either one-off or annual policies that work out A LOT cheaper than what the rental car company is offering.

5 – Double check the pickup location

Sometimes pickup locations can be confusing, they might be onsite or offsite at the airport, or there might be multiple locations for the same agency in the same city, whether it’s Barcelona, Madrid, Tarragona, Seville or Malaga.

Collecting a rental car can be a little stressful so just do what you can to minimise that or miss your pickup time by confirming exactly where and how you’re picking the car up.

6 – Say no. Lots.

Be prepare for a bit of pressure at the rental car desk when you collect your car. As you’re handing over your drivers license, passport and credit card, they’ll no doubt be trying to sell you everything from full-cover insurance and fuel plans to GPS systems and car seats.

Unless you’ve decided in advance there’s something you need just be polite but firm and stick to No thanks. Don’t feel pressured to make decisions on the spot. If you have to feel free to take a few minutes away from the desk to discuss or research your options.

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7 – Check and photo everything

Once you have the keys and paperwork for your car, make sure you document the car’s current condition. Take photos (or a video) of any scratches or damage, as well as the dashboard with the ignition on so you can see current mileage and fuel level. Match any damage on the sheet they give you with damage on the car. Also check everything, such as the phone charger and bluetooth connection works.

If it’s a screw-in antenna, and you’re absolutely paranoid, I’d suggest unscrewing and keeping it in the boot – just so it’s safe from any light fingers out there.

Lastly, get familiar with the car’s controls before you drive off, including how to shift into reverse (some European manuals can be quirky – push down and up etc) and have your destination set and active on your phone’s navigation.

8 – Keep the paperwork handy

Keep the paperwork for the rental car somewhere handy, such as in the glovebox or seat pocket. You may need it if stopped by the policia (never happened to me) or when returning the car. Nothing worse than stressing about where you put the paperwork when returning the car.

Also make sure you have your driver’s license, passport and international license (if needed) handy as well.

9 – Don’t rush the return

Allow plenty of time for returning the car for things such as refueling, traffic jams or queues at the rental car company. Know exactly where you’re returning it to and make sure the car is completely empty of all your belongings. If you did put a scratch in the car or lost a hubcap, I’ve been told the best thing is to just ignore it (take photos beforehand in case it does become an issue).

Also have you refueling receipt handy in case asked for it.

10 – Check your credit card

Remember the rental car company has your credit card on their system. It’s possible they put a hold on it for the insurance excess. Review your credit card statement around two weeks later to make sure there were no extra charges added and query them immediately if there are. I rented from Dickmanns one time and it took them at least a week to refund the fuel bond they had actually charged to my card (not just a pending transaction).

If for some reason a company has put a wrongful charge on your card and you’re not getting anywhere with the rental car company talk to your credit card company about disputing the payment.

What if I damage the car?

It’s a legitimate concern and yes it happens (hence why you have insurance) but in my experience rental car companies are often more lenient than many people give them credit for. I remember returning a Toyota to Hertz one time with a hubcap missing and some serious scratches on the front air spoiler (steep entrances!) and the returning agent barely bat an eyelid. I’ve also returned cars here in Spain with gouges in the wheel rims and nothing’s been said.

Many places will actually provide you with a circle gauge and tell you that anything smaller they ignore, often it just gets passed through as ‘wear and tear’.

So yes it’s perfectly normal to get a little nervous about it but try not to let it ruin your holiday stressing about it!

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Hopefully these tips can help you save the next time you rent a car in Spain!

*Just a quick ps regarding a recent Goldcar experience, returned a Fiat 500 (that had existing damage, a minor scuff on the front underside – see photo below) and got charged €200 for it. It has been almost a full month and all enquiries about my case have fallen on deaf ears. Incredibly frustrating and if it’s not resolved in another week or so my only recourse will be to ask my credit card company to reverse the transaction. Their customer service is painful, slow and gets you nowhere! This is a classic example of revenue grabbing because even if they finally relent to refunding the charge they’ve still had free use of that money for over four weeks!

Ten tips to get a cheaper rental car in Spain