What should I consider when renting a car in Australia?

author-avatar By on January 17,2020
What should I consider when renting a car in Australia?

Photo by Ron McClenny on Unsplash

Whether you’re an international visitor here to travel our big brown land or if you’re a local just after a car for a domestic trip or for a day or two, there are a few things to consider when renting a car in Australia.

There are quite a few traditional rental companies operating in Australia, and chances are you’ve heard of them before: Avis, Thrifty, Hertz, Europcar and Budget are all big name rental agencies found here.

Renting a car in Australia

Renting a car can be pretty easy in Australia. Whether you’re flying in for a holiday and want something to help you get around, or you require the temporary use of a van or truck to help you move house or do errands, it’s usually a case of either booking online or turning up on the day - keep in mind with the latter option you will have to be flexible as to what car you receive.

Car hire can cost anywhere from $30 a day to over $100, depending on the size of the car, your age and any extras you want to include.

Costs to rent a car

Aside from the nominal base rate, there are a few other charges that could see the cost of your car rental skyrocket, but some add-ons can be very important. Additional costs you might have to account for could include:

  • A one way fee: This may apply if you pick your car up in X location and drop it off in Y location, as apparently it’s a huge inconvenience for the rental company. You can usually find more details in your rental product disclosure statement (PDS) or in the terms and conditions.
  • Baby seats: Yes, having a little tacker can be costly, and no you can’t just strap them in the regular seat. Some agencies allow you to rent a car seat for a nominal fee per day, and this convenience can be worth it as you’re not lugging around your own seat when on holiday.
  • Mileage excess: Some rentals charge extra for any kilometres over the limit. This applies more to van and truck rentals when you’re moving house. Many are around the 100-200km daily limit and the rates for excess mileage are usually available in the agreement you would have invariably signed.
  • Car rental excess insurance: This is a biggie, and like regular car insurance it’s based on your age and type of car rented, among other things.
  • Late charges: Of course, if you’re more than a few hours - or even a day - late in returning your car, you can expect to be slugged, sometimes even at the full day rate if you’re only a few hours late.
  • Fuel fee: Rental agencies like you to fill up before returning the car, otherwise they’ll do you the (dis)service of filling it up for you, often at a much-inflated rated. Say fuel is $1.50 a litre, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the rental agency to charge you double that, so fill up before you return it, or fill it up as you found it.
  • Toll fee: Rental agencies may allow you to pre-purchase a toll and a transponder if you know you’ll be running through some tolls in your time, and the rates are usually what the regular tolls would be. However, if you decline this option and run through a few tolls, you can expect the rental agency to tack on its extra little margin as a way of saying thanks.

Requirements to rent a car

Generally, the minimum age for car hire in Australia is 21 across the major rental agencies. Twenty-one is generally the time locals in many states transition from a ‘provisional’ (restricted) licence to an unrestricted open drivers licence - a progression colloquially known as “getting off the P plates”. While 21 is the minimum age with many, there are also likely to be extra fees if you’re under 25. Some heavier vehicles or exotics may have higher limits.

On the flipside, most agencies don’t have a maximum age limit when it comes to renting a car, though some may require a medical certificate if you are over 75.

Insurance when renting a car in Australia

Car rental companies generally have their own form of insurance coverage for their entire fleet of rental cars, so you won’t have to take out a full car insurance policy for a car you’re only renting. However, if the car is damaged or stolen while you’re renting it, you’ll typically be liable to pay a damage excess to the car rental company, which can often exceed $3,000.

Most car rental companies offer car rental excess insurance to protect customers from this risk, but taking out such a policy means your daily rental costs will go up.

Many travel insurance policies include coverage for rental car excess up to a certain amount, so check your product disclosure statement to see if you’re already covered for this risk. This may also be provided through your credit card, but be sure to check the PDS.

What car rental agencies are there in Australia?

Avis Car Rental

Avis has more than 170 locations in Australia. From time to time, Avis offers promotional deals including portable Wi-Fi, vehicle upgrades and extra days at zero cost. Avis also has a mobile app making it easier to manage or update your booking, with receipts and trip history also available. Avis' minimum rental age is 21 with surcharges on those under 25.

Thrifty Car Rental

Thrifty has a sizeable presence in Australia with more than 170 locations. It has a minimum 24 hour rental period, but also offers long-term discounts. It also has separate small business and corporate accounts, as well as a partnership with Virgin Velocity. Thrifty’s minimum age is 21 with surcharges for those under 25.

Hertz Car Rental

Hertz is another giant, with more than 200 locations throughout our brown land. It features a ‘Hertz Business Solutions’ program. Other incentives also crop up from time to time, including no surcharge for younger drivers. It is also in partnership with Virgin Velocity, with a mobile app available to reserve a car, find parking and more. There is a rental surcharge for those aged under 25 of at least $16.50 a day.

Europcar Car Rental

Europcar has more than 100 locations Australia-wide and offers 24/7 service in most major airports, as well as offering 24-hour roadside assistance. It boasts a worldwide loyalty program and a mobile app to do everything you need. If you are under 25 you will need to pay a surcharge.

Budget Car Rental

Budget has more than 150 locations across the country. It has a partnership with Qantas Points, as well as Flybuys so you can accumulate points on your bread and your car hire. The Budget app also allows you to manage your booking and do everything on the fly. Renters aged 21-24 are subject to an additional surcharge.

Other car hire brands

  • Apex: Apex is a smaller agency operating mainly on the basis of having one location at airports in capital cities, and one in the city, as well as locations on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. Apex may offer more competitive deals but with a smaller fleet than its larger competitors, and there is a 13-day cap on many rentals. A big bonus with Apex is that it doesn’t charge a one-way fee, and there is no surcharge for drivers aged 21-24.
  • East Coast Car Rental: Despite the name, East Coast operates in Adelaide as well as the usual eastern seaboard destinations. It claims to offer lesser rates and more value. East Coast offers a full complement on sizes of cars and purposes, with a compact car as little as $27 a day. A one-way interstate rental is subject to a surcharge of $10. Drivers are not allowed to drive into the NT, Tasmania or WA, with those aged 21-24 subject to a surcharge.
  • Wicked Campers: The subject of admiration and ire everywhere, Wicked Campers are favourites with backpackers. You’ll see its cars adorned with slogans - sometimes inappropriate - and graffiti-style cartoons. It also has a range of pickup locations in trendy hotspots such as Byron Bay, Monkey Mia and Alice Springs. Wicked is also unique in that it offers campervans with pop-up tents on top. It is also one of the only companies to offer rentals to P Platers (albeit for a surcharge).
  • Jucy: Another backpackers' favourite, Jucy specialises in camper-type vehicles. it is also another rare breed in that it accepts drivers aged 18 years, but if international they must hold a full licence. Australian Green P Platers are also permitted to hire through them, though drivers aged 18-20 face a surcharge. It has a minimum hire period of five days for ‘Campas’.

Car hire alternatives

Several rent-to-own, car subscription and car-to-go services have popped up in Australia recently, most notably in capital cities. Car subscription services include:

  • GoGet
  • Car Next Door
  • Carbar
  • Carly
  • HelloCars
  • Motopool

These sites are a handy way to rent away from hire agencies, either as a means to toot around town, or to test drive a car more thoroughly before purchasing. They also allow you to take a look at more interesting cars that Hertz, Avis etc. may not offer, such as European models, luxury cars and quirky cars. But be warned, these services may cost more than your regular agency and have other limits, so it’s handy to do your own research.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Travelling across our big brown land is nearly impossible - and at the very least massively inconvenient - without a car. We’re a car-loving nation, and renting a car can present an easy way to get acquainted with the country. Of course, prices vary dramatically between agencies and car sizes so it pays to do your research. It’s also important to consider any excesses you’d need to pay should you be involved in an accident, and consider your insurance options to protect you from this potential cost. Overall, the online advertised price on car hire is usually only half the equation - be aware of the other costs when shopping around for a good deal.


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author-avatar
Harrison joined Savings in 2020. He is a journalist with more than four years of experience, with previous stints at News Corp and financial comparison site Canstar. With a keen interest in personal finance, Harrison is passionate about helping consumers make more informed financial decisions.

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