Hiring a Car in Portugal

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Should you rent a car for your trip to Portugal? It depends.

If you’re only visiting the major towns and cities – places like Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra – you can easily get between them by bus or by train. You definitely don’t need a car inside the cities either.

But, if you plan to venture away from the main towns and cities, it may make sense to rent a car, particularly if:

  • You plan to visit smaller towns and villages, which may not be easily accessible by public transport.
  • You plan to visit beaches or the countryside as these aren’t normally on bus or train routes.
  • You’re travelling as part of a family or group, in which case it may work out cheaper to rent a car.
  • You’re travelling with a serious amount of luggage, and don’t think you can get it all on a train or bus.
  • You’re on a tight schedule and don’t want to be reliant on public transport.

The following are some useful tips if you’re planning on renting a car for your trip to Portugal.

Use a comparison site

When it comes to flights, hotels, and car rental, it makes sense to shop around for the best deal.

For car rental, that means using a comparison site like RentalCars.com. Skyscanner.net can also be worth looking at as it provides slightly different results to RentalCars.com.

Generally, there isn’t much point in looking beyond these two sites as most car rental sites just partner with RentalCars.com and use their results.

Work out how long you need it for

Depending on your needs, you may not want to hire a car for the entire duration of your trip. If you’re visiting a city like Lisbon or Porto, for example, you won’t need a car for that section of your trip.

Of course, you may want a car for the entirety of your trip in which case it’s better to pick it up at the airport when you arrive.

Surprisingly, prices always seem to be better if you rent at the airport rather than booking it from a smaller company in town. Also, picking the car up at the airport means you don’t have to book a separate airport transfer or work out how to use the local public transport.

What to look out for:

  • Full-to-full: Is the fuel policy full-to-full (the best policy)?
  • Cancellation policy: Will you have the flexibility to cancel if your plans change?
  • Where the company is located: Is the company at the airport or will you have to get a shuttle to their offices?

Do you need any extras?

Just before you finish booking your rental, the comparison site or car rental site will offer you a series of extras like Sat Nav, child seats, and a second driver. Are any of these worthwhile?

  • Tolls transponder: The Portuguese toll system can be incredibly confusing, so, if you’re planning on using the tolls, it generally makes sense to pay the €1-2 per day for the transponder. You don’t need to purchase this, of course – you can go into the Post Office to pay your bills but it’s definitely not as convenient as renting the transponder.
  • Sat Nav: You probably don’t need to get the Sat Nav if you’re comfortable using Google Maps or you have a Sat Nav app on your phone.
  • Child seat: A child seat may be essential if you’re travelling with a young child or baby, but did you know that most airlines allow you to bring a child seat on the plane with you for free?
  • Second driver: Having a second driver is definitely preferable but, as there’s normally a daily rate of around €9 for the privilege, it can really increase the cost of your rental.
  • Mobile wifi: Ever since roaming charges within the EU were scrapped, there is much less of a need to rent a mobile wifi device in another country.

Decide if that deal really is a good deal

It’s not uncommon to find car hire deals for as little as €1 per day. These deals are almost never offered by brands you’ve heard of like Hertz, Avis, or Europcar, but by names that you’ve never heard of.

The old adage applies here: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While many people rent from these companies and have no problems, others find they end up paying incredibly high insurance excess or end up getting stung with unexpected charges for cleaning or damages when they return the car.

Make sure you get insurance

There are plenty of different ways that you can insure your car rental:

  • You could take the car rental company’s insurance policy.
  • If you have a premium credit card or bank account, they may already cover you.
  • You could take out a separate 3rd party car hire excess insurance policy.
  • If you book with RentalCars.com, you could take out their insurance policy rather than the car rental company’s.

Regardless of which option you decide on, the most important thing is that you take out some form of insurance. Accidents do happen, and the last thing you want is to end up with a bill for damages to the rental car.

Reviews are sort of helpful

Reviews can help to decide which car hire company is best, but they should also be taken with a pinch of salt.

When reading reviews, make sure that you’re reading the reviews for that particular branch e.g. Hertz at Faro Airport or Thrifty at Lisbon Airport as some companies can be good overall, but just have a bad local branch.

Note: RentalCars.com shows you the reviews and overall score for the local branch.

Don’t have a credit card?

You normally need a credit card to rent a car in Portugal. Some companies will allow you to use a debit card, however they’ll block quite a big chunk of money from your card – often €1,000 or more.

If you don’t have a credit card, RentalCars.com has a filter which allows you to see companies that allow you to use a debit card.

Other tips

Returning it to a different location?

Pretty much all car hire companies charge a 1-way dropoff fee if you return the car to a different location to the one you picked it up from, but the fees can vary quite a bit.

Essentially, some are cheaper than others and it’s worth reading up on which companies are the cheapest if you’re planning to return the car to another location.

Read up on driving in Portugal

With the exception of tailgating and a few speed demons, driving in Portugal is generally okay. It is worth reading the guide to driving in Portugal, just to make yourself aware of any local rules as well as read the tips on what driving is like here.

Do you need an automatic?

Automatic cars aren’t very common in Europe, but you car rent automatics at most airports in Portugal. They’re normally more expensive than a manual, and they tend to sell out quite quickly during the summer, so it’s always a good idea to book in advance.

See: Renting an automatic car in Portugal.

Always check the car over before driving away

Be sure to check the car over (and take lots of photos) before driving away. If you spot any scratches or marks that the assistant missed, call him back and make sure they’re marked on the sheet.

Also, be sure to check that the fuel tank is definitely full if you’ve rented the car on a full-to-full basis.

Make sure you know how the car works

It’s a good idea to make sure you know where everything useful is on the car before setting off, for example:

  • How do you start the car: Is it as simple as turning a key or is it one of the newer models were you press down on the brake.
  • How do you put the car in reverse: For some cars, you have to press a button underneath the gearstick to get it into reverse.
  • Where are the lights (particularly for full beam): Again, this is something that varies from car to car and it’s worth working it out beforehand.

Check which side the fuel tank is on

It’s a good idea to know this before your drive into the petrol station.

Look out for a petrol station as you leave

Keep an eye out for a petrol station when you’re leaving as you’ll need to fill the car up just before you return it.

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Article originally published on 3 November, 2019

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