Last Updated on September 30, 2023 by Ben

renting a car in the U.K.
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Planning a road trip in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? You’ll love having the freedom to explore the country’s diverse regions and culture at your own pace. While the process is similar to renting a car at home or in other countries, here are a few things to know before you go about renting a car in the U.K.

Essential Tips for Renting a Car in the U.K.

Book from home.

Don’t wait until you get to Europe to rent a vehicle. It will be cheaper to book your car from the United States before you go. The further ahead you reserve your car, the better the chance of landing a deal because you can watch out for price drops.

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You’ll drive on the left.

In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, people drive on the left. This can take a little while to get used to, so don’t plan on a long drive right after a long, trans-Atlantic flight. Driving on the left means looking right when entering roundabouts, and when looking out for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. It’s best to start any U.K. road trip after a good night’s sleep, not when you’re operating on fumes.

Know in advance if you’re covered for collision insurance.

Before your trip, be sure to double check your credit card’s policy on renting a car in the U.K.. Do not assume that simply possessing a credit card is enough to provide a damage waiver.

If you have a premium credit card, it might provide some additional secondary CDW and theft insurance as a perk. It’s crucial that you to understand what coverage your credit card provides before you pick up the car.

Pay for the rental in pounds.

You may have the option to pay for the rental in U.S. dollars, but this option will cost you more in the long run. Pay in the local currency to avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion fees. If you opt to pay in U.S. dollars, the rental car company converts the purchase amount from the local currency on your behalf. But this process is entirely unnecessary, since your credit card company will process the transaction in either currency, and you will pay through the nose for the non-convenience.

Automatic transmissions can be harder to find and pricier.

Do you know how to drive a car with a stick shift? Have you ever done it with your left hand? The majority of rental cars in England have manual transmission. If you don’t specifically request an automatic transmission, the vehicle will have a manual transmission. If you need an automatic vehicle, it can be easier to find one if you rent at an airport location. You’ll likely be charged an additional fee for an automatic vehicle.

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There may be a variable speed limit.

That means the speed limit can change based upon traffic conditions, such as when there is road work or an accident ahead. While the speed limit might ordinarily be 70 mph on a motorway and 60 mph on a dual carriageway, those speed limits can change from minute-to-minute in a variable speed limit zone.

There are traffic cameras everywhere.

If you drive over the speed limit in the U.K., you’ll likely be caught on camera. Fines are steep. Just don’t.

Don’t rent a car when you’re in a city.

Renting a car in the United Kingdom can be great for exploring the countryside. But driving in London or Manchester has the same frustrations as elsewhere in the world. Instead, plan on using public transit and cabs to get around.

Gas is expensive.

There’s a good chance that petrol prices will be higher than what you see at home. Note that there’s a high probability your rental car will require diesel fuel. Note that the handles on most fuel pumps are the exact opposite color of what a U.S.-based driver would expect (diesel = black, unleaded = green). That makes it all too easy to put the wrong kind of gas into a rental car, so be sure to take your time at the pump. Check and recheck the fuel required and fuel dispensed carefully.

Inspect the car carefully before driving it off the lot.

Make sure to protect yourself from potential false damage claims by carefully look over your car before taking it for a spin. Document every nick, scratch or dent. Your smartphone will come in handy for taking photos of any imperfections to ensure you won’t have to pay for them later. Narrow roads all over the U.K. are notorious for leaving cars a little banged up, so you’ll want to make sure you aren’t blamed for any dings left by previous renters.