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Sunday, 16 January 2011 12:33

Driving a hire car in the winter

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With the recent Arctic conditions in the UK we can see at first hand the impact that snow can have on the transport system. We’ve seen drivers stranded on motorways across Britain for several hours, even days leading for calls for the government to be more prepared and to “learn the lessons” for future years. Our friends in Europe are often held up as an example of how to cope with this sort of weather, but what few people in the UK may realise is that the reason their road networks seem to fare better than hours isn’t purely down to more grit lorries and snow ploughs but it is largely due to the fact that their motorists are more used to driving in sever winter conditions, and also they have laws to ensure that motorists are prepared.

Legislation on tyres is a good example of this. In many countries in Europe that typically get worse winters than ours there are laws that oblige drivers to have winter tyres fitted to their cars for certain months of the year. Many residents in Europe have two sets of wheels for their car and change these each spring and autumn as the weather begins to change. A snow tyre has a higher silica content when compared to a standard tyre which means that they’re more effective at lower temperatures so provides more grip on cornering, braking and acceleration. In addition to snow tyres some countries have a mandatory requirement to carry snow chains in certain months which must be fitted as the weather conditions and local signs dictate.


So, how does this impact hire cars? Well, in many countries when you pick up a rental car in winter months you may have to pay an additional “winterization fee” or similar. This is in addition to the price you may have paid for renting the vehicle in the first place and covers some of the costs of making the vehicle ready for travelling in adverse weather conditions. Some people in the UK have been taken by surprise by this fee when collecting their hire car as it is not normally applied to the rental figure when you book, but rather when you pick up. In countries where snow tyres are recommended but not compulsory you may be offered the option of having hem fitted, often at an extra cost.


Charging policies at different rental companies will vary so make sure you check what is already included in your rental, and if necessary call the rental company in advance to make sure that you are fully aware of anything else that you may get charged for when you collect your car. Some items such as snow chains are not always readily available so if you feel that you are definitely going to need them then its worth calling ahead to book them in advance.


Its important to remember that as a driver of a vehicle you have responsibility for making sure you are compliant with local laws, so its worth checking the driving and equipment requirements for different countries that you travel to in advance. When you pick up your rental vehicle, make sure that it complies with the winter driving rules of that country (for example, check that winter or all weather tyres are fitted if they are required at that time of year in the country that you’re renting in). Also, remember that rules can differ from one country to the next so its important to check the details for any other country that you may drive into whilst in your rental vehicle and ensure that you have everything you need for driving in that country. If you plan to drive in several different countries then it may be worth making a check list in advance and phoning your rental company to ensure that the vehicle will meet all of the requirements of your trip.


When you’re renting a vehicle in the UK and driving it to Europe it’s important to ensure that you take responsibility for complying with local laws. The rental company is under no obligation to fit winter tyres to a vehicle that is rented from the UK so make sure you carefully check the requirements before you travel. Many rental companies will fit all weather tyres to their cars as standard and these may be used in many countries as a substitute to full winter or snow tyres if the vehicle is licensed from abroad. The key advice is to do your research in advance and check the specific details of your vehicle with the rental company before you travel. (If you’re hiring in the UK to drive into mainland Europe, it is also important speak to your rental company about obtaining a Vehicle on Hire Certificate so you can take the car out of the country).


Wherever you travel this winter, we hope your driving experience will be a pleasant one. Hopefully with a bit of research and advance planning you will avoid falling foul of any local laws and will be aware in advance of any additional items that you may need to pay for when you pick up your rental vehicle. Also, remember most vehicles that you rent will charge you an excess on your insurance so don’t forget to make sure you buy your Car Hire Excess Insurance policy from iCarhireinsurance before you go!


Information on the driving requirements in different countries can be found on

The AA website

The RAC website

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:51
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