Hiring a car can be a stressful time for many as everybody wants their holiday to be relaxing and event free. Similarly driving on unfamiliar roads can make some drivers nervous. But fear not, the below guide will help you have a great motoring experience with lots of practical tips.
Guest article by David Carle, 14th May 2017.
I hired a car from Faro airport in Portugal in January 2017, and again in February and found the experience to be very pleasant and not at all as stressful as I’d feared.
Here are my suggestions for a relaxing car hire experience in the Algarve.
1- Do your research on the car hire companies. There are many reviews out there, so take the time to read some and decide on which companies to avoid and which to shortlist.
I would recommend that you look for a ‘Full to Full’ or ‘Return to Same Level’ fuel policy. If it’s on a Full to Empty basis you will often be paying the hire company an inflated price for the fuel, and probably return the car with the tank half full which they then sell to the next hirer.
Be aware that automatic cars are rare, and more expensive, so book early, or choose a manual car if you can drive one. Having said that, the car I hired in February was automatic, and it only cost about 25 euros more than a manual one.
It’s also worth requesting that the car has air conditioning (as many, but not all, do). If driving in any small towns (such as Alvor) it’s best to have a small car, as the roads can be very narrow.
2- Consider taking out Excess Waiver insurance before you leave home. This means that in the event of any damage to the car you will pay the excess but will then be able to claim it back from your insurer. Again, do your research and compare prices and cover levels.
Some of the car hire companies have a bad reputation for a very hard sale for their excess waiver insurance, which costs much more than if you arrange it yourself in advance.
3- Sat Nav – Unless you love exploring a country on your way to the hotel, I’d strongly recommend use of a sat nav system. There are basically 3 options for this: take your own (ensuring that it has up to date maps for the relevant country(ies) where you’ll be driving), hire a sat nav from the car hire company (but this could cost you from 3 euros per day, and it’s a new device to learn how to program, not ideal when it’s dark) or use a sat nav application on your mobile phone. I used an app called Waze, which I think is amazing, and it’s free. Download it from waze.com. Take the time to learn how to use it before you go. You will also need a mobile WiFi unit (see below).
4- The A22 and Tolls – The A22 is the motorway that runs east to west (and back!) across the Algarve. It does have tolls but in my opinion they’re well worth paying. In January it was almost deserted, almost a private motorway. If you’re travelling to reach a place then you want the quickest route. If you’re travelling to see the scenery and are happy with a leisurely journey then you could take the N125 instead and avoid the tolls.
Some/Most car hire companies have equipped their hire cars with transponder units that automatically record when you drive under the toll bridges. I paid 20 euros for this, which included 15 euros of credits. This is paid for by credit card so that any toll fees above the prepaid amount will be charged to your credit card after you return the car. As it happened, no additional charges were applied, which surprised me (as we drove the width of the Algarve, travelling to Spain and to Sagres).
5- Portuguese Driving – I’ve read several reports of bad driving in Portugal (and the accident statistics do support this), but I didn’t encounter any problems. Also, bear in mind that if you see any dodgy driving it could well be a foreigner struggling with the roads, signs, sat nav, back seat drivers, and a car that they don’t know yet, plus driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (for us Brits)!
6- Mobile Internet – if you’re planning to use your phone for navigation (or emails, social media, web browsing, whatever) I’d recommend that you use a MiFi (Mobile Wifi Router/Hotspot) device. I hired one from PortugalInternet.com and collected it from the Green Bus desk at Faro airport. Connecting the phone was simple and meant that I had unlimited Wifi for the duration of the holiday. Be sure to turn off data roaming on your phone to avoid large charges from your provider. You can either hire a data card or data card plus MiFi unit. I found it easier to hire the unit (which came with the data card installed and ready to go).
7- USB Charger Pack. It’s virtually inevitable that your phone and/or MiFi unit will run out of power at a critical point. So to avoid this I’d suggest you invest in a portable USB battery pack. These typically have multiple USB sockets so several devices can be charged at the same time. Some models have sockets with varying Amp ratings, so if your phone doesn’t seem to be charging check that it’s plugged into the appropriate USB socket. Keep your battery pack charged!
8- Things to do before you go:
* Decide on a hire car company, and book the car in advance (this can be much cheaper than renting when you arrive, plus saves you time).
* Decide if you want excess waiver insurance, and book it in advance.
* Decide on your sat nav strategy. If using your phone then learn how to use its sat nav app.
* Get a Licence Summary code from the DVLA. The car hire company might (or might not) ask for this.
* Check your passport and driving licence don’t expire until well after you’ll return. Check if you need a visa (we didn’t, from the UK)
* If using your own sat nav or phone, program in locations such as your hotel and the airport.
9- Things to take with you:
* Driving Licence (plastic photo part. The paper part is no longer required)
* Credit Card (With enough credit for car hire insurance excess, etc)
* Cash (Euros)
* Mobile Phone and/or Sat Nav, USB Power Pack (plus cables for all of these, including the cable to recharge the battery pack!)
* Optional – Stereo 3.5mm jack cable to fit your phone (both cars I hired had an input socket on the stereo so I had directions through the car speakers)
* Optional – external speaker for your phone (only if your phone isn’t very loud and you have sufficient space and weight allowance)
* Optional – windscreen mount for your phone or sat nav. (I just relied on the spoken directions)
* Car booking confirmation
* European to UK power adapter plus USB socket(s). (I also take a UK 4 way adapter to charge multiple devices at once).
10- When you arrive:
* Collect the MiFi unit if you’ve hired one
* Collect the car and pay for it. Make a note of the procedure for returning it.
* Check the condition of the car in case there’s any damage not noted by the hirer. If possible take a photo of any damage.
* Make a note of which side the fuel cap is located on, how to open it, and what type of fuel to use!
* Familiarise yourself with the basic controls of the car, including heating & air con
* Wire up your sat nav/phone/charger/MiFi etc.
* Adjust your mirrors and be aware of any blind spots that the car has.
* Remember to drive on the right!
* Have a great holiday.
11- Driving Hints:
* Get used to roundabouts – It’s rare to have ‘normal’ road junctions in Portugal – they love roundabouts, but they do help keep the traffic flowing.
* Be aware that the first exit from a roundabout can be just after the entry onto the roundabout.
* When joining a main road you generally have to give way to the traffic on your left, and often have a very short distance in which to do so. So be prepared to stop until you’re certain it’s clear.
* I used Drive4Fun and would happily recommend them. 10 days hire of a Renault Clio with Air Con in January 2017 cost me 65 euros, plus 15 euro mandatory airport tax, plus 20 euros for the toll unit. Exactly what I had been quoted.
(I’ve read some horror stories of additional charges by some unscrupulous car hirers). I returned the car with the same level of fuel. (The typical price of 95 RON Unleaded fuel was 1.49 euro / litre).
* I rented the MiFi unit from PortugalInternet.com This cost me 50 euros for 10 days unlimited data.
* I took out a policy from Car Hire Excess Waiver Insurance (CHEW). This cost £32.85 for a years cover (the cost will depend on your driving history).
* Stayed at the Jupiter Algarve Hotel in Praia Da Rocha, booked through loveholidays.com. Also stayed at The Tivoli Marina Hotel in Portimao. Very happy with both hotels.
* You can buy a Portable USB Power Bank/Battery charger from Amazon from about £12 upwards.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the company.