Healthplan Spain


A Guide To Car Hire In Spain Expat Tips

Hiring a car in Spain is a popular choice among the millions of holidaymakers who visit these shores each year. Spain is a diverse and beautiful country with a rich culture and heritage, which is just waiting to be explored. Without a car, you will be missing everything it has to offer.

If you are an expat and live in Spain permanently, there may come a time when you will need to hire a car, so it's good to familiarise yourself with the legal requirements and the process involved.

Renting a car in a foreign country can be a daunting prospect for many of us, but if you read our guide below, you will pre-arm yourself with all the information you need to find the best deal and at the same time avoid any of the common pitfalls associated with hiring a car in Spain.

Legal Requirements and Documentation

To hire a car in Spain you will usually need to be at least 22 years of age, however, this can rise to 25 when hiring vehicles of a specific category. Some car hire companies may also have an upper age limit of around 65 years of age.

It is possible to hire a vehicle if you are under 22, but will depend on the car hire company's policies. You may also be required to pay an additional surcharge as the hire company will see your lack of driving experience as more of a risk.

You will usually be required to provide a form of identification. A passport or if resident in Spain an NIE or residency document should suffice.

You will need to present a full driving licence and depending on where you reside, you may need to provide extra documentation.

  • Resident in Spain - If you are originally from the EU and are now resident in Spain you will be able to use your full EU or Spanish driving licence if you have one. It is important to note that under recent EU regulations, if you have become a permanent resident in Spain you will need to exchange your driving licence for the Spanish equivalent within two years of becoming resident in Spain. Further information can be found here
  • Visiting Spain from the EU - If you are visiting Spain for your holidays from within the EU you can use your current full driving licence. Previously you were required to show the paper part of the licence, but this is no longer a requirement. If you are from the UK, you will not need to provide a DVLA code which provides a summary of your licence including endorsements, as this is not a requirement in Spain.
  • Visiting Spain from outside of the EU - Non-EU drivers will need to provide an International Driver's Permit when hiring a vehicle.

All drivers of the vehicle will need to be named on the agreement.

Deposits and Car Hire Excess Insurance

On collection of the vehicle, you will usually need to provide a credit card so that the car hire company can take a security deposit. The credit card will need to be in the same name as the main driver and must have sufficient funds available.

The security deposit covers the provider for any potential speeding fines, parking fines and any uninsured vehicle parts. It also covers them if the insurance has been invalidated and to ensure safe return of the vehicle.

If taking out the car hire company's own excess insurance cover (see below) you may not need to provide a deposit/credit card.

Collision Damage Waiver or CDW is usually included as a part of the agreement and helps to reduce your liability in the event of an accident. If CDW is not included, you could be hit with the full cost of the vehicle if it were to be written off in an accident. Collision Damage Waiver prevents this and means you will only pay the excess, although this could still run into thousands of Euros.

It's important to note that CDW does not always cover you for things such as tyres, the roof, wheels, interior, glass and wing mirrors along with any excesses as stated above.

A way to avoid being hit with a huge excess bill is to take out a separate car hire excess insurance. These are usually pushed on customers by car hire firms when collecting the vehicle. They can be quite expensive and in the region of £25.00/€25.00 per day. The car hire industry in Spain is very competitive, so car hire firms look at every opportunity to make up for the reduced price of the car hire.

If you purchase a separate excess insurance policy from one of the many companies online, it can cost as little as £2.00/€2.00 per day and will cover you for anything not covered by the standard Collision Damage Waiver. If you do not purchase the hire company's excess insurance, you will need to present a credit card for a security deposit. The security deposit can be anywhere between €250 to €1,000.

Before driving the car away, make sure you check it for any damage. Many companies will go around the car with you and mark off any existing dents and scratches etc. so that you are not held liable. This will normally be highlighted on a document with a drawing of the car, which you will be asked to sign. Make sure that you highlight any damage that the member of staff has not seen otherwise you may be held responsible. Also, check the windscreen and all glass for any cracks and chips.

To be safe, you may want to take some photos prior to driving the vehicle away.

You can compare the different car hire excess insurance providers via

Fuel Policy

Unfortunately, all cars need fuel and something that catches a lot of people out is the fuel policies that are used by the car hire companies. As car hire companies are always looking for ways to increase their profits, charging you over the top for petrol is a common ploy. The main fuel policies available are:-

  • Full to Full - This means that the vehicle will come with a full tank of petrol. When returning the vehicle, you will need to make sure the tank is full again. For many people, this is the best option and avoids any extra fuel charges. One tip is to make sure you keep any receipts when filling the tank and handing these over when returning the car. You may also want to take a photo of the fuel gauge on collection and when returning the vehicle.
  • Pre-Purchase - With this form of fuel policy, you will receive the vehicle with a full tank, which you will pay for up-front and will need to return it empty. If you do not return it empty (or as near to as possible) you will be giving the hire car company free fuel. With this kind of policy, you will generally be paying well over the odds for the fuel in the first place, so it is not generally the most cost-effective deal.
  • Pre-Purchase with Refund - Similar to Pre-Purchase, you will receive the car with a full tank and will be refunded for any unused fuel.
  • Pre-Purchase with Partial Refund - When you collect the car you will be charged for the full tank of fuel and also pay a non-refundable service charge, which is to cover the car hire companies refueling costs. You will be reimbursed for any fuel that you have not used.
  • Free Tank - Some car hire companies offer a free tank of fuel, which is included in the price. You simply return it with whatever is left. This kind of fuel policy is quite rare and will usually come with some form of hidden cost to make up for the 'free fuel'.

So which fuel policy is best?

The 'pre purchase' fuel policies are really for convenience's sake and will cost you much more in the long run as you will normally pay a lot more per litre with the car hire company than you will at the petrol station. The 'full to full' option is by far the cheapest and safest option if you are happy to spend a couple of minutes filling the car up again prior to returning. There will be no service charges, or excessive fuel costs and you won't be paying for fuel you haven't used.

Many companies now operate a 'fair fuel policy' so look out for these when comparing car rental companies.

Another thing to remember is to check with the provider, which type of fuel the vehicle takes. Most hire cars in Spain will take unleaded or Sin Plomo, but it's always best to confirm this before driving the car away. It's often highlighted on the key fob and/or on the inside of the fuel cap.

If you have a contract with a full-to-full fuel policy, you may want to take a photo of the fuel gauge when you drop the car off as proof.

Mileage Limits and Breakdown Cover

Car hire contracts will usually be either limited or unlimited mileage. Make sure you check this when purchasing otherwise you could be charged for any extra mileage over a certain amount of miles.

Something else you would need to ascertain is who to contact if your vehicle breaks down. Breakdown cover is usually included in the contract, so check with the provider so that you have the number to call. Quite often you will find this information on your copy of the agreement, but make sure you confirm this to be on the safe side.

What You Must Carry in the Car by Law

There are certain items that you must carry in your vehicle by law when driving in Spain. However, be advised that it is legally the responsibility of the car hire company to make sure that the items below, logbook, ITV/MOT and other documentation are available, as it is the owner of the vehicle that will ultimately be fined. These are:-

  • Warning triangles x 2
  • Florescent jackets for each person travelling in the car. These must be kept inside the car and not in the boot. You can be fined for walking on the road or hard shoulder without one.
  • Child seats. Children under 1.35 metres in height or under 12 years of age are not permitted to sit in the front seats of any vehicle. There is a fine of 200 Euros for such an offence. Children up to the age of 12 and measuring less than 135cm travelling on the front seat of a car must be seated in a child restraint system adapted to their size and weight. Children measuring more than 135cm may use an adult seat belt. If you need a car seat, make sure that you enquire when booking your car and check if there are any extra costs involved.
  • Spare tyre and the tools to change it.

For further information, please see our other article

Comparing Car Hire Companies

As there are so many car hire companies to choose from, it can be daunting when comparing them all and selecting the right one. There are so many horror stories online from people who feel they have been ripped off, so it's important that you choose a company that is not only going to offer you good value for money, but also treat you fairly and provide you with a good level of customer service.

One of the best sources is of course, the internet. Try Googling '[car hire company] reviews' or visit some of the expat forums in Spain and ask for any recommendations from users.

Utilise some of the car rental comparison sites such as SkyScanner,Travel Supermarket, Car Rentals and Kayak 

Check review sites like Tripadvisor, Trustpilot and if the company has a Facebook or Twitter page, check customer comments and reviews to see how credible they are.

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in Spain?

Car hire costs can start from as little as £3.50/€3.50 per day, but can be a lot more depending on different scenarios such as:-

  • Will you be picking up at the airport or not?
  • Will you need a manual or automatic transmission? (Automatics are generally a lot more expensive to hire)
  • Will you be booking early or leaving it to the last minute? (Booking early can potentially save you a lot of money)

The price will also be dependent on the class of vehicle. A small five-door hatchback will obviously be cheaper than a luxury 4 x 4. Make sure that the car you plump for fits your needs and that you are not paying any more than you need to.

When you do pay for your car hire, make sure you use a credit card if possible as you will be provided with greater protection.

What To Do If You Feel You Have Been Ripped Off

If you feel that you have been ripped off by a car hire company in Spain, you should in the first instance try to resolve the issue with the company directly.

This can be done verbally or in writing. If possible try to keep a record of any written correspondence.

Companies do not like their reputation tarnished online, so if need be, post a comment or review on their social media page asking for assistance so that others can see you have an issue you wish to be resolved.

If you have attempted to resolve the issue with the company, have not been successful and have allowed sufficient enough time for the company to respond, then you can escalate your complaint to a number of organisations who deal with the code and conduct of hire car companies in Europe. These include:-

  • The European Car Rental Conciliation Service - provides a free service to deal with unresolved complaints with cross-border vehicle rentals within Europe. Many of the major car hire companies participate in this scheme including Avis, Alamo, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, National, Sixt, Firefly and Enterprise
  • European Consumer Centres - The European Consumer Centres can investigate disputes that you have with car hire companies in Europe and determine if they have broken their contract with you. 
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