As much as everyone seems to enjoy an Irish holiday, what with the friendly people, delicious food and beautiful scenery . . . what's not to like. OK, I'll give you something . . . CAR RENTALS!
Of all of the arrangements I had to make for our trip, the rental car was the biggest worry. Reading on other travel blogs, you cannot miss the ranting and bashing that the rental companies get especially from Americans. The top complaints include (1) too expensive, (2) hidden costs, (3) damage assessments for previous damage, and (4) pre-buy gas policies . . . and not necessarily in that order.
While I do believe there may be some unscrupulous rental car companies and employees, I do not buy into the conspiracy theory that they are all out to get every American tourist they can. Often when you hear the stories played back, it becomes apparent to me that many people do not read the fine print of their reservation or the rental agreement itself. While I may be inclined to be sympathetic to their concern, I don't believe it is fair for them to blast away in public travel forums about how lousy X, Y or Z company is.
Some things to know and understand BEFORE even booking a rental car in Ireland.
1. Unless you have a World Master Card, the credit card used for the rental will not provide you with the required insurance coverage necessary to waive the CDW. Further, if you have a W/MC and plan to use it to pay for your rental, you will need to have them issue you something in writing to provide the rental car company at pick-up confirming that you have the coverage necessary to waive the not-so-optional insurance. Without it, you will be on the hook for the very expensive insurance from the rental company on a mandatory basis.
2. If you book online on a US rental company page (like Hertz, Budget, Thrifty, etc) they may not have all of the fees included in the rental rate quoted but they will have something about the insurance issue when renting in Ireland . . . even it if is vague and doesn't specify how much to expect the CDW and other insurances to cost. Booking on the Irish websites of these companies (Hertz.ie as an example rather than Hertz.com) will help to alleviate this issue although you may not get the best daily/weekly rental rate that way.
3. Read the fine print regarding their pre-buy gas option. Some rental companies have a mandatory pre-buy of gas if you have their car for a week or longer. Be sure you know what their policies are as some will refund this if you return it with a full tank and others will not. If you are unsure, ask before you leave the rental counter. Also figure out how much their tank of gas is costing you. Maybe it is cheaper to let them sell you that first tank. In our case, we had no choice but had we, a tank on the street would have been €6 more. And if you are prebuying your first tank, be sure to return it as close to empty as possible. Ours was returned with the gas gauge indicating we only had 10km to go before running out of gas. I would guess that would be about a liter left @ €1.55 (pre-paid price).
4. Be sure to take a thorough review of your vehicle, from top to bottom and all around, including the wheels, wheel covers and tires (tyres in Ireland). Our rental car even had the wheel covers tied to the wheels with barlock ties. That was reassuring! Any surface scratch that gets to the metal should be noted as well as any actual damage to the body, including nicks in the windshield or scratches on the side mirrors. Also be sure there are no tears or deep scratches in the interior (doors, seats, etc).
When booking a rental car, regardless of where in the world I am traveling, I always start the booking process as soon as the dates I'm traveling are available online in the booking system. Often you will catch an early rate that has not been adjusted for the coming year or the seasonality of travel. (Alaska is always better booked in the fall of one year for travel the following summer . . . often by as much as 300%.)
Once you make your initial reservation, continue to keep an eye on rates. I generally check every couple of weeks. As my trip nears (within the last month), I often will be checking daily just in case a special is released on a limited basis.
More often than not, I do not prepay for my car rental reservation. I avoid such booking sites as they are non-refundable and often do not allow for any changes in dates. That said, in the USA some of the best short date rates I've gotten have been through Hotwire.com so they are worth a look if you're confident in your travel dates not changing.
Regarding GPS navigation systems like Garmin, when traveling around Ireland we found that ours was more beneficial than aggravating. We did have some issues with the routing "Toots" gave us on a few occasions but the errors or confusing times were less than what we would have had without her.
Renting a GPS unit will set you back €8 to €10 a day. With our 15 day rental it would have been €135 or $178. Knowing that, we went ahead and bought a nice Nuvi1450LTM plus the UK/Ireland sim card for roughly $30 more but we also owned the Garmin for other uses rather than throwing the money away on a rental.
Another thing to consider when renting a car in Ireland is whether or not you are comfortable with a standard transmission. If you require an automatic be prepared to pay a steep price for it. Diesel cars also seem to get a higher rental fee but you should be able to save some money on the price of diesel fuel vs. petrol. At the time of our trip is was roughly €.06 to €.10 less than regular unleaded fuel.
Finally, the cars they have over there are small . . . much smaller than what most people in the United States are used to driving. Be sure to rent the appropriate sized vehicle for the comfort of your passengers and large enough for all of your luggage and other bags. It would seem to be a no-brainer, and yet, I was surprised to see a family of four trying to figure out what they were going to do with all of their stuff at the rental car lot. This is also another reason to stress to all traveling in your group to travel as light as possible. We averted a similar situation when we had to tell David's mom "nothing larger than a 22 inch roller bag".