Planning a self-driving holiday? Here are some tips on how to go about choosing a rental car.
Self-drive holidays offer you the freedom to explore places that are off the beaten track, to discover hidden gems, and to bond with your loved ones.
Popular self-driving destinations for Singaporeans include countries such as New Zealand, Europe and the US. Once in a while, though, there are reports of fellow Singaporeans getting into motoring accidents. Such news, even when it reports on minor incidents, is liable to turn one off driving in a foreign country.
But a little preparation goes a long way, so take heed of these tips.
Before you set off
It is always good to make sure you have all the necessary documents required. Do research on travel and motoring information of your host country. Assuming you have a valid driving licence, apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is especially useful in non-English speaking countries as it contains driving terms in a number of languages — useful when you rent a car or for motor insurance claims and certain motoring-related information. Application fee is $20 and easily done online at the AA website.
Do make sure you have a physical copy of your Singapore licence as well. It may come in handy in countries such as Japan, Taiwan and the US, whose authorities sometimes request for it apart from the IDP.
When looking for a car rental company, it is a good idea to do some homework. Check for online discounts and special deals. Some companies, such as Toyota Rent-A-Car in Japan, offer discounts for certain destinations, eg Okinawa. Free cancellations are great if you want to book multiple cars to compare rates and lock-in the cheaper one before cancelling the others. You may also check for deals with AA Singapore’s car rental partners — Hertz, Avis, JR Hokkaido Rent-A-Car and Nippon Rent-A-Car — at your destination. For more information, visit https://www.aas.com.sg/membership/car-rental-offers.html.
Insurance coverage for rental cars is another good idea, though some travellers, for added peace of mind, still opt for travel insurance policies that offer cover for Rental Car Excess. Whichever you go for, check with both the car rental company and your insurance company for more details on the premiums and coverage. Do check out the car and travel insurances provided by AA Singapore, such as the AA Overseas Driving Personal Accident Plan (https://aas-insurance.com.sg/app/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/AA-Overseas-Driving-PA-Product-Summary.pdf) and AA TourCare Plus (https://aas-insurance.com.sg/aa-tourcare-plus/).
Make sure the cars come with English language GPS apps. Some companies do offer that option and that may be a life and fuel saver if you don’t want to miss a turning and have to make a long detour!
Pick a suitable ride
Choosing the right type of car is paramount, as you’ll be spending a lot of time in it. Do your homework on things like the kind of roads you are expecting to drive on. Consider factors such as the number of people in the car as well as the needs of kids and the elderly onboard.
For scenic or country roads, look for cars with 4WD for safer stability, since some of these roads may be unpaved or muddy. A roomy MPV would be great if there are kids and senior citizens on the road trip; it also offers a great view of the surrounding scenery, while the low boarding stance will be kinder to the older ones.
In and around town areas, a small urban car would be great for a party of two. Think about tight spaces and negotiating parking spots. A larger car may be more comfortable but a smaller one would be less stressful. On more glamorous routes, such as Los Angeles, rent a fantasy ride — a sports or a luxury car — if you can afford it! If money is tight, rent it for a day or two, then swap to a more conventional — and economical! — car for the rest of your journey. You are on vacation after all, so why not live it up a little?
Do a thorough car check
After you take possession of your rental car, check the bodywork for scratches, dents and any irregularities with the rental staff so that there is no dispute later on. Run the motor to check that there are no funny or weird noises. Make sure the air conditioner/heater is working well, and test the brakes, too.
Familiarise yourself with the car controls as well as the GPS system — get help from the car rental staff if necessary. Ensure there is a physical map of the area you will be driving around in the glove compartment in case Wi-Fi signals are weak, intermittent or non-existent. Select the areas you’d like to explore beforehand and learn about the routes you will be taking. Knowing where the rest stops, tourist information points and petrol stations are situated will go a long way towards making your road trip more pleasurable.
Some countries have a toll collection device installed in their cars, something similar to our IU units. Check with the car rental staff on how to operate them and where to top up the cards, if necessary. Make sure you have the right change ready if the tolls only take cash.
Drive safe and make sensible decisions. It’s a holiday, so make it a fun and memorable one.