Although there are several ways to get around the UK, including by rail, bus and organised group tour, one of the best ways to see the sights is by renting a car.

When looking on the internet, it can seem quite complicated and challenging to actually be able to hire a car in the UK. But this isn't really the case and if you prepare, the whole process is fairly simple.

In this article, we are going to give you some of our top tips and essential things to consider before hiring a car in the UK for the first time. 


Top Reasons to Hire a Car in the UK

There are so many reasons you should consider renting a car as opposed to other methods of transport, including:

  • Get off the beaten track to see spectacular countryside, towns, villages and historic sites
  • Value for money, especially if there are multiple people travelling
  • Have the freedom to go where you want when you want


Do You Really Need to Hire?

What are your travel plans? Where would you like to visit? How much time do you have available?

Sometimes not renting a car at all is the best option, for example, if you are only planning on staying in London, then there is an extensive transport system connecting the city and greater area making getting around easy.

Using the tube in London is also a lot quicker than driving due to the traffic. But if you really want to get out and see the rest of the country then a car hire is a great option.


Best and Worst Car Rental Companies in the UK

Some of the most well known local and international companies offering car hire include Avis, Zipcar, Thrifty, Sixt, Hertz, Budget and Enterprise. These companies have years of experience and rent thousands of cars every year.

Unfortunately there are also lots of dubious websities offering cr hire at extremely low prices which sometimes turn out to be too good to be true. Always check for reviews on independent websites and social media pages.

If you have any experiences with our featured recommended companies, or if you would like to share feedback on car rental companies to avoid, please let us know in the comments section below.


Buy or Rent?

If you plan on visiting the UK for a long duration, you could consider buying a car. This might sound like a crazy idea but this can offen be an affordable way to see the UK, and then get your money back.

There are several online websites like the Gumtree and Autotrader which allow you to view and find cars in advance of your departure date and buy on arrival.

There are also lots of used car dealerships and other companies offering the chance to buy a cheap car for the duration of your trip, often times this could work out more expensive in the long term when compared to renting a vehicle. Some offer buyback options too.


What Car to Hire

When renting a car in the UK, it is important to ensure that you are aware of what you need from the car that you are hiring. Whether this is a specific amount of boot space, a specific number of seats or even the fuel efficiency, it is very important to consider this before you rent.

You could choose a smaller economic option or if you have a lot of stuff and are going to be travelling with others then a larger car might be the best option.

You also need to think about whether to go for manual or automatic.


Book Early to Get the Best Deals

The price you pay depends on the company, car you choose and the duration you hire for. The more luxury the car, the higher than price will be. If you would like to save money view this articel how to visit the UK on a budget.


Book Early to Get the Best Deals

The price of hire cars can depend on the car, company and duration. One way to ensure you save yourself money when renting a car is to book early. This will ensure that you get the best possible deal on the car you are looking to hire as the prices often go up during the summer months.

Though this is not always the case, booking in advance can not only save you money but can also help you avoid last minute booking charges as a result. Booking early also gives you the opportunity to cancel should you need to, allowing you to enjoy your trip with no additional stresses. 


Find Pickup Locations

Most reputable hire car companies have pick up locations at major airports like Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick, and in cities, towns and villages across the country. Make sure you are familar with where you will be arriving so you can find a pickup point close to where you will be arriving/staying.



There are certain documenrts you usually need to bring to get a hire car, including:

  • Your passport or ID card
  • A valid driver’s licence 
  • Proof of your name and address e.g. bank statements


Age Requirements

Although this is not the case with every company, there could be age restrictions when it comes to renting a car. This is either down to the terms and conditions of the car rental company.

Most minimum rental ages vary by company and range from 17 to 25. It is important to be aware of as these age restrictions could leave you without a mode of transportation throughout the duration of your stay.  


Get Insurance

When renting a car you will need to take out insurance. This is very important so to avoid any problems. Insurance can be expensive, and sometimes more than the actual car hire itself so budget for this.

Most dealerships will offer you insurance at an extra cost or you can shop around online for the best deals. It is illegal to drive without insurance in the UK, so although you might find this extra cost annoying, it is against the law to not be insured.


Consider Unexpected Charges 

It is also important to be aware of any additional charges that may be added. These can be for returning the car late, as well as bringing it back empty.

When booking, it is important to be aware of when these additional charges may occur and ensure that you do everything in your power to return it in one piece.

Although it can be confusing at first, it is important to read all the fine print before booking as this could help you save money in the long term. 


Cultural Differences

Cars in the UK have the steering wheel on the right-hand side and people also drive on the left side of the road. This can be strange and confusing if you are used to driving on the right e.g. in the USA.

You will probably also find the roads in the UK very narrow compared to other destinations worldwide which can take time to getting used to. If you take time to familiarise yourself with the car and read up on driving before starting you shouldn't have any problems.


Road Rules

There is lots you need to research and things to know when hiring a car overseas. Roads in the UK and speed limits can really vary depending on where you are.

Variable speed limits on some roads and motorways. For example, in residential areas speed limits are generally limited to 30 miles an hour, close to schools 20 miles an hour and on motorways 70 miles an hour. Sometimes speed limits can change to prevent congestion or because of accidents.

You will always need to use a seatbelt and abide by the traffic light system, for example, when the traffic lights are red, you need to stop. Be aware in the UK it is now against the law to use a mobile phone when driving.

Although it is possible to have a glass of wine or beer and still drive, we recommend avoid alcohol especially if you are from overseas and haven't driven in the UK before.


Use a Satnav

Get a satnav or navigation on your phone, this will help you to get around easily and stay on the right side of the law and avoid any speeding fines.



There are some important things you should always have in your car, some things will come with a hire car but others you might need to buy separately:

  • A phone (incase of emergencies)
  • First-aid kit
  • Reflective jacket
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare light bulbs 
  • Warning triangle

This list of things to pack for the UK might also be useful if it is your first time visiting.


Road Etiquette

Every country is different when it comes to driving, and to make sure you drive like a local here are some tips:

  • Always keep a safe distance between yourself and the car in-front at all times to maintain a safe breaking distance.
  • Horns should only be used in an emergency or when someone is driving badly. Randomly beeping your horn is considered rude during a normal drive.
  • At night make sure you have your lights switched on but don't use your hazard lights.
  • If you are stuck in traffic, it is polite to let cars enter the road at junctions and exits.
  • Allow emergency vehicles e.g. police, fire and ambulances to pass in an emergency e.g. when they have their lights or sirens on
  • Avoid queue jumping.
  • You can use your hands or flash your lights to express ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘go ahead’, depending on the situation.
  • When driving on motorways, you should remain in the left hand lanes other than for overtaking. The lane on the far left is generally always the slowest lane.
  • Always stick to the speed limits and this includes going too slow.


Where to Visit

There are so many amazing destinations in the UK, and where you go really comes down to personal preference. From large cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds to smaller lesser known towns and cities, there are a diverse range of locations.

If you like nature you might like to consider the Lake District, Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia and Cornwall. If you fancy taking your hire car to the continent, check out our useful tips for driving in Europe.


Plan a Self-drive Trip to the United Kingdom

Whether you are looking to rent a car for an upcoming holiday, or you are getting quotes for a holiday next year, it is important to look around before renting to ensure that you save yourself money in the long term. Hopefully our guide to driving in the UK for foreigners has been helpful. If you have any recommendations let us know in the comments section below.