When I left Birmingham for London I had to say goodbye to my first and only car, an S reg silver Peugot 106 affectionately called Josh. I knew that when I lived in the capital, where public transport was so much more accessible and frequent (weekend closures and severe delays excluded), I wouldn’t really have need for a car. I also knew that with rent and an endless list of things to enjoy in London, the expense and effort of running a car made it more of a luxury.
I enjoyed about four years car-free until I returned back home last October and rented a car to help get around. I had the unfortunate reminder of the sheer luxury that having your own car offers – getting from A to B without 100s of people joining you, not having to lug your weekend essentials up and down the underground’s stairs and escalators, and listening to the radio!
Whilst I was a bit rusty, I got to grips with being on the road again and loved it. The following few months saw me hire a van to move flat and then a car to travel down to Cornwall. I’ll admit that at the time, after years of not driving, I felt like I’d thrown myself in at the deep end. But after a few trips I finally re-discovered a way to get to those places that feel like far too much effort to get to by public transport. And when compared to the cost of a train it’s really quite affordable.
As the summer approaches I’m daydreaming about more trips to the seaside and the beautiful British countryside. So I thought I’d share my top tips renting a car in London, part as a reminder to myself of lessons learnt, part for anyone who’s been thinking of hiring a car in the city and hasn’t driven for a while.
1. Think about whether you’re comfortable driving the route and distance you’re travelling and whether you need to share the driving. When we got back from the 7 hour drive from Cornwall I was knackered. I realised then that not having driven much over the last few years meant I probably wasn’t used to concentrating for so long. Next time I’d definitely think about paying the extra for another driver.
2. Understand which fees are included when you book and if there are any when you return. I’ve used Enterprise and Europcar so far and although Europcar seemed cheaper when booking, by the time we’d paid petrol it was about the same price as Enterprise. We also chose to reduce the excess from £1,000 to £250 on the day which bumps up the price by about £10 per day. (I’m yet to try Zip Car so would love any reviews.)
3. Find a car hire that’s outside central London and within walking distance of public transport. Unless you’re a really confident driver I wouldn’t recommend picking up your car within zone 1. It’s much less nerve-wracking starting off on slightly quieter roads and I managed to find places within about a 15 minute walk of a station.
4. Ask the rental garage to show you how to open the petrol pump, and turn on the lights and windscreen wipers. It may sound totally daft but I quickly discovered that different cars have different places and ways to use these essential parts and you really don’t want to have a panic trying to find it when you’re driving.
5. Think about the practicalities. After not owning a car for a while some of the practical things passed me by. So I recommend thinking about rest breaks, road snacks, when you’ll arrive at your destination and if you’ll need anything (i.e. a small country village shop might not be open late or on a Sunday).
Have you driven in London since moving or when visiting?
(I would also love to know what your first car was and if you named it!)