Pick up that car.

The plane has landed and you have jostled through the queues of fellow travellers to finally front up at the car rental desk and grab the keys of a temp car and hit the road. Well, it is not always that straight forward by the time you decide on the insurance options and negotiate a different vehicle because the one you booked is not available. Finally you locate the bay where your car awaits and with a click of the remote its eyes light up with a welcoming beep as you hop in, locate the lock and kick the engine over. Within a few seconds you are on your way in a serious attempt to make up for lost time. Except, in your hurry to hit the road you may have made some annoying miscalculations which could cost you before you finally return the keys.

Here are the thoughts of a seasoned car renter who has learned some lessons the hard way, based on a consistent observation that rental companies have a habit of holding on to the owner's manual. Yep! Driving blind.

Following is a simple checklist that might help you before setting off. Some things are very obvious, and, depending on the make of the car you have rented, some are not so obvious. We were running right down the wire to catch the TGV early Sunday morning in Lyon, France. We had to leave the car in an impossible to find parking spot adjacent to the station. In our panic the hazard lights were bumped on, and we could not locate the switch to turn them off. The rental company was not going to impressed with a flat battery the following morning. If only I had checked it when I picked the car up. The result of this stressful incident is this article. If a pilot sees the wisdom of doing a pre-flight check, why not the driver of a rental car.



  1. if possible, rent a car which is the same or similar to your own car.
  2. If you are not comfortable with manual transmission, insist on an automatic. In many European countries you might find that you have might no choice but to rent a manual. Be prepared. If you are making a mirror switch to driving on the opposite side, changing gears is one more thing to worry about, made more stressful if the wipers and indicators have swapped sides.
  3. And while you are at it, if you are driving a manual, make sure you know how to engage reverse gear. Not as silly as it sounds. Some foreign cars have peculiar gearboxes.
  4. Do your homework and familiarise yourself with the road rules and peculiarities of each country. In Europe move out of the high speed lane unless you are the fastest car on the road. It is a heinous sin for a slower car to hog the road. In the USA never overtake a stationary school bus and give way to traffic entering a multiple road highway. In Asia and India driving habits are very different. Western drivers are very territorial and possessive of the position they have secured on the road and will not give up their territory.  In Asia the road is regarded as shared space and there is a level of courtesy and tolerance rarely seen in the West. If you are confronted with one vehicle overtaking another over double lines, you just pull over and let them through. While the road might appear to be chaotic, there is a definite set of rules and consensus operating and things usually sort themselves out.
  5. A good map is a life-saver. If the rental company does not supply a map, purchase one at the first opportunity. GPS is great technology but not always reliable and can sometimes be more dangerous that driving while on the phone. Importantly, build in time to get lost. One wrong turn can take you far from your destination.

    Ibeza Seat - Switzerland

OUTSIDE: While making the mandatory check for any existing scratches and dents, here are a few more things to add to the list

Lift the bonnet/hood. The release and the safety catch can be difficult to locate.

Locate the side of the car where the filler cap is located and make sure you know how to release it. It is only a matter  of time before you pull up to a bowser to refuel.

Determine the octane rating of the fuel you should be using. Ratings change from country to country. Diesel only has one rating.

Before you load the trunk/boot, check where the spare tyre, tool kit and jack is mounted. Make sure you know how to release them and locate the jack support points under the body of the car. If you have ever had a flat tyre on a dark night you will know how relevant this tip is.

Ford Focus - Alaska, USA

INSIDE: Many modern cars are becoming more and more high tech and individualistic with their controls and displays. A centrally located digital screen can be utilised to control a number of functions. Trying to unravel this complexity without the manual can be daunting.  Don't drive off until you have mastered these

The climate controls - heating/cooling and ventilation controls, rear-window demister.

Windscreen wiper/washer controls (including rear if applicable)

The hazard warning lights switch.

The various light switches - high/low beam; interior lights, fog lights, rheostat for the dash panel.

Bip the horn. It is amazing how much variation there is in the design of this warning device.

Drive safely. within a few hours you will be at home in your new environment. In the meantime, be extra vigilant.


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