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Six Common Car Hire Ski Tips!

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For the cheapest deals book early and out of school holidays!

Hidden Car Hire Costs!

Car Hire

Hiring a car for your ski holiday is always the easiest way to get to and from your accommodation and between the different ski resorts. When hiring a car abroad, always book in advance.

Using a price comparison website such as Carrentals.co.uk you can compare the market, comparing top rental supplier's such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz, and Sixt to find the best rental price and the best choice of vehicle to suit your needs. Booking in advance also allows you to select added extras such as child seats, sat navs and if you are travelling to a winter destination, most importantly winter tyres, snow chains and ski racks. Remember that for some of these they are offered as an optional extra, so do your research beforehand to find the best prices on the extras you need.

Tolls

Tolls can catch traveller's out, and in many European countries these apply when you use the main motorway networks. It's worth making sure you have some spare change in the appropriate currency, just in case, or a credit card to hand, and plan your route. If you're collecting the hire car from the airport be sure to plan the route from the airport to your ski resort beforehand. Hiring a Satnav is another option to help you find your way but check the costs to hire one with your supplier. Leaving it until the last minute when you arrive at the airport will result in higher costs.

Crossing a Border?

Whether you are driving from Spain to Andorra, Geneva French side to Swiss side, or Germany to Austria - hiring a vehicle in one country and driving to another may include additional 'Daily Insurance fees'. Always check with the car hire provider and your voucher on arrival! If a driver breaks any cross border restrictions given by the supplier their insurance would be invalid, leaving them at risk of incurring significant costs or fines - Read our article on Cross Border Travel in a Hire Car

Geneva Airport is very popular with skiers and many travellers are confused by the fact it has both a French and a Swiss side. Travellers to the Alps can choose to book car hire from either the French side or the Swiss side. While the initial rental price from the French side may be cheaper, it's worth noting that you cannot then use the Swiss motorway without purchasing a 'Vignette' (an annual permit) costing around 40 Swiss Francs (GBP27). You can avoid the Swiss motorway, but the journey time will be longer and the route more complicated. If you book with a rental company on the Swiss side of the airport the rental cars already come with the Vignette included, so consider and plan your route beforehand.

Snow Chains

Pre-Purchasing

Many of us ask the question 'Can you take your own snow chains?', well the answer is 'Yes' however, a pair of snow chains weighs approximately 5kg, and for a 4x4 they can weigh as much as 10kg, which will take up a lot of your luggage allowance. Another commonly asked question is 'Will they fit the hire car wheels?'. This all depends on the type of car you hire, so always double check with the rental company before you pack your chains!

Hiring Snow Chains

Snow chains can be hired from the majority of car rental providers in many European countries. Companies such as Avis, Budget and Hertz all offer the option for you to hire snow chains if you wish to have them as an extra precaution. Prices vary and if you decide to rent snow chains then we would recommend you specify this when you book your hire car as the number of chains each rental company has will be limited. Alternatively, you can look to buy snow chains once you have picked up your hire car, with most garages and supermarkets in snowy areas selling them during the winter months.

DIY - Are you prepared to fit snow chains yourself?

If you hire a car with snow chains as an 'added extra' they will NOT be fitted to the hire car, ready for you to drive away. Snow chains are to be fitted only where road signs have been put in place, in designated 'Snow Chain Zones' (depending on the Country) or when road conditions become icy or covered in snow. The Land Transport and Police may also advise you when to fit your snow chains so always keep a look out for these signals. If they are used when conditions are dry you can damage the road surface, and if caught you may be issued with an on-the-spot fine. Remember to take a torch with you in case you need to fit the tyres in the dark. Also a pair of waterproof warm gloves.

Note: Snow chains on summer tyres can be used as an alternative to winter tyres, unless winter tyres are compulsory.

Be prepared!

Whichever rental provider you choose there should always be a set of instructions to attach the snow chains to the wheel. To avoid any confusion always have an idea of how to attach them yourself before travelling. In a Front Wheel Drive (FWD) always attach the chains to the front two wheels. For Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) attach snow chains to the back wheels.

We have provided a quick guide on 'how to add snow chains to your vehicle?'

Snow Chain Zones

Do all countries include 'Snow Chain Zones'? Not all countries do. Snow chain signs can be found throughout Andorra, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. Driver's must pull over as soon as they see a sign and fit their snow chains to the tyres. If they fail to do so, fines will be incurred! In Austria, for example, these are as much as €5,000.

Snow Tyres

In certain countries it is illegal not to use snow tyres in specified areas.

It is mandatory to have winter tyres in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Slovakia, and Sweden. They are highly recommended in Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, Slovenia and Switzerland. Even if you hire a 4x4 they will need to have all four wheels fitted with winter/snow tyres. If all four tyres are not added the balance of your vehicle will be affected and it becomes dangerous to drive.

Car rental providers in countries/areas where snow tyres are mandatory will have them fitted as standard to their cars during the winter months.

At many destinations where snow tyres aren't mandatory, you can choose to hire them as an optional extra through most car rental companies. Hertz for example has a dedicated car hire group, where all the cars include winter tyres in the cost. For most other companies, where winter tyres are not a legal requirement, you can hire them at an extra cost. The costs for this will vary, and, as with all extras, you should book them well in advance to ensure availability.

It's also worth considering that if you are hiring a car in one area where winter tyres aren't mandatory, you may find yourself driving to or through an area where they are mandatory. In this case it is your responsibility to check the legal requirements of your destination to ensure you comply with the local regulations.

CountrySnow TyresSnow Chains
Andorra It is advised but not compulsory Hire snow chains and use in 'snow chain zones' and if there are signs in place, or when road conditions become icy, or covered in snow.
Austria Mandatory 1st November to 15th April Hire snow chains and use in 'snow chain zones' and if there are signs in place, or when road conditions become icy, or covered in snow.
Belgium Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's are permitted to use snow chains, but it is not a legal requirement.
Bulgaria Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Road signs indicate when drivers must use snow chains between the 1st November and 31st March.
Cyprus Snow tyres are not a legal requirement
Czech Republic Driver's must carry snow tyres with them at all times between 1st November and 1st April. Road signs indicate when they must be fitted.
Denmark Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's are permitted to use snow chains.
Estonia Snow tyres are a legal requirement between 1st December and 1st March. These dates can be extended if there is considerable snowfall either side of these dates. Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
Finland 1st December to 31st March it is a legal requirement for all vehicles to wear snow tyres. Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
France Snow tyres are not a legal requirement, but are recommended in certain areas. Road signs indicate when drivers must use snow chains
Germany Snow tyres are compulsory when driving in Germany. Fines are given if drivers fail to use them. Snow chains are compulsory in Germany, drivers must use them in snow conditions
Greece Snow tyres are not a legal requirement
Hungary Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Hungary. Failure to use snow chains means your vehicle will not be permitted to drive in the country.
Iceland Between the 1st November and 14th April snow tyres are a legal requirement
Ireland Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
Italy It is not a legal requirement that drivers use snow tyres, although road signs do indicate when snow tyres or chains are compulsory. Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Italy. Road signs indicate when snow chains should be used.
Liechenstein Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
Lithuania Snow tyres are a legal requirement between the 10th November and 1st April. Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
Luxembourg Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Snow chains are not a legal requirement
Netherlands Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted where there is snow and ice.
Norway Snow tyres or studded tyres are not mandatory but highly recommended as the majority of norwegian driver's use them.

Between the second day of easter and the 31st October it is forbidden to use snow chains or studded tyres in the South and Central Norway.
Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted
Poland Snow tyres are not a legal requirement
Portugal Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Portugal. Road signs indicate when snow chains should be used.
Romania Snow tyres are a legal requirement between the 1st November and 31st March if roads are covered with snow and ice. If weather conditions change and snow falls and ice accumulates, snow chains are compulsory.
Serbia Snow tyres are compulsory whilst driving in Serbia. Driver's must carry snow chains in Serbia.
Slovakia Snow tyres are not a legal requirement
Slovenia Between 15th November and 15th March snow tyres are compulsory in Slovenia. A 4mm tyre tread depth is a requirement. Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Slovenia. Road signs indicate when snow chains should be used
Spain Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Spain. Road signs indicate when snow chains should be used.
Switzerland Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Driver's must carry snow chains at all times in Switzerland. Road signs indicate when snow chains should be used.
Sweden Snow tyres are compulsory between 1st December and 31st March.
UK Snow tyres are not a legal requirement Snow chains are not mandatory but are permitted

Ski Racks & Ski Boxes

If I hire a car without a ski rack, and I have a ski bag with me, will I be able to put my skis inside the hire car? Will I be covered? If you hire a car big enough to hold skis inside, then you can put them inside, BUT be aware that if you damage the car in any way you will have to pay for the repair. Details of the costs involved with damage will be outlined in your rental agreement, so it's worth checking before you choose to transfer ski equipment in it.

The alternative is to hire a car with a ski rack. Most rental companies offer this option in locations that are popular for winter sports, so it's worth checking the cost and booking one in advance to ensure availability.

What if the ski/roof rack, included in your car hire service is stolen? Are you covered?
If you are concerned about theft of your skis, it's worth checking your insurance policy before you travel. Many insurance policies won't allow claims for theft, even if the rack was locked, so double check your own insurance and speak to your rental company to confirm what is and isn't covered.

Type of Vehicle to Hire

Depending on the size of your group, e.g a group of 8 - do you choose to hire two small vehicles with roof racks, or one large 7+ seater and place the ski equipment in the vehicle? Some cars include a 'Rail System' which allows you to move the seats around to accommodate your luggage more easily, depending on the size of your group. There's no set rule, so think about the costs, number of drivers, and flexibility you need during your stay before deciding.

Difference between Compact/Standard/Intermediate Cars
If you have winter tyres fitted, and snow chains ready to fit, the type of car you hire really depends on the space you need. Of course, some cars have a better safety specification than others, but it's rare for a rental provider to be able to specify the exact make and model before you book. Usually they give examples of the type of vehicle in each category, so compare the options - sometimes you will find a larger intermediate car is a similar price to a compact car!

Car vs SUV for driving to a ski resort destination.
SUVs will often come with four wheel drive, which, if you're travelling in the snow, is a big plus, giving you greater control of the car in wintery conditions. Depending on the type of SUV you hire they may also have more space for all that ski luggage and equipment!

Should you go for Front-wheel Drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD)?
In a front wheel drive car it is the two front wheels that 'pull' the car forward, where as in a rear-wheel drive car the vehicle is pushed forward by the rear wheels. It is generally recognised that in wintery conditions a FWD car offers far better traction and control, so check with your rental company what type of vehicle you will have.

Do 4WD vehicles need snow chains?
If you have winter tyres fitted generally a 4WD vehicle shouldn't need snow chains as they have better traction than a two wheel drive vehicle - UNLESS the conditions are severe or using them is compulsory, in which case it's wiser not to be driving unless really necessary. If you are travelling to snowy destinations however, it's always worth being safe and having chains on hand just in case. Generally snow chains are fitted to the front wheels of a 4WD vehicle, or if you have two pairs, to all four wheels.

Driving on Winter Roads

Driving on snow and ice...

  • Slow Down!
  • Use engine braking - ie change down a gear - rather than using the brakes.
  • Do NOT tailgate! In severe weather conditions drivers should leave a 6 Second gap (486ft at 55mph) between them and the car in front.
  • Check tyres. When hiring a car you must always check the spare. If you have winter tyres check the spare is the same.
  • Never let your petrol drop before half, to avoid running out and becoming stranded.
  • Always have plenty of windscreen wash
  • Always keep warm clothes in the car...Just in case! Temperatures can plummet fast. It's also worth having a shovel in the car so you can dig snow away from your car if necessary.
  • Check the car is fully equipped with the safety equipment - eg warning triangle, first aid kit, reflective jacket. The rental providers generally provide a safety kit that meets the local legal requirements, but it's worth checking that nothing is missing. Police can give on-the-spot fines if you are without one of these in certain countries. Check the country's laws before travelling.
  • If it starts to snow heavily do not try to follow other car's tyre marks as freshly fallen snow provides far more traction.
  • Keep an eye out for black ice. It is mainly found in shady areas.
  • If you feel you are starting to skid. Do NOT brake! Steer into your turns in neutral

Please note - this information is provided in good faith as a guide only. We would always recommend you speak to your car rental company about your requirements and check the legal requirements of the country(ies) that you are visiting.

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