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Renting a car at Heathrow--Recommendations etc.

Renting a car at Heathrow--Recommendations etc.

Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:15 PM
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Renting a car at Heathrow--Recommendations etc.

We, myself (54), DH (55), and our DS, who will turn 26 on the the trip, are flying into Heathrow on Sat., July 11, and will stay at the Sofitel at T5, rather than trying to do anything strenuous.

We would like to rent a car on Sunday, and drive away from Heathrow (to where is still a matter of some debate, but Watford is likely, and there's a chocolate shop in Ealing DS would like to go to). Renting a car at the terminal seems to be a bit fraught, but non-airport hire car branches in the area don't seem to be open Sunday, or even Saturday afternoon. We are contemplating taking a car service somewhere on Sunday, and renting a car on Monday there, but that has its own complications.

The cheapest prices seem to be at Ace or Green Motion (which seems also to be Ace), but they do not review well. This is further complicated by our desire for an automatic, because DH drives stick, but not on a regular basis, and would prefer not to in opposite land. We've already had a small incident on Hotwire where I booked what appeared to be an automatic with Hertz, and when the reservation went through, surprise! At least it was cancellable, but now I'm cranky because I thought we were all set with a Focus wagon/estate, and I haven't seen another one. Ideally the car would be something like that, or a Skoda Octavia. DH is slightly fussy about cars, he's not a small individual, and the back seat passenger is over 6 feet tall. Also we'll have two weeks worth of luggage.

Any recommendations for particular companies? Suggestions for some non-airport option that will give me a car on a Sunday, or even late Saturday afternoon?

Also it is my belief that as long as you use a credit card with insurance you do not need to purchase the supplemental insurance. Correct? We're also thinking it might make more sense to just buy a cheap sat nav rather than pay the per diem for one, since we're looking at twelve days.

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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 07:46 PM
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We lived in the UK for a number of years and often had the weekend pick up/drop off issue with hire cars. We ended up hiring mostly from Heathrow and dropping back there and it worked well for us. If you check Google maps carefully before you leave home and ask for directions when you collect the car, you will hopefully be fine to drive to your next destination. If you are only going to Ealing or Watford, you don't want a car. Use public transport, no hassles with parking or traffic or directions.

Just about every hire car company we used gave us some sort of problem, all except Hertz. In our experience, they've been great to deal with and we've used them in many countries. You won't be able to book a particular car, just a 'type' of car.

It's good you are having a night at a Heathrow hotel once you arrive. You'll be rested and it's much safer for everyone. Two other things - travel light if you possibly can. You don't want to struggle to get everything in the boot and you do want room for shopping! Also check credit card insurance details carefully to see exactly what you are covered for. You'll be on the 'other' side of the road which can be daunting.
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Old Nov 29th, 2020, 08:16 PM
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"Renting a car at the terminal seems to be a bit fraught, "

I'm not sure what you mean by 'fraught'. By far the easiest/least fiddly way/place to pick up a car is at LHR. I've rented more than 40 cars in England (and more than 20 in Scotland) and airport locations are (with only a tiny # of exceptions) the easiest.

Not IN the terminal but at the just off-airport car lots. The rental companies run free shuttle buses just like in the States. Don't over think things

edited to add: Just use Autoeurope's website and you'll get quotes with all the majors. You will be much MUCH more ensured of getting an automatic at a LHR location.

Last edited by janisj; Nov 29th, 2020 at 08:19 PM.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 03:53 AM
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Pickup car at the airport, it is is easy
Stay at the airport or in the line of hotels just out of the terminal, easy to use the hopper buses
Use Autoeurope to get the best deal. They go into bat for you every time as they are all about service
Don't try to drive in London (that is the very large city to the east of the airport not just the little bit in the centre). I live in the UK and don't do it as cars are just a waste of time there.
The downside is the airport opens onto the M25. So it is worth reading up on the M25 and even visit it on youtube first. It is certainly not impossible and just takes a bit of time. You will find your body re-adjusts very quickly but... but. Make the passenger responsible to remind the driver LEFT HAND SIDE every time you start again. I've seen people stop for a coffee and just get out on the wrong side. The present state of argument about a US airbase in the UK is about an American killing a kid because she forgot.
Since there are lots of you and you might want to go into "town" use a car service, it is cheap and safe and it will manage the lugguage IF you tell them first.
Travel light, those are very wise words. Laundries exist in hotels and or in AirBnB so use them and keep your toys and bags to a minimum. I limit myself to a mobile phone and a cable for charging/usb charger and do everything off that. Anyone who says they need more than 20kg is frankly having a power trip or carrying massive medical resources.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 06:25 AM
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We are definitely going farther than Watford/Ealing. Where exactly is still a matter of some debate, but definitely Wales, Birmingham (DS has discovered the existence of Cadbury World-in addition to a living history museum in Dudley that he already had his sights set on), and Bovington. I do have a tentative itinerary, but it may change. I keep being unsure if Watford makes more sense on the front end or the back end, but for the moment it's on the front. It's not skippable if I don't want a divorce. DH is absolutely set on Harry Potter Studios.

Fraught is premium charges, and issues at the counter, of various kinds. However we will be unhappy if we go to an outside branch and they don't have an automatic. Our need for one is frustrating anyway, since manual should theoretically be okay, but it just seems like a bad idea in the circumstances. We are going to try to avoid getting directly on the M25 if we can, although if we have to, I'd rather on Sunday than Monday.

Thanks for the Autoeurope tip, that's extremely helpful.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 06:29 AM
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And we're definitely planning on laundry, but we're still going to have a full sized suitcase each and two or three smaller bags (not each).
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 07:42 AM
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full size suitcase...... LOL

Sunday is still going to be busy unless you do it at 2am

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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 07:48 AM
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Driving to Ealing from LHR is fine; it's on the outskirts of London. Must be a very special chocolate shop if you want to go there just for that. What is it called?
If you really like chocolate, I'd give Cadbury World a miss...

I would just rent the car at the airport if you are there. Too much of a hassle to take a taxi somewhere else just to rent a car. And the airport will have most availability.
Don't rent a satnav, but get a local simcard for your phone and use that for navigation. I like 'Three', but any provider will have an option including data.

2 full-size suitcase + 2 or 3 bags would be waaaay to much for us, but you are the one who has to deal with it. Get a car that is big enough to put all that in the boot so it's not seen from outside the car.




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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 08:33 AM
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"2 full size suitcases" - there are three adults so that is three full size suitcases. The OP had better start worrying about the size of the trunk as well as the automatic. WHY do you need three full size suitcases???
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 09:44 AM
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you don't need a sim card to turn your phone into a travel guide. Just download your favorite map app and turn on GPS. Easy Peasy.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 11:19 AM
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Two weeks worth of clothes, even with laundry. DS generally can't rewear anything, even trousers, so that's a fresh change every day, and he's a big man. DH can sometimes make do with jeans/trousers, and I'll rewear a skirt if nothing weird has happened, but really nothing else, so if we pack too lean we may be emergency shopping. This is particularly hard for DH, who's not an off the rack size in most stores. DS can usually do with the largest size available, and I can shop in most stores, but we'd like to avoid major wardrobe malfunctions, plus I understand that packing layers is advisable, so fully a week's worth, with a bit extra.

The chocolate shop is Leonidas. DS was at one in Dublin a decade ago. It left an impression. He also really likes Cadbury, and it appears to be a very similar experience to Chocolate World at Hershey, which we all enjoy.

We were going to buy a cheap go phone and not worry about making our phones work in Europe. Using a phone as a GPS works very poorly for DH, and we do not need additional distractions and yelling, which is usually what happens when we try that. Having it on the dash, preferably speaking to him in soothing tones, is a much better plan.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 11:53 AM
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I travel for months, not weeks, at a time with a 22 inch two wheeler and a day pack. I do my laundry in the bathroom sink. Unless you are traveling somewhere really hot and humid, i.e. not the UK, there is no reason outer clothes won't last more than one day.

Start by reading the tips here: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 11:57 AM
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As the others have said, renting at car at LHR from the terminal means the pickup will be from one of the rental locations on the airport perimeter road and there will be a shuttle bus to take you there. It makes it easy to pick up the car and head straight out to a main road, dropoff locations are well sign posted for your return. Ealing is very easy to get to from Heathrow but Hotel Chocolat have branches all over the UK and their chocolates are really good (IMO). We don't travel light very often so we rent a car big enough, it's not a problem. Something like a BMW 3 series station wagon would give you alot of room.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 03:24 PM
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My best advice?
Rent directly from Hertz.
Stop trying to find deals and pay for the car you want to drive.
It would be different if your family would be happy with "whatever". They won't. The car matters. Spend the money it takes, otherwise your vacation will be affected. The folks with tall legs will be grumpy and grouchy and it will negatively impact the trip.
Pay more here and save $ somewhere else. The car matters. Book a class of large automatic cars at Hertz and avoid a problem.

It's been years since I picked up a car at a London airport (about 30) but I had no problems driving out - we were headed toward Scotland. A week earlier I had driven the smallest car I could reserve out of Shannon and didn't connect the dots that 1) the car would be smaller than I was used to in the US and 2) not only would I be driving on the "wrong" side of the road, I would be shifting gears with the wrong hand too. We didn't plan to rent a car to explore out of London, but I booked an automatic and we had no problems. I booked directly with Hertz.

A couple of years ago I picked up a car in Florence, Italy and my travel friend said "Oh, what a cute little car!". It was a large class SUV. A few days later, she realized that we really were in a big car - comparatively speaking.



Bite the bullet.
Book directly with Hertz.
Book an automatic only class.
Book a mid to large size SUV.
All will be comfortable. Your trip will be better for it.

"Also it is my belief that as long as you use a credit card with insurance you do not need to purchase the supplemental insurance. Correct? "
It depends.
It depends on YOUR car insurance.
It depends on YOUR credit card policy.
After hearing nightmares on this forum about "injuries" done to cars, I added the best insurance. I researched a lot, but decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
When we returned to our car in a parking lot on the last day, there was a scratch on the back bumper. Oh, crap. As sick of a feeling it was to see it, I didn't have to worry about much time and energy I was going to have to devote to dealing with a long distance repair process.

When we parked at the inn that afternoon, I took a wet wipe to get rid of crud to see how bad the scratch was. We both were amazed that the scratch wiped away. It really was a bit of a miracle. Made no sense. There WAS a scratch there on the red bumper...and then there wasn't. Good outcome, but the extra insurance coverage meant I could get on the train for Venice the next day with no worries, no matter what.

Join the loyalty group before you book the car and get a discount - hopefully.

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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by thursdaysd View Post
I travel for months, not weeks, at a time with a 22 inch two wheeler and a day pack. I do my laundry in the bathroom sink. Unless you are traveling somewhere really hot and humid, i.e. not the UK, there is no reason outer clothes won't last more than one day.

Start by reading the tips here: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light
Oh, dear. You've never met DS. He'll get something on himself, and possibly on us (I'll never forget the morning in Gettysburg an entire glass of orange juice got tipped into my lap--my skirt was dripping OJ all the way up to the room, despite my best efforts and a lot of napkins). Also, even with deodorant, his shirt will be publicly offensive the second day. He does try to be careful, but it's hard for him (he has some neurological issues, plus mild delays), and obviously sweating is out of his control. DH also tends to be kind of sweaty.

I could (and would have to if alone, because I can't carry stuff in my cane hand) travel that light, although probably not for months on end, but my guys need more clothes, and their clothes take up more room. We're not talking gargantuan suitcases either, since we have a single bag 23 kilo checked limit on the way back, but we do need one each (we'll also probably have some Corn Pops for emergency feeding of DH, a collapsible fishing rod for DS and a couple of odds and ends in addition to clothes), and at least two carry-ons plus my purse. Three adults, two weeks, at least some swimming plus some beach, in a climate where it might quite plausibly be 50 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the whims of the weather--we're going to need a fair amount of stuff.

I'll also let DS know about Hotel Chocolat. I'm sure he'll be delighted to add it to his culinary itinerary (which is varied and growing--he's very good at research and he likes to eat--he also really likes the food of the British Isles). A BMW wagon is probably overkill, but I don't think we should go much smaller than the Octavia, unless it's a wagon/estate.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by starrs View Post
My best advice?
Rent directly from Hertz.
Stop trying to find deals and pay for the car you want to drive.
It would be different if your family would be happy with "whatever". They won't. The car matters. Spend the money it takes, otherwise your vacation will be affected. The folks with tall legs will be grumpy and grouchy and it will negatively impact the trip.
Pay more here and save $ somewhere else. The car matters. Book a class of large automatic cars at Hertz and avoid a problem.

It's been years since I picked up a car at a London airport (about 30) but I had no problems driving out - we were headed toward Scotland. A week earlier I had driven the smallest car I could reserve out of Shannon and didn't connect the dots that 1) the car would be smaller than I was used to in the US and 2) not only would I be driving on the "wrong" side of the road, I would be shifting gears with the wrong hand too. We didn't plan to rent a car to explore out of London, but I booked an automatic and we had no problems. I booked directly with Hertz.

A couple of years ago I picked up a car in Florence, Italy and my travel friend said "Oh, what a cute little car!". It was a large class SUV. A few days later, she realized that we really were in a big car - comparatively speaking.



Bite the bullet.
Book directly with Hertz.
Book an automatic only class.
Book a mid to large size SUV.
All will be comfortable. Your trip will be better for it.

"Also it is my belief that as long as you use a credit card with insurance you do not need to purchase the supplemental insurance. Correct? "
It depends.
It depends on YOUR car insurance.
It depends on YOUR credit card policy.
After hearing nightmares on this forum about "injuries" done to cars, I added the best insurance. I researched a lot, but decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
When we returned to our car in a parking lot on the last day, there was a scratch on the back bumper. Oh, crap. As sick of a feeling it was to see it, I didn't have to worry about much time and energy I was going to have to devote to dealing with a long distance repair process.

When we parked at the inn that afternoon, I took a wet wipe to get rid of crud to see how bad the scratch was. We both were amazed that the scratch wiped away. It really was a bit of a miracle. Made no sense. There WAS a scratch there on the red bumper...and then there wasn't. Good outcome, but the extra insurance coverage meant I could get on the train for Venice the next day with no worries, no matter what.

Join the loyalty group before you book the car and get a discount - hopefully.
Thanks, Starrs.

We may book directly with Hertz, although there's a Sixt deal on Autoeurope I'm probably comfortable with. We don't want an SUV, but a relatively large sedan or an estate car is necessary. That "shifting with the wrong hand" is what has DH spooked. If he regularly drove over there it might be different, but he's only been a passenger on the "wrong side". Particularly with the idea that he might be immediately trying to merge into traffic on the M25.

Some scratches will wipe away or buff out easily, but we will check the insurance carefully. We think we should be fairly covered with DH's credit card, but we'll double check. And that's an adorable "full-size SUV"!
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 04:00 PM
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I suggest if you want Hertz -- book them through AutoErope. AE Customer service is heads and shoulders above Hertz (most Hertz locations in Europe are franchises so dealing w/ AE is a known commodity, Hertz not always.)

But -- I'd be reluctant to book Hertz this far ahead while their bankruptcy is still in process . . .
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
I suggest if you want Hertz -- book them through AutoErope. AE Customer service is heads and shoulders above Hertz (most Hertz locations in Europe are franchises so dealing w/ AE is a known commodity, Hertz not always.)

But -- I'd be reluctant to book Hertz this far ahead while their bankruptcy is still in process . . .
I did not realize they were in bankruptcy. I knew they'd been selling cars off (DH browses occasionally) but that does color things. And would incline me to book through Autoeurope. I'm probably going to hold off a little, but I definitely saw things there that would work.
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by persimmondeb View Post
That "shifting with the wrong hand" is what has DH spooked. If he regularly drove over there it might be different, but he's only been a passenger on the "wrong side". Particularly with the idea that he might be immediately trying to merge into traffic on the M25.
We had several cars but my brothers insisted that I learned to drive on a manual. My teenage car was a 5 speed. It's been years since I've had one, but I can get in and drive any that I need to since then. I had NO concerns about it.

My travel mentor gave me great advice = go out to a big parking lot on Sundays and drive around "on the wrong side". That's when mall parking lots were empty on Sunday afternoons. The trickiest part is pulling out into the correct lane. My mom's job was to say "Think left, think left, think left". By the third day I was cocky and told her I was fine. Then I pulled out of a petrol station...into the right lane! Yikes! Back into the petrol parking lot. That was scary.

So I practiced as much as I could and thought I was well prepared. I just didn't think about shifting with my left hand on the left side of my seat. That was the hardest part for me.

Book whatever class you want, but seriously....really...not kidding....don't try to save money here. Get the vehicle you are comfortable with.

For over 30 years I've only booked Hertz and National cars. Well, once on Kauai I went for the "deal" and regretted it. I've read travel forums for many years, and I've never heard a complaint about H or N leaving a customer high and dry. I've read plenty of them about Sixt. I have no personal experience with Sixt.

When I started reading Fodors forums I read a lot of "only book with AutoEurope" but never read a convincing reason why. I've even started a thread asking why...and again, didn't read a convincing reason - for me. I've rented several times in Europe, always Hertz and always extra insurance coverage. Do call your auto insurer though as well as you credit card. On the last trip I spent hours (not kidding) and when push came to shove, added the extra insurance for the car I picked up in Amsterdam. Why not? It's a small % of the cost of the trip and it's INSURANCE, ensuring me I'm not going to have a headache if something "bad" happens. I don't buy extended warranties on appliances. I buy insurance on rental cars- that are outside of my corporate negotiated rates.

In Florence, there were several of us in line at Hertz. None at the other counters. I didn't mind waiting.

Take some time when you are bored one night and go back and read trip reports when people had rental car and/or damage to the car problems. The headache can continue for a year. I consider it $ well spent to avoid it.

Good luck. One last word = when people rant about the problems they've encountered renting from a discount car vendor, I always think "You get what you pay for". Avoid surprises. Pay for what you want to get = an automatic, big enough for the long legs and the suitcases. You won't regret it. I can promise you that!
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Old Nov 30th, 2020, 05:40 PM
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The bankruptcy filing is for Hertz in the US, European locations are not included in this. I rented a car from Hertz earlier this year in Europe, I called them when I read about the filing, they told me whatever was happening in the US had nothing to do with them in Europe. Many rental locations are franchises. There is no need to book this early esp as you have to prepay if you book through Autoeurope.

You can select Hertz or whatever rental company you want when booking thru Autoeurope or similar sites. There is no need to book direct and pay more, you can select the rental company, car size and transmission. Last 2 rentals I had with Sixt (booked thru Autoeurope), I had a BMW 3 series estate car, automatic, which is the car group I booked as I needed a large car.
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