Exploring all the wonderful small villages of the UK, brimming with history, old churches and cottages is a dream of so many people coming to Britain.
When you start planning a UK trip it becomes rather apparent that in order to see all the places your heart desires, public transport isn’t going to cut it – you’re going to have to look into renting a car!
Now I’ve been driving in this country for over 20 years now so I know a little bit about the roads, and I’ve also rented a few vehicles here too. So if you have any questions about renting a car in the UK this is the place to be – I’ve got you!
Read on for my tips for car rental in the UK and don’t forget to also check out the section with driving tips for the UK too! Some good ones there!
Best UK car rental company – DiscoverCars
DiscoverCars will trawl all the main dealers who offer car rental in the UK and show you the best price that’s on offer.
I use this company myself and I love getting a good deal!
Renting a Car in the UK FAQ
Hopefully this will answer some of the most frequently asked questions I get about renting cars in the UK for tourists.
What is the minimum age for renting a car in the UK?
Most car rental companies in the UK have a minimum age requirement of at least 21 years of age. Be aware though that if you are young then you might have to pay a young driver premium.
Normally if you’re between the ages of 30 and 65 you’ll pay the basic price and outside of this range there might be a surcharge. Not all companies will charge this – if you do a quote with DiscoverCars this will be included in the quoted price.
Do you need a special licence?
So long as you have a full and valid driving licence from your own country you will be able to drive in the UK.
What’s the best car rental company in the UK
I use and recommend a company called DiscoverCars. What they do is take all of the car rental companies available for your destination – wherever that is in the UK – and compare them to show you the best deals around.
They also have a very reasonable insurance option that you can take to give you peace of mind over any accidents or issues that might happen with your rental.
How much is car rental in the UK?
This depends on where you go in the UK and to some extent the time of year as well. It will also depend on which kind of car you want to rent.
I’ve had quotes for a car in London that was around £100 cheaper than the same car in Inverness. Obviously in the Highlands of Scotland they have less stock so that can make a difference.
As a rough guide you’re probably looking at around £40 – £60 per day without any extra insurance you might like to add (not compulsory).
The insurance option at DiscoverCars is really reasonable at just over £5 per day too. Car rental in the UK is actually quite reasonable – the fuel though… that’s another story!
How big a car to choose?
You can have a variety of different cars to rent in the UK but if you’re coming from the US, Canada or Australia you might find that the cars are a little on the tiny side!
Small cars are good for nipping around the countryside and they are definitely more economical to drive – important in an expensive country like the UK – but they can have downsides too.
If you need to transport luggage a lot, perhaps if you’re staying in multiple locations on your UK trip, then you might find the small boot (trunk) space of a tiny car to be too limiting.
A large car is tempting to give you the space that perhaps you’re used to but this also has downsides. Big cars are more thirsty and petrol (gas) is very expensive in the UK. Big cars are also harder to handle in small car parks and in small villages if you are exploring.
My tip would be to go for a compact or similar sized car – it should be big enough to take your luggage without being too unwieldy on small roads and in car parks.
Which transmission should you go for?
While we’re thinking about which car to go for, you should definitely consider which transmission type you’d like.
Manual transmission cars (stick shift) are the norm in the UK but there are plenty of options to get automatic transmissions too.
If you have never driven a manual car, this is probably not the time to learn – stick with an automatic! It’s especially important if you’re driving on the left for the first time too – you don’t want to give yourself problems you don’t have to have. Let’s go for ease!
Renting a car in the UK with kids
Renting a car in the UK is a great idea if you’re traveling as a family – it takes all the stress of getting around out of your day! It can also work out much cheaper.
There are some legal things to be aware of if you’re driving in the UK with your family.
Older children, up to the age of 12, will need a car booster seat while in the car and younger children and babies will need a car seat. There is no getting around this as it is now a legal requirement.
If you’re renting a car in the UK you can add on these requirements as an optional extra, although be aware that this can bump the price up quite a bit. Just be sure to budget a little more if you’re traveling to the UK with kids and planning to rent a car.
Do I need insurance to rent a car in the UK
Yes – all cars must be insured to be driven in the UK.
If you’re renting a car in the UK the most basic insurance necessary is included in the quoted price when using DiscoverCars.
What you should be aware of is that if you have an accident while in your rental car, or if it’s stolen, you lose your keys or any other manner of incident, you may be liable for quite a steep excess fee. This can be quite a lot and you might need to have a charge put on your credit card should you need to claim.
The excess (deductible) is something that can be overcome by paying what is known as a Collision Damage Waiver or by buying an extra insurance.
Now this is sometimes quite a hefty fee that you only find out when picking up the car at the rental desk – I hate nasty surprises so I like that you can add this as an option when using DiscoverCars. And it’s not too expensive either.
Note – you often still need to pay a deposit when you get the car, even with extra insurance – either this is a hold on your CC or a charge that is refunded
Credit Card Insurance
Some people may have some specific credit card coverage that may help them when it comes to renting a car in the UK.
If you’re hoping to use your credit card coverage please do your due diligence and make sure you’ve read all of the small print to see what is covered, what isn’t and what happens if you have to claim.
It’s also worth checking the Full Coverage fee at Discover Cars to see if that is a better option and covers more.
Is it safe to rent a car in the UK
Renting a car in the UK is safe and if you go with a reputable company then you should have no problems at all. Many of the global car rental companies have offices in the UK.
Driving cars are also generally safe throughout the country. Some cities can be hectic to drive around, but if you follow the rules of the road you should be fine.
If you need to leave your car overnight somewhere some areas of cities can be a little risky, so definitely make sure you’re covered for any theft or damage. Always ask at hotels or your accommodation provider if you’re worried about parking your car.
Is it worth renting a car in UK?
So, let’s get to the question you might be wondering – is it even worth renting a vehicle in the UK?
Britain is quite a small country and while they do have fairly good public transport, you’ll find it can be quite restrictive and you can waste a lot of time on buses and trains.
If you dream of exploring small English villages or the rolling hills and countryside then renting a car makes a lot of sense. You can see so much more of the country this way, and on your own terms too.
Should you rent a car in London?
If you’re solely going to be in the city of London then I do NOT recommend renting a car for your time there. Public transport is much faster, cheaper and easier in the city. It’s one of the only places in the UK that public transport is really good!
If you’d like to explore outside of London then a car could be worth getting but it’s probably better to rent for a single day rather than have to worry about parking and driving inside London. It also might be worth getting a tube to outside the ULEZ charging area to pick up the car, for example at the outer airports.
Be aware that London has 2 levels of Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) and as such can charge you daily for driving within the zones. The main one covers quite a few boroughs in London (and is expanding from August 2023) and the Congestion Charge that is more for the very centre of the city.
Can you take the car from England to Scotland and Wales?
You might be wondering ‘can you rent a car in England and drive to Scotland?’ – and that’s a good question.
There are no hard borders in the UK so you can take the car to anywhere in Britain. You can even arrange to drop it off a different location, but often there are one way charges for this.
It should also be fine to take your car to islands in Scotland where you’ll need to get a ferry, but it’s best to check with your rental company beforehand if this is in your intended itinerary just to be sure.
Can you take the car to Ireland?
The Republic of Ireland is a separate country but some car rental companies allow you to take cars across the borders to there.
If you want to drive to Northern Ireland, again it’s best to check the policies of the car rental company but some do allow it.
One thing to consider is that the ferry to Ireland can be very expensive so check that out before deciding whether to drive your rental or fly over and get a separate car there.
Note that some car rental companies also have a fee if you want to take it to another country – double check if this is in your plans!
What are the roads like to drive in the UK?
So you’ve decided to rent a car when you visit the UK! Brilliant – so what are the roads like?
Single and Dual Carriageways
You’ll find that many of the roads outside of the cities are just normal single carriageway roads with you one one side (the left!) and cars driving the opposite way on the other (the right).
Sometimes in busier areas you’ll also find dual carriageways which will have 2 lanes for your direction of travel and 2 for the other. It’s normally separated by railings in the middle.
You’ll see a lot of roundabouts in the UK and whether you’re renting a car here as an American where roundabouts are super rare, or as a European where the roundabouts go the other way round (!!??!!) you’ll want to take some time to get to know these road junctions.
Sometimes you’ll hear others refer to them as traffic circles, but in England they are always known as roundabouts.
To the uninitiated a roundabout can be confusing and intimidating. Here are a couple of tips for using them:
- Always look for signs as you approach to see where you need to go. Sometimes road signs or markings on the road will indicate which lane you need to be in
- Generally if you’re taking the 1st exit (going left) or heading straight on you’ll want to approach in the left lane
- If you’re going right around the roundabout (any exit after 12 o’clock if you imagine it as a clock face) approach in the right hand lane
- Traffic already on the roundabout has right of way
- Only enter the roundabout if there is a gap and it’s safe
- Always drive around the roundabout in a clockwise direction
- Always indicate when you are leaving the roundabout and check over your shoulder for any blind spots
In the UK motorways are indicated by an M at the beginning of the road name (for example: M25 or M1) and any signs for a motorway are in blue rather than green.
England has the biggest concentration of motorways, Scotland has a small number and Wales only has one.
Motorways are fast moving roads and you should be aware that you’ll need to maintain a decent speed when you’re on it – 50/60mph is probably a minimum to aim for as anything less than this could be considered as being dangerous.
The maximum speed limit you’ll be going is 70 mph but always keep an eye on any overhead signs which might indicate if that changes.
Motorway exits are normally marked as a junction number (in a black box at the bottom of signs).
You cannot pull up on motorways, even on the hard shoulder lane, unless it’s an emergency or a breakdown. Always take a proper exit or go to a service station where you can take a break.
Low emission zones
In 2023 there are a number of cities in the UK that have some form of low emission zone that you need to be aware of. These a
These will only be of concern to you if you’re driving a more polluting car (check with your rental company about the car you get) and also if looking to drive into the centre of the big cities. Sometimes the zone is very much concentrated on a small part of the centre.
It always pays to be aware of low emission zones. For driving into cities I always try and use a Park and Ride option – most cities have them which are much easier!
Cities with an emission zone:
- and quite a few still planning to introduce them
One that catches a lot of people out recently is the one for Bath – somewhere high on tourists plans. There’s a number of park and ride car parks around the city but to get to them sometimes Google Maps will take you through the ULEZ area – be wary!
10 tips for driving in UK
1. Drive on the left!
The very first thing to remember when driving in the UK is that we drive on the left!
That can be enough to make many people worry but try not to – if you’re used to driving in a country that drives on the right, then you probably also have the driving seat in the left of your car. In the UK the driver sits on the right hand side, so instantly it feels a little different and means you’ll be driving with a different sense of awareness.
If you’re driving in an area with other traffic you’ll likely be fine, as you’ll follow others and remember about driving on the left.
You should be extra careful if you’re driving on quiet roads or pulling out of junctions – it can be easy to forget which side you should be on!
2. Get familiar with names for gas
Like many places, in the UK we have our own names for things that might be slightly different to what you’re used to.
Gas stations are generally called a petrol station or garage. They are almost always self service and normally you fill up before paying inside. You can also get some where you pay at the pump – you’ll need to pay by card (Chip and pin) before it will allow you to fuel up. These are normally 24 hour stations, so good if you’re filling up early or late.
Most rental cars will use unleaded petrol as a fuel (also known as gasoline in the USA), but some might be diesel.
Petrol will *normally* be a green pump or handle. Sometimes a petrol station will have a higher grade petrol you can use – this is normally quite a bit more expensive! It will say PETROL or UNLEADED.
Diesel is *normally* a black pump or handle. It will say DIESEL.
Always double check before filling up that you’re using the right fuel – that’s something you’ll not want to be charged for if you get it wrong and break the car!
3. Fuel costs might be a lot higher than you’re used to, especially in rural areas
Speaking of fuel – it’s quite a lot more expensive than other parts of the world so bear this in mind when planning your budget.
You can mitigate the high cost of fuel by making sure you get a fuel efficient car, something not too big, and driving sensibly.
If you’re on a budget head to some of the large supermarkets which often have petrol stations attached. They can be some of the cheapest around.
4. Car parks are small, as are roads
Britain has small roads and it can be a little bit of a shock to the system if you’re used to wide open roads and loads of space!
For this reason, I always suggest not getting the biggest cars around, even if you are used to that luxury! Having a ‘normal’ sized car for the UK will be much better when dealing with small villages, towns where cars are parked up on either side of you and small car parks.
Spaces in car parks will generally be enough even for larger cars, but they can be tight. If you’re driving in an unfamiliar place and are sat on the ‘wrong side’ it makes sense to have a smaller car!
5. Don’t turn on a red light
In the UK we never turn on a red light, even if it might be allowed were you’re from.
In the UK a red light always means stop. The only time you can go is when it’s on green.
Traffic lights will go from:
- Red – stop
- Red and Amber – get ready to go
- Green – go
- Amber – prepare to stop
Sometimes lights will have a separate arrow filter for different lanes. So if a green arrow lights up it generally means it’s just for those going that way, not everyone else.
5. Be aware of speed limits
Speed limits are shown by circle signs with a red outline. The number shown inside is the speed limit – and always in miles per hour.
It’s a good idea to be aware of general limits before you get in the car:
- In built up areas it’s generally 30 miles per hour. Sometimes around schools it can be lower – 20mph is common.
- On faster roads around towns you can generally do 40mph or sometimes 50pmh – this is indicated along the road at intervals where you’ll see the speed limit sign. They are small and often attached to lampposts or road signs.
- If you’re in a built up area and you’re not sure – assume it’s 30mph. If it’s a higher limit it should have signs periodically on the road.
- Outside of towns and villages it’s normally ‘national speed limit’ – which is 60mph on a single carriageway and 70mph on a dual carriageway
- Always check for speed limits as you’re driving – they can change when approaching villages and pedestrian areas.
- On a motorway the speed limit is 70mph. Be aware of overhead signs that can signal a change in the speed limit – some motorways have variable speed limit sections that can change with traffic congestion.
6. Use miles, not kilometres
In the UK, unlike the rest of Europe, the standard for road signs and speeds is miles.
This will be a welcome relief to those in North America but can be a change for those in Europe coming to rent a car in Britain!
Distances are always in miles. Speed limits are always in miles per hour.
7. Some roads can be very narrow!
If you’re choosing to explore some of the UK’s wonderful countryside then at some point you might get the wonderful experience of being led down a country road by our good friend Google Maps (or other Sat Nav device!)
Some of these roads can be incredibly narrow, sometimes with just enough room for one car.
If you find yourself on one of these roads, keep an eye out for ‘passing places’ where you might need to reverse to if a car comes in the opposite direction.
8. Car parks are often ‘pay and display’
Car parks can sometimes be free in the UK but in more popular areas it’s more common for them to be charged.
When parking up in cities, towns and villages you might find that they have a warden taking money when you park or it is what’s known as ‘pay and display’. You’ll need to purchase a ticket from a machine in a car park and display it in the car – normally on the dashboard so it can be seen by any traffic wardens.
More commonly now you can pay for these kinds of car parks with apps – there are a few around but they’ll tell you if you can do it this way.
Try and make sure you have some cash for car parks in case you need it. Some accept card payments but there are quite a few that are still old fashioned!
9. Don’t use your cell phone
Using a mobile/cell phone while driving is illegal and if you’re caught doing so can attract a hefty fine from the police.
It’s also really dangerous to do so, especially on winding or busy roads – don’t do it. Find a place to pull over if you need to use your phone or have someone else answer it.
10. Have someone be your navigator!
Related to the last one, it’s a good idea to have someone be your navigator in the car.
This can be by using regular old fashioned maps or being the one using Google Maps on the phone.
It’s always a good idea to have someone who can help check for gaps in traffic, look out for navigation signs and generally help out if needed. Even if they can’t drive themselves or aren’t on the car rental agreement – having someone to help in that way can be really useful! Get them learning about street signs, roundabouts and speed limits!
🇬🇧 Great Britain Travel FAQ 🇬🇧
Do I need insurance for traveling to Britain?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting Britain?
YES – If you’re wanting to explore the whole of Great Britain, or at least some of its wonderful countryside then a car is worthwhile. It will get you around all on your own timetable
I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Britain
How to book accommodation in Britain?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in Britain?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
If you need a SIM for use in the UK I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.
What’s the best guidebook for Britain?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for Britain
Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to the UK.
Do I need a visa for the UK?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting the United Kingdom as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.
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