Spain

Hiring a Car in Spain: Best Deals, Common Mistakes, Driving Tips & More

Last Updated February, 2020

Are you thinking to travel to Spain soon? This is a wonderful country that will definitely amaze you and where traveling once is never enough. Even though public transportation is well developed, renting a car in Spain will open up a totally different world for you. It helps to discover the country far beyond the well known and crowded touristy places.

I believe that in general, Europe has to be explored by car and Spain is no exception here. With so many hidden gems, scenic roads and charming small towns with local vibrant taverns and warm-hearted people, the car is rather a necessity.

Hiring a car in Spain is easy and not expensive. Take advantage of that. I put together one long post answering all questions that some of our readers asked us and even more. If you still have a question, drop me a comment and let me know. I rented a car in Spain dozens of times and happy to share what I know.

By the way, if you are traveling to Spain in winter, we have a few pretty detailed posts with information on the warmest places in Spain, where to go if you love winter sports, hot springs, beaches, museums and more. If you need help with packing, Spain packing guide. In case you are planning to visit solely the capital, there is also a guide to Madrid winter travel.

Those who plan to be in Barcelona should check Anya’s guide to Barcelona to Valencia road trip and best travel tips for Barcelona. Anya is sharing more than 50 travel tips for travel in this grand city.

Alright, now let’s talk about the car rental in Spain.

This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission (for which we will be mega grateful) at no extra cost to you. 

Do You Need to Hire a Car in Spain At All?

car hire in spain

Well, that’s a good question to ask which really depends on your agenda and where exactly you are planning to travel.

If you intend only to visit and stay in big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga, Seville and so on, then you absolutely do not need to rent a car. Getting from one city to another is easy too since public transportation is fantastic. But it takes much more time. If you are having a week or a few in Spain, you may end up spending more time on transportation than actual exploration.

If your main goal is only to spend time in cities, you do NOT need a car. In fact, having one will make your life harder.

It may also apply to any large city in Europe. Parking is expensive, driving in Spanish cities many times is pretty intense, and why even bother when public transport is well developed.

However, if you are considering the idea of getting out of large cities and exploring what’s there nearby (which I highly recommend doing), that’s a totally different story. Spain has so much more to offer than big cities and this is when renting a car becomes very useful. Anya and I have been to Spain a few times already, even lived there and plan to return in a couple of months, and we wouldn’t even consider not getting a car.

Hiring a car in Spain will help you save time and money. I’ll share below many tips on how to find cheap car rentals where you can pay $30 or $40 per week (or even less). Even with gas expenses, you are still going to spend in total less on a car than what you’d pay for public transportation getting around. Especially, if you are traveling with a partner or family.

Where to Rent a Car in Spain?

So for budget reasons and often for convenience, it is better to hire a car in Spain in major international airports such as Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD), Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN), Seville Airport (SVQ), Valencia Airport (VLC), and so on.

Even though there are some airport surcharge fees added to your final bill, it is still a lot cheaper than renting somewhere in the city office. Chance is, you might be flying into one of these airports anyway. And since they are always on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas, you can quickly jump on a highway and drive away from the busy streets of the city.

TIPS FOR FINDING CHEAP CAR RENTALS IN SPAIN

car hire in Spain

Now, since we rent often and I’ve tested many services throughout the years, I selected three main aggregators to rent through. In my experience, it almost never worths renting from a car supplier (like Hertz, Budget, Avis, Europecar, etc.) directly. Prices are almost always much higher.

So my first source for car rentals is Skyscanner. Many people know it and use it. It’s truly an amazing website and not just for car rentals, and also for flights and hotels.

My next two options are less known and greatly underrated.

EasyRentCars

The majority of my rentals (not only in Spain but Europe in general) come from this aggregator. It often pops up on the Skyscanner search but you should check it separately for deals as well. This is an awesome aggregator that very often has the best deals and easy navigation.

With EasyRentCars, you can quickly see the different packages for insurance and other deals that come with the rental. They have excellent customer service and many offices in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania, which makes it so much easier to contact them by phone if ever need to. Plus there are many other benefits that make me choose them over other companies.

Canceling bookings is easy and there is a cool cashback program. Also, there is a price-match and automate rebooking feature. You can book a car in advance and if the price drops, the system will automatically rebook it for you, which is awesome! They also have a points-based system letting you earn points for your booking that you can use later for discounts. Oh, and a good mobile app. That’s important, right? So definitely check it out.

Vehicle-rent

The third aggregator that is worth looking at is Vehicle-rent. This one is your average aggregator for car rentals. Their deals start at the same price point as with many other aggregators. However, they actually have one drawback.

Even though this company offers free cancelation on the rentals up to two days before pickup or even right before pickup, they don’t have a “cancel” button anywhere online. If you want to cancel your booking, you have to send them a good old email with your request. From my experience, it takes somewhere around a few days to process it. So, if you want to cancel your reservation one day before the pickup, chances are they won’t get back to you on time and you’ll be charged a fee. In this case, you need to call.

What even worse, they don’t have a US number. I believe the company is based in England and only offers European numbers. If you are from anywhere outside Europe, calling and canceling a booking may cost more than rental itself. One time I even had to call them and even though the lady on the phone was super nice I still felt that the cancelation process could have been done easier.

So why do I recommend them? For one simple reason. Their operational costs are much lower than in many other big companies, that’s why prices are lower too. They manage to offer just amazing full coverage packages. Yes, their basic deals are the same as everyone else. But, if you are planning to get full coverage on your rental, this is an aggregator to go to. (Although, you don’t always need full coverage and I am explaining it below).

What I noticed, Vehicle-rent works better for long term rentals, like a week or longer. And, it works better for some countries than others, so I suggest you check it out.

Again, this is all based on my personal experiences. But I can say with confidence that these aggregates work well for Spain.

As far as what is the best rental car company to hire a car in Spain from, I don’t have much to say. To me, they are all the same. In the airports, you are going to see mostly large international companies like Budget, FireFly, Avis and so on. I normally avoid companies with a rating of three stars or less.

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NORTHERN COAST OF SPAIN – WHAT MAKES IT SO SPECIAL?

Cost of Car Rental in Spain

car hire in Spain

What I noticed, it is better to rent a car weekly. And it’s not only in Spain but all over Europe. Car rental companies often provide big discounts once you choose seven days periods. For example, it may be cheaper to rent for 7 days than for 6 or rent for 14 days, not 12. If you are planning to get a car for a month, see if you can rent a car for 28 days, not 30.

Below I would like to provide some real examples of the prices, using mostly one week as a reference. And we will use Skyscanner as our point base platform.

All the cars I am going to look for are going to be in Barcelona International Airport, as it seems like a medium price point for Spain. Most of these searches are done without additional filters such as transmission type, unlimited milage, car size, etc. And they have either basic or no insurance. I will talk about insurance later because in many cases you can skip buying it.

Oh, and what about seasons.

We all know or at least suspect that the summer is the busiest time for Spain and that affects pricing greatly, including the car rentals. Definitely expect to pay more during the warm summer months.

Spain Car Hire Prices in July

This is definitely much more expensive than the off-season price but compared to many other countries in summer, Spain still has pretty decent prices. If you get to choose when to travel to Spain and can go in any other season, expect prices to drop. Let’s see what you can get for the first week in October.

Spain Car Hire Prices in October

As you can see, the offseason is a completely different story. This price is not per day, it is for the whole week!

For this price, you get full to empty fuel tank with no refund, limited mileage of 300km per day, collision damage waiver with €900 excess, and one free additional driver. Overall this is not bad at all, considering you get a car practically for free. Of course, there are some other costs to be aware of, but we will get into that soon.

Now let’s check what we can get for unlimited milage option:

These prices don’t differ that much from a limited mileage option. I suggest you use Google Maps to calculate if you need unlimited mileage at all. If not just go with these options and drive your wheels off!

Spain Car Hire Prices in January

car hire in spain

As we see there is a bigger demand for cars in winter. Still, a full-size SUV with automatic transmission for $35 for a week total sounds too good to be true. But it is true.

If you start checking prices actually a few weeks before the trip in January, you will definitely see your regular Mini and Economy classes that will cost the same amount or even less.

Renting a Car in Spain in March

Actually car rental prices start rising again in Spring. But it is still very possible to find great deals. Higher prices can be a result of searching way too far out too. I recommend starting to look approximately 6-8 weeks before the actual trip.

Prices for Automatic Transmission Car

So if you look at my search examples, you will see that you will pay ten times more for the automatic transmission in Spain in October for one week ($3 vs $30). But this is only the case when prices are so cheap.

Normally, if in your search the daily rental cost comes to $10-$15 per day, the cost for the automatic transmission becomes 1.5 – 2 times higher. There is a small chance a car agent may give you an automatic car if there are no manuals available. It has happened to me before but not in Spain but I wouldn’t count on that.

Do You Need Insurance?

So how does it all work with insurance? When do you need it and when you don’t?

The majority of rentals online come with the Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Waiver. What it means, is that if you drive your car into the lake or something, you don’t get away with it completely. Instead, you are going to pay for damages out of your deposit.

This deposit usually is €500 – €3000 depending on the company and type of the car you get. If you rent a luxury type car, you will have to provide two credit cards for two separate deposits.

In case of an accident or simply a scratch, the car company will take money from the deposit you left. And so you know, they charge a lot. For a tiny scratch, you may have to pay a few hundred dollars (this is what happened to us.) If you are involved in an accident when it is not your fault, they will still charge you for the damages no matter what. How much the company charges is never clear in advance.

Overall this option is reasonable. You rent a car, you give a deposit, and in case of anything, you just pay for it. This can be stressful though.

When to Purchase Full Coverage?

Renting a car in Spain

Your second option is to purchase full coverage during your online booking. The cost of online insurance is not very low.

If you are renting a car for a day or a few, the price for the insurance usually starts at $12 per day and more. If you plan to rent for a week or more, then the price may go down to $8 per day or more. The lowest I have seen is $3 per day if you are renting for 28 days. But that depends on the season. Particularly this cost I had for the fall and the spring.

With full coverage, you do get a worry-free experience. However, you need to make sure that your full package covers EVERYTHING. Sometimes the company excludes windshield, tires, mirrors, and roof damages even though it offers “full coverage”.

Another important thing to understand with this online insurance that you still have to leave the deposit. And if there is any damage to the car, the car supplier will charge you the same as if you only had the collision damage waiver. What your insurance package does, in this case, reimburses you everything and it is a relatively easy process. Still, you would have to deal with this on your own.

Another option is to get full insurance directly from a car supplier at the counter desk. In this case, you can really have a worry-free experience and do with a car whatever you want (literally). But this is where the car hire company really makes money. The insurance costs can easily go up to €25 euros per day.

When You Can Rent a Car in Spain Without Any Insurance

Northern coast of Spain
The northern coast of Spain is that part of the country where you definitely need a car

I am going to speak for North Americans here. This might be obvious to many people, but it wasn’t for me.

Sometimes your rental car insurance comes free with your credit card, like Bank of America Travel Rewards card or Chase Sapphire, for example. This insurance is indeed free and normally covers your rental for up to 30 days in almost any country in the world (except Ireland).

If you are not aware of this, call your bank and ask them for details. I am sure the same is applicable to many banks in Europe as well. Banks in England, Germany, France, Norway should definitely have the same offer.

What to Know When Using Your Bank’s Insurance

If you want to use this insurance, then make sure you put your rental costs on this card only. Also, by bank policy, you have to decline the insurance from the car rental company. Many times it is not possible since the car already comes with a basic package that has some type of insurance. In this case, just book the minimum required and you can explain that later.

If something has happened and the car company charges you for the damages, make sure you get all the necessary documentation. That includes police report (not crucial), invoice for the damages, the price list, the accident report (not the same as police, just your own describing what happened). Also, make sure you take photos of the damage.

If your Credit Card company provides you with this insurance, it is up to you whether to use it or not. Since you still have to deal with all the paperwork and all. But it can save you a lot of money, especially if you plan to rent for a long term and/or often. I go with this option myself. Actually, one time, when we got a flat tire and a car rental company charged us almost $400, the Bank’s insurance covered every penny.

What Documentation Do You Need to Hire a Car in Spain?

driving in Spain

Picking up a rental car in Spain is easy and it doesn’t differ from most of the places.

Have your Driver’s Licence ready. As long as it is in the Latin alphabet, you will not need an International Drivers Permit, although many contracts online say it may be required. I think the reason they mention it is because of the police. If police stop a visitor from the U.S., they’ll ask for an International Drivers Permit. So you may want to have it just in case.

Even if you have already paid for the rental, have a credit card ready for deposit. The credit card must have the driver’s name on it and be valid for another three months. Even if your partner, wife or husband has a credit card with the same number on it and wants to pay for the rental, rental companies will not accept it. They only want the card with the driver’s name on it.

If you, as a driver cannot provide such a card, your only way to avoid deposit is to purchase the full insurance at the counter desk or add a second driver to your contract.

Be aware, most car rental companies only accept Visa and MasterCard. No American Express. And don’t forget to set a travel notice for Spain with your bank.

Additional Costs

car hire in Spain

What I noticed, after renting a car in different parts of Spain, is that hidden charges are a big thing.

There are the airport surcharge fee and tax. Many countries in Europe actually include that in the price that you see online. Well, Spain does not. At least most of the time. What it means, since we are renting at the airport, we will need to pay from a few euros up to twenty-five euros. Just something to remember.

If you can, book a car with a fuel policy of Full to Full. In this case, everything is simple. You get a car with a full tank, you return a car with a full tank. Everybody is happy.

Many times your cheapest rental option will be Full to Empty. And this does NOT mean that they give you a car with a full tank and you can return it dry. It actually means that you have to prepay your gas at their rate per liter. If you return your car with some fuel left, they reimburse you for that fuel. Yet, you are not going to get the same money that you paid at the counter desk. It’s always less.

Unless a free additional driver is included in your rental package, you will have to pay extra from €5 to €15 per day. So throw your coin on who’s gonna drive before your trip.

You can almost never take a car outside of the country as is, even to Portugal. But you can take a car to another country for a fee. Usually, it costs around €50 euros per rental period. In some cases, it may be a daily charge of around €10 per day.

If you decide to cross the border, don’t forget the Supplier’s agreement. If you don’t take it, your car insurance will not cover a cent in case of an accident, even your collision damage waiver.

Picking up and dropping off the car outside business hours means you have to pay for that. The company needs to have someone to meet you in the office, so they always charge for this service.

Toll roads in Spain are not included in your rental price. Pay each toll at the booth as you go.

Driving in Spain

Overall, driving in Spain is easy and relaxing if driving outside large cities. Cities can be somewhat stressful primarily because of the big roundabouts. I am talking about roundabouts with 4, 5 lanes in them. In my opinion, this is the hardest part since the traffic there can be fast and chaotic. Whatever you do, don’t hit the car on your right, this will be your fault. 

If you are coming from North America and have never driven in Europe before, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The traffic laws are pretty much the same with a few changes. But the main thing that you should understand is the “Right of Way” rule. What is basically means is this:

This sign means you are driving on the priority road. You have the Right of Way and all the traffic that is turning onto the road should yield.

 

 

The end of the priority road.

 

 

There are many variations for this sign but it shows where is the priority road is. In this case, you are turning left and you don’t need to yield to anyone. But if you were coming from the opposite direction straight ahead, you would need to stop and make sure it’s clear before proceeding.

 

 

The signs above are simple and easy to follow. And actually you don’t see them as much in Spain as in many other European countries. But there is one more rule that is important to understand. That is the “Give way to the right”. And this rule applies to the unmarked crossings and equal priority.

I will give an example.

Imagine you are coming to a 4-stop intersection along with the other cars. Since everyone has a Stop sign, there is no priority road. So the car that stopped first, has the priority of way and need to go first. In Spain, or Europe in general, you would need to yield to the traffic coming in on the right-hand side, then you can drive (unless traffic is coming from a parking lot or a garage).

Sometimes you can see this sign that warns you of the intersection up ahead where nobody has the priority of way. What it means for you is that if someone is coming onto your road from the right, you will have to go first, and you have to stop or slow down to let them pass.

 

I know, this can be very confusing but luckily, in Spain, you don’t see this often at all. In fact, you might be driving for a long time and not have an encounter, unless in a very rural area.

Parking Situation in Spain

Parking in Spain is pretty straightforward.

White lines mean parking is free. Blue lines – paid parking. If parking for a fee then put the receipt on the dashboard. Usually, parking is enforced from 8 am until 6 or 8 pm. Sundays are often free (not always). In some areas, parking can be also free in wintertime.

Green lines mean parking is available only with a permit. Usually for the local folks. If you are a tourist, you cannot park.

Yellow lines in any form – parking is forbidden.

Parking Garage – pay per hour or the whole day. Pay at the parking payment machine before exiting.

Unless you are in a large city, it is often possible to find free parking but almost never in downtown. So if you circle around long enough, you will find something but it doesn’t always worth the time. Finding paid parking (garage or blue-lined parking) is not usually a problem.

Gasoline

Unless you rent a car from a small local company, you will always get a car that requires 95 Regular (same as 91 premium in the US). On the gas station, it has a pump with a green-colored label. In general, I’ve paid from €1.16 to €1.34 per liter.

The full tank on an economy type of car comes to about €50 which will cover up to 600-800 km, depending on how and where you drive. In Spain, gas station workers pump the gas for you. You don’t need to get out of the car unless you need to pay with the card inside of the station. You are not required to leave a tip.

By the way, you may get a fine for running out of petrol on certain main roads in Spain.

Conclusion

Spain is a big country with many sightseeing spots. While visiting all major cities is fun, a lot of beauty can be found outside them.

As you can see, hiring a car in Spain can be incredibly cheap and quite easy. With it, you can explore at your own pace and have the freedom to go where you want.

I hope I was able to answer all important questions. If there is anything else you’d like to ask, feel free to do that. If you find this post helpful, would you share it on social media?

For more tips on car rentals in other countries in Europe, I have also guides to renting a car in Tbilisi, Georgia and Montenegro car hire. Check them out! 

And happy travels, guys!

Before you start looking for rental car deals in Spain, read this guide which covers all details on where to hire a car in Spain, how to save money, what to know about driving, rental insurance, traffic laws, hidden costs and more #spaintravel #europetravel #spainbudget
Before you start looking for rental car deals in Spain, read this guide which covers all details on where to hire a car in Spain, how to save money, what to know about driving, rental insurance, traffic laws, hidden costs and more #spaintravel #europetravel #spainbudget
 

Hey there! I am Mark. I mostly stay behind the scenes of Road is Calling but occasionally I like to contribute and share my perspective on our digital nomad life and travels.

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