Decided to go on a road trip around Scotland, but wonder what to consider before renting a vehicle? This post contains everything you need to know about hiring a car in Scotland: it answers all your frequently asked questions about rental cars and sums up my top tips for getting a great deal and choosing the perfect vehicle for your trip.
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After flights and accommodation, renting a car is possibly one of the biggest expenses of your trip to Scotland. Understandably, you want to get it right and find a good deal, but without compromising the service you get.
This post contains answers to the most frequently asked questions around hiring a car in Scotland:
- Requirements for renting a car,
- My favourite car hire platforms and agencies,
- Tips for choosing the right car for your Scotland road trip,
- Advice on insurance and practical add-ons,
- And other tips for planning a trip in a hired car.
If you are still undecided about the best mode of transport for your time in Scotland, check out my guide to planning a trip to Scotland first. It contains an overview of all the different ways to get around Scotland and many more trip planning tips.
Requirements for hiring a car in Scotland
What kind of license do you need to hire a car in Scotland?
If you are visiting Scotland, you only need a valid driver’s licence from your home country. You do not need an international driver’s license in order to hire a car in Scotland.
If you become a resident in the UK, you can drive with your foreign license for up to 12 months. After that, you have to exchange your license for a British license.
If you have a license from an EU country, you currently do not have to exchange your license, even after 12 months. You can just keep driving with your regular license. This might change after the Brexit transition period is over in 2021.
Check the full rules here.
Car hire age requirements
Most car rental companies require you to be at least 21 years old before you can rent a car, but some companies might allow younger drivers to hire a vehicle for an additional charge.
Your driver’s license should be at least one year old and must not be a temporary permit.
Over 21s but under-25s will usually be charged an additional “Young Driver Fee” and there might be restrictions as to which vehicle category you can hire (i.e. no luxury or sports cars).
Other car hire requirements
The vast majority of car rental companies require bookings of a hire car to be made in the same name as the primary driver. That means, you cannot book a hire car in your name, but make your someone else the first driver.
Additionally, most hire companies require a credit card in the name of the primary driver to secure the booking. That means you cannot use someone else’s credit card to pay for your car hire in advance or pay for a rental car for someone else with your credit card.
Keep that in mind when you plan a trip with a partner or friends.
Individual companies might have additional restrictions or requirements, so it’s best to read the small print and compare options before you make a choice.
Where to hire a car
What are the best car hire places?
There are two services I recommend to hire cars in Scotland:
Auto Europe is a comparison platform where I always find the best deals for car rentals. They compare prices from various international car rental agencies and offer great insurance packages – much cheaper than booking insurance directly with the agency.
This is the service I personally use 90% of the time whether I hire a car in Scotland or abroad.
From the car rental agencies offered via Auto Europe, I recommend choosing established agencies like Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz or Sixt. These offer comprehensive roadside assistance and have great customer service.
Stay away from super low-budget options like Easirent or Keddy if you can. They might charge additionally for road-side assistance, request extremely high deposits, have vicious small print or patchy customer service.
Arnold Clark Car Rental is a fantastic local Scottish car rental company with offices around the country. They offer comprehensive insurance packages, great customer service and excellent roadside assistance.
They do not trade through Auto Europe and I find them to be a little more expensive than deals I find with international agencies.
However, they do trade through Celtic Legend, a widely recommended service for hiring a car in Scotland!
Where can you rent a car?
You can hire a car in all major cities in Scotland and at international airports:
- Glasgow, Glasgow Int. Airport & Glasgow Prestwick Airport
- Edinburgh & Edinburgh Int. Airport
- Aberdeen & Aberdeen Int. Airport
- Inverness & Inverness Int. Airport
Most international car rental companies, as well as Arnold Clark, have city and airport offices in these locations.
There are also some local car hire companies in larger towns and on islands, such as Oban, the Isle of Skye, Orkney, Shetland and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.
These are usually very handy, if you only want to hire a car for a small portion of your Scotland trip, for example, if you prefer to travel by public transport, but want a car to explore an island.
These are small independent companies, each with their own requirements, restrictions and small print. Compare reviews and prices to make the best choice.
One-way car rental
It would be so convenient if you could rent a car in the city, drive up to the Highlands and return the car there in order to enjoy one of Scotland’s many scenic train journeys or go island hopping across the Hebrides. Only, it’s not that easy…
One-way car rental is not super common in Scotland and there are many things to consider.
It is possible to rent cars one-way between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness (I always book through AutoEurope, which is a great platform that lets you easily compare prices and insurance packages).
This usually incurs an additional fee, even if you pick up the car at the airport and return it in the city office of the same city.
It is unlikely that any of the international rental companies will be able to accommodate smaller towns, such as Fort William or Oban, as they simply do not have offices in these places.
Local rental companies might be willing to offer one-way rentals if the pick-up and drop-off locations are not too far from each other. For example, some car hire companies on Skye offer pick up in Kyle of Lochalsh or Portree and return in Armadale at the ferry terminal.
Some local companies might even offer to transfer your rental car to you when you arrive in Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Just be aware that smaller companies often operate with a smaller service package than international companies and roadside assistance might not be as fast.
Choosing a car for a Scotland road trip
Automatic or manual transmission?
It is important to hire a car that you are comfortable with.
If you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car with a stick, hire an automatic car.
Even if you normally drive a manual, it might be worth getting an automatic in Scotland. Doing everything in the car the “wrong way round” and navigating Scottish country roads can be challenging enough.
Hiring an automatic car can take something off your plate – one less thing to worry about.
This can be particularly useful if you are a solo traveller or if you go on a road trip with someone who is not good at navigating.
Note, though that is it normally more expensive to get an automatic because manual cars are the standard in Scotland.
What size car to hire?
I recommend hiring the smallest car possible. You might be used driving a generous SUV back home, but Scottish roads are much easier to navigate with a smaller vehicle – especially if you are new to driving on the left.
Roads and car parks are a lot narrower than in places like the US or Canada. It is easier to find parking in a small car and to let others pass on single-track roads.
In order to fit everything in a smaller car, you might need to pack lighter too – check out my Scotland packing list for help with that!
Even during winter, it is not super common for main roads through the Highlands to be covered in snow. A regular-sized vehicle with winter tyres should do the trick – not necessary to hire an SUV with 4-wheel drive.
Insurance and Useful Add-ons
Should I hire (or buy) a GPS?
I personally don’t drive with a GPS but use my phone. I type in the route before I leave the house (while I definitely still have reception) and follow that throughout the day. Your phone won’t always have signal in the remote parts of the Highlands!
If your mobile phone provider at home can give you coverage in the UK at a reasonable price, I think that is sufficient.
Remember, that currently, EU mobile phone plans have no roaming costs in the UK at the moment – you can use your data normally. However, this might change after Brexit.
It’s a good idea to have a paper map like the Collins Road Atlas Scotland with you as a backup – especially if you are driving with a passenger who can navigate.
All that said, a GPS might be useful if you travel by yourself or want to be sure that you have a navigation system regardless of reception.
If you already own a GPS or want to invest in one, you can simply download Scottish road maps before your trip. It might be cheaper to do that, than renting a GPS on every holiday.
What insurance should you get?
I recommend getting the most comprehensive insurance: no excess in case of damages or repairs, covering all parts of the car including windshield and underbody.
Even if you don’t plan to go off-road, the condition of some single-track roads can be dodgy. Additionally, some passing places might be gravel rather than asphalt. Both increase the risk of small rocks flying in the air and damaging the car.
If you have extensive car insurance at home, check your policy as some may include hired vehicles abroad.
3rd party insurance options can be much cheaper – just be aware that you might have to pay for any repairs up-front to the car rental agency, then the 3rd party reimburses you.
Practical tips for a road trip in a hire car
Pick up the Transport Scotland leaflet
Transport Scotland has created a handy leaflet that is available at car hire offices around Scotland. It contains an overview of speed limits, important traffic rules and road etiquette in six languages.
My post about driving in Scotland also covers a lot of these questions in great detail.
Avoid driving in cities
Pick up your hire car on the day you leave the city and return it on your way back into the city – for example, if you spend a few days in Glasgow or Edinburgh at the beginning and end of your trip.
You won’t need a car in the city as all Scottish cities are very walkable and have public transport systems.
Parking in cities is a nightmare and can get expensive as many hotels do not provide on-site parking facilities. Traffic is also considerable and it may be difficult to navigate one-way systems.
Buying ferry tickets with a hire car
When you buy ferry tickets online in advance – which I highly recommend for popular crossings to islands like Skye, Mull, Islay, Orkney or the Outer Hebrides – you will be asked about the car registration number.
Don’t worry though, there is an option to choose if you do not know the license plate – which you won’t know until you pick up your rental car.
The best road trips in Scotland
If you need inspiration for your road trip route, check out my post with 16 scenic drives in Scotland.
With these tips for hiring a car in Scotland in mind, you are well prepared for your upcoming road trip.
Do you have other advice to add?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner