Renting a car in Ireland is the best way to experience everything the country has to offer. You will be able to explore Ireland at your own pace, not on someone else's schedule. You can stay longer in an area you are drawn to, change your itinerary at will, or just take the long, meandering road to your next destination.
But car rental in Ireland isn't as simple as it is in other places. It's a topic I've written about often here at Ireland Family Vacations. And now I'm bringing all those articles together into one in-depth guide.
8 Steps to Car Rental in Ireland
When it comes to renting a car in Ireland it's helpful to begin at the beginning. So let's start with the basic steps.
- Know your arrival and departure dates and locations.
- Do you need a car for your entire trip? (Note- you won't need a car in Dublin!)
- Choose a rental company.
- Choose the car.
- Get your quotes- but be sure you are comparing apples to apples. (Note- this is where the real work comes in!)
- Check, and double check, your insurance options.
- Make your reservation.
- Tips for Picking up and Returning your Irish Car Rental
So far so good, right? Now let's dig into each of those steps
Step #1: Arrival & Departure Dates & Locations
Before you can begin pricing your Ireland car rental you need to have your flights booked. Note the dates and times.
Planning car pick up at the airports:
Arriving in Dublin: plan to pick up your car 30-60 minutes after you land, though it may take longer.
Arriving in Shannon: plan your pick up for 30 minutes after you land. Shannon Airport is much smaller and immigration lines are usually quite quick.
Departing from Dublin: plan to drop off your car 3.5 hours prior to boarding time. It will take 20-30 minutes for the shuttle to bring you back to the airport after you return the car. I recommend dropping off people & luggage at the departures gate then returning the car for minimal hassle. Dublin Airport Tips
Departing from Shannon: plan to drop off your car 2-2.5 hours prior to boarding time. Shuttles usually take 10-15 minutes.
Pick up or drop off at non-airport locations: Be sure to check opening hours and plan your schedule accordingly. Carefully note closing time and weekend hours.
OK, that was easy…
Step #2: Do You Need a Car for Your Entire Trip?
Next, determine if you will need or want a car for the duration of your trip.
If you have a couple days planned in Dublin you won't need a car in the city. When deciding between airport or city pick up/ drop off be sure to check your accommodations- is parking included or will you have an additional fee? Also check availability of car rental facilities: What hours are they open? What are the weekend hours?
Ready to move on?
Step #3: Choose a Car Rental Company
You'll find plenty of options when searching for car rental in Ireland. All the big names are there: Enterprise, Budget, Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, National… And you have the European companies: EuropCar and Sixt. And a couple of Irish as well: Irish Car Rentals and Dan Dooley (which was purchased by Enterprise but still maintains it's own branding, for now.)
So, how do you choose? I have a few tips to narrow down your choices:
- Choose a rental company that offers points or discounts through your credit card, a membership, or your business.
- Choose based on price: I will often use AutoEurope, a comparison site, to determine which companies are offering the best deals for my dates.
- Choose based on availability: some car rental companies are only available at airports. If you are planning to pick up or drop off at other locations you will have fewer options.
- Choose based on your age. Drivers ages 25- 74 should have no problem choosing a few Irish car rental companies to compare. Drivers aged 21-24 and 75 and older will find fewer options, higher rates and/ or extra fees. If you are under age 21 you can not rent a car in Ireland.
- Follow my recommendation: since Dan Dooley was acquired by Enterprise I have begun using- and recommending- Irish Car Rentals (use code IFV to save 10%). I've found the prices to be fair, the vehicles to be in great condition, and the staff very helpful.
Do you have your car rental companies narrowed down?
Step #4: Choose the Car Type
The rule of thumb for car rental in Ireland is to choose the smallest vehicle possible as fuel (petrol) prices in Ireland are double to triple the cost of gas in the US. Also worth noting, petrol is sold by the litre (1 gallon = 3.78 litres). The last time we visited petrol was €1.31 per litre.
You also need to consider your comfort. Be honest about the space you will need for both people and luggage. A few points to consider:
- How large is the luggage you are bringing?
- Will you bring or use car seats?
- How much driving will you do daily?
And finally- can you drive a manual transmission? If not you must reserve an automatic, and those are more expensive.
Now the real work begins…
Step #5: Get those Ireland Car Rental Quotes
Crack out your spreadsheet skills – computer or paper- for all the notes you'll be taking.
My spreadsheet has these columns:
- Rental company
- Quoted price – be sure to work in a single denimination
- What is included – limited liability insurance, mileage, taxes, airport surcharge, breakdown service, etc
- Costs for extras (each in their own column) – Super Collision Damage Waiver (also SCDW, CDW Excess, CDI Excess), additional driver, GPS, car seats, WiFi
You want to make sure that your quotes are as similar as possible.
Now a bit more about that insurance…
Step 6: Check – and Double Check- Those Insurance Options
The thing that makes car rental in Ireland tricky is the CDW insurance. It's something that surprises people if they haven't done their research and beginning your vacation with the feeling that you just got fleeced isn't a great start.
Ireland car rental terms can be a bit tricky, but the main thing you must realize is that you will not be allowed to drive away in your Irish car rental without some form of excess insurance.
Why is this a requirement in Ireland?
Because, for all its wide motorways connecting the major cities, Ireland is a country of narrow, winding roads lined with hedgerows and stone fences.
Narrow village streets lined with cars nearly guarantee a mirror swipe with the fault yours or someone else's. Over 90% of rental cars in Ireland return with some sort of damage.
This is where things get a bit confusing.
Ireland car rental insurances:
Limited Liability Insurance This is a legal requirement when renting a car in Ireland and is included on every car rental, automatically.
What it covers: Assists in paying the damages caused to another person’s property when you are at fault in an accident.
What it doesn’t cover: The damage to you or your own (rental) car in an accident when you are at fault.
What you need to know: Sometimes this will be listed as CDW but it is not the Super CDW (CDW or CDI Excess), only the liability. (I know, confusing). Rental companies in Ireland will not let you rent a car without additional coverage in place.
If you opt out of the excess coverages, a ‘hold' will be placed on your credit card to cover any damages that may occur. This is based on rental company, car value, and rental term; amounts will vary from $2000- $7000.
Collision Damage Waiver Aka CDW insurance. Additional insurance coverage. I highly recommend purchasing this coverage.
What it covers: Limits your financial liability for material damage to the vehicle, including theft, as long as the vehicle is used in accordance with the terms and conditions of the rental agreement.
What it doesn’t cover: The deductible you will pay in case of damage.
What you need to know: Adding this will cost you extra (often called excess; ie CDW Excess or CDI Excess), ranging from €15-25 per day, depending on type of vehicle, length of rental, and rental company. Your deductible can be as low as zero when you purchase this coverage.
Tip: If possible purchase this prior to your trip. Not only will you have it taken care of in advance (and possibly in your own currency, thereby skipping exchange fees) but you will be out the door and in your car quicker! Currently Irish Car Rentals, Dan Dooley and Auto Europe offer pre-purchase of CDW insurance. You can also pre-purchase CDW Excess at most major car rental websites that end in .ie (but not .com).
VIP Express Also called VIP Express Insurance
What it is: A service offered by some tour packages which adds CDW/ CDI excess to your self drive vacation package.
What you need to know: This often needs to be added when you make your booking; you may not be able to add it separately to your package.
Free Insurance Protection You may see this listed on some car rental websites
What it is: CDW and theft protection coverage.
What they don’t tell you (unless you hit the ‘details’ link): USA and Canadian rates generally do not include CDW; please check the rental terms to confirm what is included.
Tip: Be sure to read the rental terms thoroughly before renting a car. You will find accepted credit cards listed here (note that Discover card is not accepted in Ireland), as well as insurance coverage, fuel and mileage limits, restrictions, etc.
What you need to know about credit card insurance coverage in Ireland
Certain credit cards (World Mastercard and Chase Sapphire) offer collision damage cover for the driver, however most VISA, Mastercard, and American Express card issuing companies in the USA have withdrawn coverage for car rental in the Republic of Ireland. A few Canadian issued credit cards also offer coverage.
If the customer wishes to use their credit card to cover collision damage, a current letter of Authorization from the credit card company must be presented at the time of rental in order to waive the CDI coverage. Client should note that theft insurance may not be included.
Tip: Letter needs to be issued less than 2 weeks prior to picking up the car. A quick call to your card issuer will result in an immediate email of authorization. Print this out and present to rental company. Credit card used to rent the car must be the same as credit card offering coverage.
It is your sole responsibility to determine coverage with your provider and present proof upon arrival. If proof of coverage is insufficient, you will be liable for the full value of the vehicle and a minimum deposit of €3,000/£2,500 will be required. Alternatively, you may opt to purchase CDW/CDI locally which will limit your liability.
Also note that your credit card will have a ‘hold’ place on it for at least €3000 (often €5000) in case of damage, so be sure your credit limit is sufficient. This ‘hold’ is released when the car is returned undamaged.
Important to know about credit cards:Visa and Mastercard are accepted everywhere credit cards are used. American Express is not as widely accepted due to fees. And Discover card is not accepted at all.
It is important to note that theft and personal liability insurance are not included in your Irish car rental coverages. I recommend doing your homework on the insurance coverage your credit card provides (remember it must be the card you used to book your trip/ car rental for coverage to be effective!) as well as considering travel insurance.
Any questions? If not you can move on…
Step 7: Make Your Irish Car Rental Reservation
Now that the hard work is done and you've decided on the best car, price, and options for your trip, it's time to purchase your car rental in Ireland.
Just a couple important tips to remember:
Your car must be reserved in the name of the main driver.
The credit card used must be in the name of the main driver. Cash and travelers checks can not be used to rent a car in Ireland. If you opt to use a debit card it must be a Visa or Mastercard debit and may be subject to a hold on your bank account.
You will need a current drivers license to rent a car. An international drivers license is not necessary in Ireland.
Do offer your flight information on your reservation in case of flight delays.
And you're done! Congratulations!
Step 8: Tips for Picking Up, Driving, and Returning Your Irish Car Rental
If you have pre-purchased your Excess insurance and any other optional accessories your rental process should be quick and you'll be exploring Ireland in no time! But there are a few things I recommend before you leave.
- Purchase the refueling option. The rates are fair and it allows you to return the car empty. So much easier than finding a gas station as you return to the airport!
- Inquire about tolls. The M50 around Dublin is an automatic toll road. There are 8 other toll roads in Ireland. Some rental companies will have the charges added to your bill; others require that you pay the charges either onsite or online. Know your rental company's policy.
- During the walk around, or before you drive out of the lot, take photos of the car from all angles. This is your ‘insurance' against being charged for previous damage to the vehicle. If possible set the time/date stamp on your camera for these photos.
- If the car interior is excessively dirty when you return it you may be charged a cleaning fee. Remove trash and sweep out sand or dirt before returning.
- Upon return take photos of the car from all angles. Often agents don't do a final walk around with you upon return. This is your ‘insurance' against being charged for damage you didn't incur.
I realize this is an exhaustive list of tips for car rental in Ireland- congratulations on reading til the end! You are now completely prepared to rent a car in Ireland!
Any questions? Ask in the comments below- I always reply!