The past 2 years I’ve been to Spain on 7 different occasions. On many of those, I rented a car to drive around the country and visit some lesser-known places in Spain. The first time, I thought I found a cheap car hire in Spain but there were a lot of hidden costs and in the end, the car rental costed a fortune. With all my experiences of renting a car in Spain, I now am able to save money on car rental in Spain and I share my budget car rental in Spain tips with you!
This post is intended for people who plan their trip to Spain and wonder if they should rent a car. And how they can save money on the rental fee for car hire in Spain. It doesn’t matter if you travel to Barcelona, Madrid or Malaga, the general rules apply to all car rental places in Spain.
I paid for everything in full myself. I was not paid or sponsored. All my opinions and experiences are my own.
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Budget Car Rental in Spain
Spain is perfect to rent a car. Of course, you can visit big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. But the countryside is very diverse and finding little villages where time stood still gives you the ultimate Spanish experience, like for example around Bilbao in the Basque Country, or in the South of Spain in Andalucia.
Having a rental car is perfect to get off the beaten path and to visit lesser-known sights and attractions. You save time and money when you have hired a car for your holiday in Spain.
Here are my 10 budget tips for car hire in Spain to save money.
How to Save Money on Renting a Car in Spain?
The below 10 car rental budget tips will help you save money on your rental car in Spain (and other countries) and not break the bank.
Of course, hiring a car in Spain does cost some money. This guide is to make sure you don’t pay more for your rental car than strictly necessary.
Below I give some detailed money-saving hacks and budget tips but in general, my advice is: Think ahead! Planning and preparation are key to save money on renting a car abroad.
The Ultimate Car Hire in Spain Budget Tips
Less is more. The smaller the car the better.
Looks don’t matter when you’re on a budget and want to rent a car in Spain. That small dinky toy of a car is cheaper and easier to operate than that big boat of a car that looks swanky.
I rented several different types of cars in Spain. From Opel Corsa to Renault Captur, but I was the happiest in my tiny Fiat 500.
Smaller cars in the lowest class will save you money on rental fees but also are easier to navigate. They are very economical for smaller distances and city driving and best of all: they fit into the tiniest parking spot.
And this will save money in the end.
The smallest car still holds 1 suitcase and a bag in the trunk, but when you’re a couple traveling in Spain, you can always use the backseat if you have more luggage.
The only downside to the smallest car: they don’t have a lot of horsepowers. Expect to put the pedal to the floor when driving uphill. And when you plan to drive a lot in the mountains it might be wise to upgrade one class to get more horsepowers under the hood.
If you plan to go to historic small villages, don’t accept an upgrade of your rental car.
There is no need for a big BMW in the white villages of Andalusia. You’ll never find a parking spot and will get stuck in the tiny winding streets.
Compare Spanish Car Rental Prices Online
When planning for your vacation in Spain, it is always wise to compare multiple car rental companies online before confirming your reservation.
But how to find the cheapest car rental in Spain?
Big international car rental companies are widely available at airports but if you’re not earning points with them, it might be cheaper to rent a car via a local car rental company.
Although I do like a bit of research, it can be frustrating to compare prices for car rentals online. I usually use a car rental comparison website, like EasyTerra that has great contracts in Spain.
I used them on several occasions and always found the cheapest deal for the same car rental via them.
Know when to go: Book Ahead and Save Money
The sooner the better! When you book early, you get the best prices, the best deals and the biggest choice of car rental in Spain. I know there are people just showing up at the airport to hire a car but this will not save you any money.
If you book up to 8 months in advance, you can save some serious Euros that are better spend eating tapas or trying the Spanish wine (not while driving of course).
Find a Rental Car with All-Inclusive Insurance Prices
The first time I rented a car in Spain, the car rental company hit me with a lot of hidden costs. I figured the standard covered charge was enough, but they bullied me into taking their expensive extra insurance otherwise I’d look at 5,000 € deposit.
After this financial fiasco, I now only rent cars that have all-inclusive insurance added.
Yes, you pay a bit extra for this, but you don’t have to fill out a dozen forms.
No hidden costs, all damage is covered and the deposit is a normal fee but without any costs for you when you do have damage to the rented car.
This gives me peace of mind and is worth it to me.
After driving and parking in Spain for many travels, I learned you really need the excess cover car insurance as a scratch or a dent is so easy to get in the narrow historic streets of that cute Spanish village south of Madrid.
Where to Hire your Car in Spain?
Most people will arrive in Spain via air and renting a car from the airport is the logical choice. They have a wide variety of cars available and you have fast access to the motorway.
However, when you start your Spanish road trip with 3 days in Barcelona, you really don’t need a car for the first days in the city.
It is expensive to park, a nightmare to drive and you’ll not use your car to go to places within the city.
You can save money by getting from the airport to the center of town and when you’re ready to leave the city and start your road trip through Spain, then pick up your holiday car.
You can also rent a car via a local office or the main train stations. Sometimes it is even cheaper to head back to the airport and pick up your car from there. Either way, know that you’ll have alternatives and it might be cheaper to rent your car for only the moments when you truly need it.
Save on Navigation while Driving in Spain
Another epic money costing mistake I made the first time I rented a car in Spain was that I didn’t think about the navigation.
Silly me figured all modern cars these days have navigation, right?
That is a bit of a downside on finding the cheapest Spanish car rental, they do everything to make an extra few bucks and disable the car’s navigation so you can rent a navigation system from them for €10 a day.
If you have a navigation system or can borrow one, bring it! Download the Spanish map before you leave home and familiarize yourself with it before you leave to travel to Spain.
I‘m an absolute tool when it comes to figuring out navigation systems so I trust and rely on good old google maps. I make the road trip route at home on my computer, e-mail the link to myself and when I arrive in Spain, I open it and it navigates me around Spain.
This does require some data but surprisingly little actually. You can also mark your points of interest in the free app maps.me (download from the app store or google play store) that doesn’t need data to navigate you safely around Spain.
Either way: think ahead. Bring your own and download the right maps before you leave home!
Avoid Toll Roads if you can
The roads in Spain are easy to navigate and drive on. I love driving in Spain. Around the bigger cities, you seriously have to pay attention but out in the countryside it is just me zooming across the tarmac.
Spain does have a number of toll roads where you have to pay to use them. Usually, you’ll find them around big cities like Madrid and Barcelona and around the tourist’s routes towards France and in the south. With approximately 1€ per 8 kilometers (or so), you can save money avoiding the toll roads.
But toll roads in Spain also have advantages: they are pretty straight forward, no way of getting lost and you can drive faster which means you’ll get to your destination quicker. If you drive at a constant speed, you’ll also drive more economically and save fuel.
The downside is: the toll roads are boring, services like food and rest stops and fuel are more expensive and you have to pay to use them.
So if you wish to see the countryside, stop at smaller villages along the route and save some money: then avoid the toll roads to save money on driving in Spain.
Toll routes are called autopista, carretera de peaje or carretera de cuota. The signs above the road will indicate peaje. You can pay with credit cards or euros.
Money-Saving Tips for Parking in Spain
One of the biggest expenses when renting a car in Spain in addition to the car hire fee are the parking costs. Where do you leave your rental car when you visit one of Spain’s interesting cities?
It has to be easy to find, safe and preferable free or at a reasonable price. Here are some tips to save money on car parking costs in Spain.
Park the Rental Car at your Hotel
Many hotels in Spain a little further from the center have on-site parking or offer a parking garage spot for a fixed fee. Some have on-site free parking (usually the smaller towns and villages) but in the bigger cities like Seville or Malaga, a deal with the nearby parking garage saves you a lot of searching.
I always book my hotels via booking.com and check if the hotel I selected offers a parking service. Sometimes it is free (Yah!), sometimes costs apply.
Always make sure to know the prices before you agree to reserve a parking spot. Maybe you’ve found a hotel with parking for 100€ per night, but the hotel without parking is only 65€ and parking will only cost you €5. Again, compare and be aware.
Public Car Parks Discount Prices on Weekends
Sometimes, it is just easier to go with a hotel without parking and find a convenient car park nearby. In most Spanish cities, there is a reduced fee for parking garages on the weekend.
During my recent visit to Jerez, the famous Sherry town in Andalusia, I only paid 2 euro on Saturday and Sunday. Bargain!
On-Street Parking in Spain
When I was road tripping around the Costa Brava, the manager of our apartment in Figueres really helped us find the best affordable place to park.
Always ask, as the locals know best what is safe and what is not. The owner of the apartment gave us several options for free street parking and cheap car parks surrounding the apartment.
Before I set out to a new destination, I always check online what the parking options are. For Spain, I swear with the site: www.parkopedia.es where you can set a point on the map, enter your dates and see what the various prices for parking are.
They also include free parking if available and I used them in all Spanish cities.
Avoid Bigger Cities and go for Day Trips
Ok, this budget tip for car hire might be a bit weird, but bear with me for a moment. Of course, when you rent a car in Spain, you want to use it. But sometimes, the driving takes just as much time as public transport and not taking the car might be easier in the end.
On my recent Andalusia road trip, I wanted to visit Jerez de la Frontera and Cadiz. I decided to base myself in Jerez as accommodation was cheaper and I went to Cadiz for a day trip.
So, I took the train to Cadiz instead of driving into the city to save money and time on parking and driving. For only €4 I took the train from Jerez, got off the train in Cadiz, and could start a whole day of exploring (and drinking some wine too).
So my point is, although you have a rental car at your disposal, it doesn’t mean you have to take it everywhere you want to go in Spain. Sometimes public transport is a much better option if you go on a day trip to a busy historic city not too far away.
Save Money on Petrol for your Car Hire in Spain
If you drive a lot, you pay a lot of money on petrol costs. Driving in Spain is not free but you can save money on your fuel costs. As previously mentioned, a smaller car can be a good option as they are very economical. Driving at a steady pace on the toll road might save some fuel costs too.
When I drive anywhere, I always check prices along the route.
You’ll notice that the big branded gas station along highways and toll roads usually has higher prices than the smaller gas pump in the little village you just passed.
Even if your gas tank is not empty, if you find cheap fuel, just top it up. It can save euros in the end and you can use them for churros breakfast or a glass of vermouth at night in the tapas bar.
Extra Tips for Budget Car Hire in Spain
The following tips are not focused on saving money, but they can help raise awareness if you’ve never hired a car before in Spain. Not knowing can result in some serious extra costs, so be aware:
- Most car rental places do not allow to cross borders with their rental cars, except for Andorra and Portugal. Going to France, for example, is not allowed and insurance will not cover any multi-country road trip to France.
- When you’re younger than 21, (or over 65) you might be charged extra for your rental car.
- Standard car rental only covers one driver. You can add additional drivers, but this comes at a fee.
- When you arrive at the airport in Barcelona or Malaga, some car hire companies will transport you by shuttle to their office away from the airport. I have tried these a couple of times and they work really well but if you’re really on a tight schedule, you might want to ensure you choose a car rental company with an office at the airport.
- Americans traveling to Europe and wanting to rent a car in Spain might be surprised that most car have manual gear shift. If you’re not familiar with driving a stick, you need to reserve a car with automatic gear as early as possible.
- Some companies require an international driver’s license. Make sure to know the rules that apply to your nationality. It is better to have one and not need it than to need an international driver’s license and not have it.
Money-Saving Tips for Car Hire in Spain
You live and you’ll learn, is what they say. I learned the expensive way and actually first did everything wrong with my car hire in Malaga (and paid for it) and now I can help you save money on renting a car in Spain.
So whether you plan a holiday in Spain or an epic road trip through the Iberian Peninsula, you do not have to be afraid to hire a car.
Having a rental car in Spain is priceless as you can visit remote sights and forgotten villages.
But it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I hope you found my money-saving tips for car rental in Spain useful. Plan ahead, prepare and find the cheapest option for your rental car and driving in Spain needs.
Have you rented a car in Spain? What is your biggest money saving hacks when it comes to renting a car? Let me know in the comment section below.