Car hire in the outback REALLY makes us mad!
It’s full of out-right rips offs, premium charges and hidden rules for unsuspecting customers.
This is especially true if you’re an international tourist.
We have heard many stories about big name car hire companies who make it difficult for international tourists wanting to hire cars in the outback, with a special series of extra charges and hoops to make you jump through.
We really want to expose this and find a solution.
So, no matter if you’re an Aussie family or an international visitor, on this page we expose the RIP OFF charges, the outrageous premiums and the hidden rules that car hire companies slug travellers with in the outback.
AND: we tell you which companies to hire through to avoid them!
In a hurry?
Use the search form here to compare hire car companies and get the best rates.[drivenow-affiliate-widget id=au-car-hire-search-box-2012]
Hire companies have many charges which they don’t reveal in their advertising. In some cases, these additional ‘hidden’ charges can DOUBLE the amount that it costs to hire a car in the outback.
In fact, some of these charges you don’t find out about until you arrive to pick up your rental car.
Before you book your rental car, read this section and then ASK the car rental company whether they will charge you any of these nasty fees.
The One-Way Surcharge
This is a heavy charge slapped on unsuspecting tourists who pick up their rental car in one location and then return it in another.
In the outback, this fee will cost you a hefty $330. That is OUTRAGEOUS.
With some companies, you can avoid this fee entirely by hiring your vehicle for 3 days instead of 2. Other companies will still charge a proportion of this fee, no matter how long you hire the vehicle for.
Our tip: When you’re booking, ask if there is a one-way surcharge and if there is any way to avoid it.
$330 is a lot of money.
That’s about 3 nights accommodation, or part of the cost of a one-way plane ticket to Sydney or Melbourne.
This is the cost that makes us and many other people in the NT REALLY mad.
It’s a beast called the ‘Premium Location Surcharge’. This charge is slapped on to your rental costs simply because most large rental companies will claim that ‘more rental cars are damaged in the NT by tourists than anywhere else in Australia’.
Personally, I think it’s just a way to rip people off.
The ‘Premium Location Surcharge’ will cost you anywhere between $100-$150 simply because of location.
There is NO escaping this charge (unless you hire with a local outback car hire company – more on this below).
The Airport Hire Surcharge
It’s more expensive to hire a vehicle at an airport in Australia than it is to hire it elsewhere.
In large cities, there are smaller rental companies which will pick you up from the airport and take you to their nearby office to fill in the paperwork.
We use these smaller companies when we’re travelling interstate and avoid the big name care hire companies at the airport like the plague!
In the outback you often don’t have the luxury of choosing a smaller car hire company (unless you’re in Alice Springs, Darwin or Broome where there are local companies).
HOWEVER: If you must use a big name car rental company, you can avoid the airport surcharge by NOT hiring at the airport, but at the company’s office in a town or nearby resort.
If you are driving from Alice Springs to Uluru or to Kings Canyon, you DO NOT NEED a 4WD.
In case you missed that: YOU DON’T NEED A 4WD TO VISIT ULURU
The biggest single (and costly) mistake that many visitors make is hiring a 4WD (four wheel drive) when they’re only travelling between Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta or Alice Springs.
This is an outright waste of YOUR money.
Seriously, your Grandma’s Hyundai could make this trip. The roads you’re travelling on are huge bitumen highways: the Stuart and Lasseter Highways.
Please, don’t waste your money on a 4WD just to make this road trip. Save it for other things – like the high price of some of the hotel accommodation at Uluru!
Not convinced? Read our ‘Driving from Alice Springs to Uluru Complete Itinerary’ here.
Stupid Rental Car Rules
The last (and most insidious) matter you should be aware of is some of the strict car rental rules in the outback.
Here, we expose the most common rules that will frustrate your holiday plans.
No Driving Between Sunset and Sunrise
We are serious. Even in Alice Springs, there are BIG NAME car rental companies whose agreements forbid you to drive between sun down and sun up.
Seems ridiculous to me that you can’t drive from your hotel in Alice downtown to a restaurant at night – however that is what it means.
If you do so, you risk voiding your insurance. If you have an accident, you will not only forfeit your security bond, you will also be liable to pay for ALL of the repair or replacement cost of the car.
Driving on Dirt Roads: International Travellers BEWARE
If you hire a standard sedan or wagon, you are NOT allowed to drive an unsealed road – at all.
There are no exceptions to this rule – and I guess it’s understandable.
An ordinary sedan is not made for off road adventures (although some unsealed roads are very good and perfectly driveable in an ordinary car!).
However, what we find ABSOLUTELY OUTRAGEOUS is that are car rental companies will not let you drive a 4WD on an unsealed road – without written permission from the hire car company!!
Now, we’re not talking about crossing the Simpson Desert here.
We are talking about travelling on roads like the Red Centre Way (formerly the Mereenie Loop) or the entry access to Palm Valley.
These are very common destinations which tourists wish to see.
Yet it seems that certain companies, such as Britz, are now asking international tourists to pay much higher insurance premiums AND asking them to seek written approval from the Britz head office BEFORE allowing them to hire a 4WD in order to drive on these roads.
This means you will have to prove to Britz that you can drive a 4WD and have a lot of previous off road driving experience before they will give you permission to hire a car and travel on the Red Centre Way (from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon/Watarrka via the West MacDonnell Ranges/Areyonga).
What this means is that your car hire costs DOUBLE, and you have a LOT of paper work to do before you even get to Australia.
We have spoken to international travellers who are simply NOT coming to the outback because of these ridiculous requirements.
So what can you do?
How to avoid this problem: hire from local hire car companies rather than the big names.
The best way to save money and avoid the ridiculous rules that many big name rental companies impose is to choose a locally-owned hire car company.
However, before you rush off and book at the companies we’ve listed below, you need to be aware of the following limitations.
- Smaller fleet of cars to choose from
- Need to book earlier – don’t rely on last-minute booking
- NO ONE-WAY RENTALS – you must start and finish in the same place
- Offices may be open shorter hours (i.e. no Sunday trading)
If these limitations don’t bother you, then we encourage you to go ahead and book at the places we’ve listed below.
All the links are direct links to these companies – we receive no commission, nor are we affiliated with them in any way.
If you DO hire through these companies, we would appreciate you telling the owners that you were referred by us.
Alice Camp N Drive
They have both ordinary sedans and 4WDs available. They also hire camping equipment.
Address: 76 Hartley Street, Alice Springs, NT 0870
Phone: 08 8952 0098
Central Car Hire
Alice’s oldest locally owned car rental company has a large fleet of 4WD and 2WD vehicles. They also hire camping equipment.
We’ve hired vehicles from them, and have driven around the Red Centre Way, to Palm Valley and Gosse Bluff, and highly recommend them!
Address: 76 Hartley Street, Alice Springs
Phone: (08) 8952 0098
Cheap Car Rental
It’s best to shop around in Darwin to get the best rate.
Instead of trying to choose a particular rental company we’ve just provided a page that compares sites. Hopefully this will help you get the best rate but check each site as some do not have 4WDs, so if you’re looking to go offroad in Litchfield or Kakadu National Park, make sure you find the right vehicle for your needs.
Alice or Darwin
You can also hire a Wicked Campers vehicle from either Alice or Darwin. They have a large choice of vehicles including campers, cars, 4wd campervans and AWD vehicles.
It is a national company so you can organise your whole road trip through the one company if you wish and they even do one way rentals. Click here or on the picture below to get great rates and more information.
Meteor Car Rentals
Meteor have a number of offices around north Queensland at Mackay, Cairns, Townsville and Mt Isa, so they DO allow one-way rentals to some locations.
They have a large fleet of both 4WD and 2WD vehicles, however their 4WDs have a minimum of 10 day hire period, which could be inconvenient if you’ve only got a few days.
Phone: 1300 638 367
Share YOUR Outback Car Hire Experience
If you’ve hired a car or 4WD in the outback and have a story to tell, we’d love to hear about it.
Please share your experiences in the comments section below. You’ll be helping fellow travellers with your comment, and saving them time and money.
|Alice Springs Car Hire||Getting to the Outback||Buying a Car in Australia|