Let’s Go Mum reviews… Coolangatta discount car hire!

A rather remarkable car found in the Sea World car park!

Well ok, so this wasn’t our hire car – we found this car parked in the Sea World car park!

On our recent fun park trip to the Gold Coast I decided that a hire car would be the best choice for our holiday transport needs. Unfortunately, I also fell for the oldest “cheap rent a car” con in the book…

A hire car is great to pick up and go wherever – airport transfers, theme parks, dinner, a bit of spontaneous sight-seeing. Another big plus is that you have somewhere to leave your cases on your last day after you have checked-out, other than the hotel. (You can read our Jupiters Hotel review here) However in hindsight, trying to cut costs by using a cheap, small-company hire car from Coolangatta airport was probably NOT the wisest choice!

Rental car quick tip – Check that your hotel has free self-car parking available – if not, check for any parking charges or fees either on the street or in the hotel car park. Valet parking can cost an extra $10 or $20 a day on average

When planning our trips, I usually do a web search for whatever I am about to book with the word “Forum” tacked on. This often brings up genuine traveller opinion results, and cuts out a lot of the biased company ads. I searched for cut price car hire in Coolangatta, and read a few posts – but obviously, not enough! As I had left booking to the last minute, I rushed in without researching properly – travel-fail!

During my quick Googling, I had found a travel Forum conversation thread about a group of cheaper car rentals available from Coolangatta airport – slightly older cars at significantly cheaper rates when compared to the large car rental companies.

The car rental website looked encouragingly professional, and was convincingly worded. The total car rental price seemed to work out to around $10-$15 a day cheaper than the big-boys, so I booked a medium-sized car with them for the next day.

Rental car quick tip – don’t pay for a navigator in your hire car if you own an iPhone – you already have a built-in navigator on your phone that is just as good, and talks you through your journey – familiarise yourself with it before you leave!

I had to enter my credit card details to secure the booking, and although the website said I would not be charged until I picked up the car, it also referred to cancellation charges – and upon submitting the booking, gave me a disclaimer notification that they couldn’t confirm if they would have a vehicle available for me. Double jeopardy – I had given them my credit card details, and would be charged if a cancellation ensued, however there was no guarantee that there would be a car waiting for us!

Left with no further options, early next morning we headed off on our holiday, and arrived in Coolangatta with me slightly worried if we would have a rental car there for us, or not.

The smaller car rental companies at Coolangatta airport are all located in the “Second Tier” carpark, which is located about 8 minutes walk from the main terminal. Before you book your car, this is stated on our chosen company’s website as “directly in front of the terminal 2” – sounds close, doesn’t it? Nup! Terminal 2 is actually what appears to be a disused terminal, down the road from the main terminal – hence the unhappy walk. In my carefree single-traveller days, this wouldn’t present a problem, but with luggage and kids, this is an unwelcome complication. My mother’s words “You get what you pay for!” echoing in my ears, we set off, with the kids asking where we were going, and chorusing, “Let’s get a taxi, Mum!”

The walk is well sign-posted, level and paved, however with no sign of staff, I somehow missed a crucial temporary sign (was it there when I passed by?), and we ended up at the wrong end of the carpark with me scratching my head. This situation was right up there with losing the car at Darling Harbour (I still get traumatic flashbacks on that one!). I ended up phoning the rental company for guidance, and we were redirected back to find not an office, but a small designated area with a few rental company cars parked together. At the sight of a company representative operating out the back of a van, I began to hear faint alarm bells…

Thankfully, there was a car waiting for us! (Pictured here in our hotel car park)

Thankfully, there was a car waiting for us! (Pictured here in our hotel car park)

Thankfully, there was a car there waiting for us, and although my instincts said “No!”, my already tired feet and whingey kids said “Yes!”. A large contract was produced, and it was pointed out to me that I would be charged excess administration fees of up to $100 for anything under the sun going wrong, including speeding and red light camera fines, missed toll fees and wearing the wrong-coloured nail polish (okay, maybe I made up the last one – but you get my meaning). None of this was mentioned on the website, of course.

Insurance was a further saga – if I didn’t purchase the extra insurance options, the $3,000 accident excess would be frozen on my credit card for ‘approximately’ the next 7 days. At this point, I recalled another post on that same Googled travel Forum about one of these very Coolangatta Tier 2 car park rental companies – complaining about having trouble getting the amount “unfrozen” from their credit card. I conceded defeat, and paid a further $80 full insurance to cover most accidents and bring the excess down to a more reasonable $375, instead of $3,000. I also paid an extra $4.40 per day for Booster seat hire for my under-seven year old (Queensland child car seat law).

Rental car quick tip – if you are renting for several days, it may work out cheaper to bring or buy a basic booster cushion from Kmart or Big W store first – just make sure that it complies with your state or country of holiday laws, and you know how to fit it. Usually, car seats and booster seats can be carried on-board flights for free.

Too many scratches and irregularities to ever remember were pointed out to me on the car, and I signed on the dotted lines and was given the keys to the broken – oh how I missed this for finding a strange car in a car park – central locking system.

The car itself was fine. Sure, it was a little dated, but this didn’t bother me – or wouldn’t have, if it had saved me a decent amount of rental $$ in compensation. It ran well, was reasonably fuel efficient and did the job nicely, freeing us up to visit where we wanted to, when we wanted to.

Whilst driving on the Gold Coast can be a bit pushy and hectic, there is an excellent highway that runs direct from the well-signposted theme parks to the airport, and parking is free and easily accessible at most places.

The theme park car parks are huge - here is our hire car visiting Movie World!

The theme park car parks are huge – here is our hire car visiting Movie World!

So as a budget-conscious parent, was going for the cheap rental car worth the trouble of the older car, and the long walk with luggage and two tired kids?

Well actually, no – in the end I would recommend going with the bigger, more reliable and trust-worthy car rental companies – Hertz, Budget and Europcar – at least in the case of Coolangatta Airport. Pay the money, know what you are getting – and where you are going to find it.

As for me, I’ll put this rental down to experience 🙂

All prices are correct at July 2014

You can read all of our Gold Coast holiday reviews, including the Big 3 theme parks and accommodation reviews here

Have you had a good or bad hire car experience? Tell us in the comments below!

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About LetsGoMum

Hi, I'm Barbara, mum of the Let's Go Mum blog. We'd love to hear from you! You can contact me anytime with ideas on where you think we should go or what you think we should try...just drop me a line at barbara@letsgomum.com.au!