Review: Practical Car Rental

by DannyUK

Having recently been made redundant and losing a company car, I have slowly been adjusting to life without transport. So far buses have been able to get me as far as I need to go, but what I barely remembered in time was that I was due to attend the wedding of my best friend.

Although it was being held just two bus rides away, I felt that dragging my partner and three kids (all under the age of four) on two buses and a 90 minute one-way trip probably wasn’t the wisest idea. The next idea of a cab would have cost in the region of £30 each way and would then leave me with the problem of getting from the wedding to the reception which was about two miles away.

After much thought and reflection, I decided that the best bet would probably be to hire a car for the day. A quick scout about online, primarily through Yell.com gave me a few numbers and I began to ring round.

The first thing that I noticed was that all car companies, when it comes to weekend rentals, only seem to hire out cars for the two days, as opposed to midweek when you can get cars for just a single day. This surprised me as most of the companies were open seven days a week, and yet no-one could give me a direct answer as to why one-day hire was not allowed at the weekend.

After checking and comparing a couple of prices with local firms, I plumped to use Practical Car Rental, who were established locally and were part of a national firm. The name was also one that I recognised, which eased my mind somewhat, especially as I had never used a vehicle hire company before, nor did I know anyone who had so I couldn’t get a personal recommendation. In fact, the only thing I knew about vehicle hire companies was an old Watchdog program which I saw years ago that showed a vehicle hire company charging customers for existing scratches.

Having spoken to a couple of other similar companies, I had established that the standard fee for a family 5-door vehicle was around £35-£45 per day. I’ll add quickly here that Arriva Willhire wanted a whopping £141 for the weekend, so they quickly lost a customer!

Practical Car Rental Chelmsford - Taken from a review by DannyUK.com

Practical Car Rental in Chelmsford also do van hire, judging by this photo.

Once I’d got a rough figure for the hire, I called back Practical who had been the most responsive in my initial enquiries. I told them that I’d called earlier and was looking for a vehicle to hire for the coming Saturday. I explained that I had to take three under-4s in the car so it needed to be big enough to take at least two if not three car seats and they said that they had either a Mondeo Estate or a Nissan Almira which would be suitable.

The Almira was a newer model and worked out at £65.80 for the two days, which included VAT, compared to £54.06 for the Mondeo over the same period. I was told that insurance was also included in these prices and that the excess was £750, but for an extra £5 per day I could opt for a “Collision Damage” option which would reduce the excess to £100.

I agreed to the rental for Saturday and Sunday and was then told that they weren’t sure if they had the vehicle in stock. This was annoying as I had already told them the date that I needed it for earlier in the call, and was frustrated that after a five-minute conversation they may not be able to cater for my needs at all!

Fortunately, a quick check showed that they did indeed have an Almira in stock. They asked for my card details and said that they would take the rental fee from the card, and if any damage was done then they would also take that from the card at a later date.

I was then asked for my driving license details, which I gave over the phone. I mentioned that the driving license was in my old address and they said that as long as I could show two utility bills at the new address then it would be fine. They then told me that they would drop the car off on Friday afternoon between 4pm-5pm, which was a bonus as I feared I may have to collect it!

Friday came and I called the number to confirm that I had a car booked for later that day. The number went straight through to a mobile number which belonged to the guy I had spoken to a couple of days before, and he confirmed that he would be dropping the car off between 4pm-5pm that day.

At 5.30pm that night, following another call from myself, he turned up with the car. He asked me to sign a couple of forms which were a rental agreement and a car check-in slip, checked my utility bills, told me to use unleaded petrol and to refill the tank to the halfway point which it was currently on. Only after I had signed the forms did it occur to me that I needed to check the car for damage.

I mentioned to the guy that I would see him back to his car and that I’d check the car on the way, which he agreed to though he didn’t stick around when I was checking the car, which made some alarm bells ring in my head. Fortunately, I could see no damage, so I decided not to make a point of his rushing off.

The car itself was a September 2003 model, making it 9 months old at the latest, and was white in colour. I was surprised to see that although the interior of the car was fairly clean, the exterior was quite dirty. This had, however, been noted on the car check-in slip that I’d signed, alongside information such as any damage that the car had already sustained, the general condition of most of the parts such as wipers and lights, and also the fuel level.

The Mileage was around 11000 though this wasn’t noted in the space given on the same sheet. I can only think that the mileage wasn’t needed as there was no restriction on mileage given when hiring.

Before rushing off, I’d been told that the car would be picked up Sunday afternoon, but that they were unsure if they would have any staff to pick it up, in which case they would call me and pick it up Monday.

The use of the car itself was fairly easy. It ran smoothly and showed no signs of wear and tear. In fact, the only fault I could really pick up on was that the front passenger seat belt was barely large enough to fit a standard child safety seat. Had we not been able to make the belt fit, we would have been unable to use the car for the journey as our 2 week old could only go in a rear-facing seat in the front of the car.

Fortunately, we managed to make it fit though it did involve pushing the front seat as far back as it would go which didn’t leave a great deal of leg room in the back!

Overall we did around sixty miles that weekend, and £10 worth of unleaded petrol took the petrol gauge to just over half way. Although smaller than the type of family car that I am used to (our previous car was a Peugeot 406) it was adequate enough though I certainly wouldn’t want to use the car for long journeys as it would make me feel claustrophobic!

Come Sunday, I didn’t receive a phone call, and the car wasn’t collected. On Monday morning at around 10 am I called the company to see when they would be collecting the car. They told me that they hoped to have someone around “in the next hour”, and I mentioned that I was due to be going out so if they could give me a call before they came so that I could make sure I was in. They eventually turned up late in the afternoon, without phoning and without an apology for being late.

All in all, the price of the hire and the car itself were pretty good. The customer service left a great deal to be desired, and if I were to touch on one thing, in particular, I would say that the company needs more contact with their customers. A phone call on Friday morning to confirm delivery of the car, and another on the day they were collecting would have made me felt much happier.

For £77.55, which was the cost of the rental including the Collision Damage rate, I would use Practical again, especially as the car seemed to be fine in its operation. However, I would urge others to try other car rental places too, especially if they have had experience of them before. For those who have never hired a car before and are looking to do so, you could probably do a lot worse than Practical, and if you don’t mind their lack of customer contact, I would recommend them.

Practical’s website at www.practical.co.uk shows that they have over 160 locations in the UK and Ireland, and although you can book through the website, I would recommend calling them direct!

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