Why do car rental companies apply age restrictions?
Are car rental age restrictions necessary?
When hiring a car as a driver under 25, most major car rental companies will restrict which vehicles you're able to drive, and also may apply a young driver surcharge. Such age restrictions are applied because statistically young and inexperienced drivers have a higher risk of accidents, and that can lead to increased costs for the rental company, and therefore increased insurance costs.
Some car rental companies also have a maximum age limit of around 75 years old. Elderly drivers should therefore be aware that their age might incur a surcharge or even prevent the rental from taking place.
Let’s look at some of the impact that age can have, and why:
- Minimum Age: Most rental companies require renters to be at least 21 years old to rent a car, but will apply a surcharge for drivers under 25. Some companies will rent cars to drivers as young as 18, but usually the absolute minimum age is around 21, and with young driver surcharges applied if the driver us under 25 facing additional fees and restrictions.
- Young Driver Surcharge: Renters under the age of 25 often face a
young driver surcharge(also sometimes referred to as
age differential), which is added to the cost of the rental to compensate for the higher risk associated with younger drivers.
- Maximum Age: While there is usually no maximum age limit for renting a car, some companies may restrict rentals for drivers above a certain age, which is typically around 75 to 80. It is considered that elderly drivers are more likely suffer from impaired vision and hearing, slower response times, and other physical conditions which could increase the risk.
- Insurance Costs: Insurance is a significant expense for car rental companies. Insurance premiums are often influenced by the age of the driver because younger drivers and elderly drivers may be seen as higher insurance risks.
- Liability Management: Car rental companies can be held liable for accidents or damage involving their rental vehicles, so by imposing age restrictions, rental companies can potentially reduce their liability exposure and offset the associated costs.
Is driver experience taken into account?
Some might argue that driving experience should be considered instead of a blanket age policy, and with some exploration you might find a rental company who doesn’t rely solely on age as a criteria. After all, it could be possible that a 23 year old driver has 5 years driving experience and has held a full licence for 3 year3, whilst a 27 year old driver might have only passed his test 8 months ago.
One such example is how Hertz approach the matter at Dublin Airport. Here they group specific car types and state the number of years the driver needs to have held a driving licence.
In this instance, age becomes less relevant than experience, but it can be more difficult for the online reservation process to ignore age and instead ask questions about experience and how long a full driving licence has been held.
The overarching advice is to check!
Age Capture – Asking for your age
How a car rental company asks your age, and the way they process that information can vary.
Age capture usually happens at the start of the reservation process when you’re selecting your pickup location, dates and times. Then that when that first page is submitted, the information is sent to the
rate engine so that vehicles available for the chosen location, dates and times can be displayed with prices on the next page.
There are various methods of capturing a customer's age, including:
- Checkbox: In some cases there may be a pre-selected checkbox to indicate that you’re at least 25 years of age, and if you deselect that checkbox, you might either be asked for your age or your actual date of birth.*
- Dropdown list: In some cases there might be options in a dropdown list from which you can select the appropriate age or age range.**
- Loyalty scheme: If you’re a member of a loyalty scheme for the rental company you intend to use, you might already have provided your date of birth, and therefore by logging in, your current age can be determined from the personal information held your profile.
- Other places: Not all car rental companies display price selection on the homepage. Sixt, for example, display a age selection slider tool on their vehicle page, which can affect the prices.
* Age 25+ is a commonly pre-selected age, but some car rental websites pre-select a check box indicating that you’re at least 26, 30, or aged between 30 and 65, and rely on you to indicate otherwise if relevant.
** If the car rental company has different levels of age surcharge (such as for drivers between 21 and 22, and drivers between 23 and 24, and even different age limits for certain car groups), the age selection in a dropdown list should cater for each of those ranges. That could also mean that the options in the age dropdown list change based on the pickup location selected by the customer.
Pre-selected age or manual selection?
I’m personally in favour of requiring the customer to consciously make a selection instead of defaulting to the customer being 25+ and requiring them to indicate otherwise if they’re not.
My reasons for that are because a pre-selected checkbox could easily be missed if the visibility (based on size, positioning, contrast and general clutter) is not clear enough. That applies to all screen sizes and devices, not just desktop.
Some points to note...
Some car rental companies and broker websites leave it until much later in the reservation process before ask the driver’s age. In some cases it is possible to complete a car rental reservation without being asked your age, but you’ll be expected to have noticed a line of content which says something like
Drivers under 25 or over 70 years of age may need to pay an extra fee.
Not only is it possible to miss that small piece of content, but even if you see it you might not be informed what that
extra fee is.
So please be aware that this could happen, and that not only could you arrive at the rental location to pick up the car you have reserved online, but if you’re younger than the absolute minimum age that the rental company allows, you might be refused the car outright!
Age relevant to pickup date
It makes sense that the age taken into account should be the age at the pickup date of the rental.
For example, if you’re making a reservation in October for a rental which starts in January, and your birthday is in December, your change of age before the pickup date might have an influence on the rental, options and price.
Therefore, when it comes to entering your age, some car rental companies will actually ask for your age at time of pick-up, whereas others will just ask your age.
For those which ask for your date of birth, you might expect that would enable your age at time of pickup would be calculated, but not all companies do that.
Age conditions by company, country and vehicle
Besides varying from company to company, all of the ages referred to in this article can also vary from country to country. In addition to these variations, some companies might have vehicles such as certain luxury vehicles or high performance cars, larger SUVs, etc., which could have higher age restrictions where the minimum age is 27, 28 or even 30.
If you intend to rent such a vehicle and you have only been asked to confirm that you are over 25 up to that point, please check the information provided for each vehicle. The minimum age required should be included with that information.
How much is the Young Driver Surcharge?
Again, the cost of the Young Driver Surcharge will depend on the car rental company and the country.
Using an example of a UK citizen renting through different companies at the same location on the same dates and times, one company applied £37.50 for the age surcharge, another added £46.42 and another increased the cost by £79.
So if you’re tempted to shop around for price, it is clearly advisable to take any possible age fees into account before you make your mind up.
Are all costs itemised?
Many (but not all) car rental companies will show a cost breakdown, but even for those which do not display such level of detail, as long as you can see the total price described as inclusive of those mandatory charges, you should be confident that the price you see will be the price you pay.
The same advice would also apply to surcharges for one way rentals.
Are age surcharges ALWAYS added to the price?
When I was responsible for overseeing the implementation of transparent pricing, the directive from the CMA (the Competition and Markets Authority) and other governing and advisory bodies in Europe was that the
headline price (the price displayed) should include all taxes and other compulsory charges. That would include any age related surcharges.
Rules about how taxes and mandatory charges are applied will vary depending on which country the customer is making a reservation from, but it is reasonable to expect that all such charges will have been calculated into the final price before the customer commits to the reservation.
A more level playing field
There was a time when the same rules were not being enforced on car rental broker (third party price comparison) websites, which meant that it was possible to see much lower prices displayed on those websites compared to displayed on the
direct websites of the individual car rental companies.
So when comparing the cost of vehicles (which is usually at stage 2 of the reservation process), it often looked like those rental companies who were complying with the rules were more expensive than those reservation platforms who were not complying.
Like-for-like price comparisons
The reason for the differences was not that clear to customers, and so those customers who wanted to compare prices would only get a like-for-like comparison by reaching the final stage of the reservation process and comparing the TOTAL prices.
Understandably not all customers would go that far with their research and would make their decision based on the prices they saw at stage 2.
Thankfully over time things have been tightened up, and there is a far more level playing field where the rules are being applied more consistently.
Prices inclusive or exclusive of tax
Where taxes are concerned, customers in the US and certain other countries may see prices displayed EXCLUSIVE of tax, which will be applied at the end before submitting the booking form.
In such countries it is acceptable to have sales tax applied at the end of the process, which is similar to buying items in a store in the US having the sales tax calculated and applied at the checkout.
Are car rental age limits law or company policy?
Are age limits law or company policy?
Car rental age limits are typically company policies rather than laws.
Each car rental company sets its own policies regarding the minimum and maximum age requirements for renters, and as already stated, these policies can vary between companies and even among different locations and different countries a company operates in.
It's important to note that whilst age restrictions are generally company policies, there may be laws and regulations related to driver's licenses and insurance that can affect who can rent a car. For example, a valid driver's licence is typically required to rent a car, and the minimum age for obtaining a driver's license is determined by the government of whichever country the individual resides in.
Whilst some governments may set specific rules for young drivers, any such rules would be legally binding and separate from the age restrictions set by rental companies.
In conclusion, car rental age restrictions are something you need to be aware of, especially if you’re under 30 or over 65. By understanding the rules and policies of the rental company you have chosen should help you to avoid unexpected fees.
Awareness is key here, because some rental companies will be very clear and transparent with their messaging, pricing charges, whilst other car rental companies might not make age restrictions so clear. In such cases you might need to dig a little deeper into the Terms and Conditions before you go ahead and complete the booking.