Business trip, family vacation, weekend getaway or moving house; whatever the circumstance, sometimes, hiring a car can be the cheapest and more advantageous option over driving your own.

But renting a car can quickly turn into a headache without proper planning. Here, we list five tips to help you avoid footing the bill for unnecessary or surprise costs to save you money.

1. Allow yourself time to find a real deal

A bit of research and booking early can be the difference between finding a bargain and paying over the odds. Start looking for your hire car well in advance of your trip, and don’t just book the first deal you see. You can keep up to date with Thrifty discounts, weekend specials, vehicle class upgrades and bonus rental days, by signing up to our Hot Offers eNewsletter.

2. Inspect the vehicle for damage

No matter how tired you are, or how dark it is, make sure you thoroughly inspect both the exterior and interior of the vehicle for any signs of damage. Usually, you’ll be given a checklist or diagram for the exterior damage when you pick the car up. If not, make a list of your own and have it signed. Log any scratches and dents, and be sure to check these with the agent, pointing out any marks they may have missed.

3. Buy roadside assistance cover

Contrary to popular belief, roadside assistance is unlikely to be an inclusion in your insurance cover. Where a call out is due to at-fault incidents, that is; puncturing a tyre, running out of fuel, the battery going flat, losing your car hire keys, or locking your baby or pet in the car – this one is more common than you might realise with the NRMA reporting 3,767 roadside callouts in FY17 for this incident alone – purchasing roadside assistance won’t see you out of pocket in case of such mishaps. Or, simply add Recovery Plus Protection to your car rental.

4. Leave in plenty of time

Ensure you allow a time cushion when selecting your car hire return time – don’t rely on the car hire company’s grace time. Estimate this time to be an hour or more later than you actually expect to return. In some cases you could be charged for another ‘day’ even if that day was over 20 minutes. That being said, don’t drop your car off 30 minutes before check-in closes. Leave plenty of time to go through everything thoroughly with the agent and allow time for delays. Speaking of which…

5. Save money by shopping smart on fuel

Fuel prices can fluctuate quite dramatically day to day, especially when driving in NSW. Make sure that you are getting the best value available by checking real-time fuel prices in your area using the my nrma app. The app is also useful in finding the nearest service station to your drop off point. Upon returning your hire car, you’ll need to ensure the fuel level is appropriate for your contract. If your fuel policy states ‘full out, full in’ and you forget to fill up your fuel tank, you may find yourself charged not just a premium for fuel, but also a refuelling fee.