Renting a car in Scotland is the best way to explore this magnificent country.
Below is my complete guide on how to rent a car in Scotland, covering:
- which type of car is best,
- best rental companies, reviews,
- tips on reducing costs,
- insurance recommendations,
- essentials to avoid any scam,
- rules and regulations,
I have tried listing everything you may need to know to enjoy a worry-free car hire experience.
This article contains affiliate links (Disclosure page). If you purchase using my link, I get a commission at no extra cost to you.
Renting a car in Scotland - Overview
Do you need a car in Scotland?
Scotland has a lot to offer: lochs, mountains, castles... A car is essential to admire some of the most magnificent landscapes.
Especially to :
- enjoy some of the hidden gems
- visit places early before the crowds
- be flexible to adapt to the weather
However, it does depends what kind of holiday you want.
You can stay in Edinburgh and just do day trips by organized tours and trains.
Below are a few locations you could discover with your rental car:
Car rental essential tips - from my personal experiences
If you don't want to read the entire article, here is a short summary of my top tips:
- Choose a car that is not too large. There are a lot of single lane roads (with passing places) and you might have to cross path with a bus. It will be more comfortable in a smaller car.
- Book early to get the best prices and the choice of cars
- Always check the car upon arrival and take pictures of anything you see (don't forget the roof and under the bumper)
The booking platform I personally use
You will see a lot of mentions of Discovercars.com throughout this article.
This is the platform I personally use and one of the best customer-rated comparison sites on the market.
As soon as I decide on a destination and dates, I go check their deals and car types.
I have found some really good deals many times.
Plus, they have a practical coverage option at great price that will cover you in case of damage to the outside of the car.
Is it difficult to drive in Scotland? Is it safe?
Driving is not that difficult.
You can read a lot about people complaining about the difficulty of driving in Scotland. In my opinion, It is not as bad as they say.
Remember that most people who find it quite easy, don't leave comments..
The 2 main difficulties are:
- Driving on the left-hand side (if it is not the case in your home country).
Personally, I have never felt it hard. You just have to be focused when exiting a parking space.
- The single lane roads that are very touristy
Single lane roads in general are not that complex, there are crossing-places very frequently. The problems are the tourists that just keep going and then pile up at those crossing places, blocking the whole thing. Always look ahead to see if there is enough space.
#1 to 3 - How to rent a car in Scotland - required elements
Tip 1 - License to rent a car in Scotland
It is always better to have you International Driving Permit anywhere you travel out of the country.
This way you never wonder.
However, know that to be allowed to drive in Scotland / UK (as a tourist), you can use a standard driver’s license for your country if it has:
- a licence number,
- a photograph,
- a valid date,
- and is in Latin letters,
Americans can drive in Scotland with their US licenses.
Canadian can drive in Scotland with their Canadian licenses.
Europeans can drive in Scotland with their country's licenses.
Tip 2 - Extra age requirements / years of driving
Official driving age in Scotland is 17.
However, most car rental companies in Scotland / UK:
- will require you to be 21,
- will require you to have held a license in your home country for a year or more,
- may add charges, if you are under 25,
- may add charges, if you are over a certain age.
On the platform Discovercars.com you can enter your age, to see any limitation in rental cars available and any additional fee.
Tip 3 - A credit card that can handle the hold charge
Remember that unless you have decided to purchase a full coverage insurance directly with the rental company, you will be asked for your credit card to hold a deposit. This amount is blocked on your account via your credit card (until you bring the car back without damages).
As it is on top of the payment, you may be hitting the limit of your credit card daily/weekly or monthly protection limit.
So be prepared! Your options are:
- Use a different credit card for the hold charge,
- Contact your bank prior to traveling to change your limits,
- Purchase a full coverage insurance with a 0 excess charge.
On the platform Discovercars.com:
- once you open one option, you can click on Rental Conditions, and you will see the Security Deposit amount.
- And if this is an issue for you, you can pre-select the amount you are willing to have blocked as security deposit in the filters
#4 & 5 - When and where to hire a car in Scotland
Tip 4 - Best period
Scotland is a very popular destination, especially in Summer.
So, if you want the choice of your vehicle types and good prices, it is better to rent your car as early as possible.
You won't find last-minute deals in Summer. As soon as you have picked your dates, book the car!
Tip 5 - When and where
You can find all major brands at the airports and in the main towns.
- Rent a car from your arrival / departure airport - it is easier to start driving on main roads rather than in a city until you get used to the car
- Rent the car before or after you explore Edinburgh or Glasgow - there is no need to have a car in those towns and parking is very expensive.
The largest car rental hubs in Scotland are:
Can you drive a rental car from England to Scotland?
Yes, all cars rented in England can be driven to Scotland.
The only thing you have to check is if you have rented with a limited milage...
Therefore, you can land in London and drive from there.
London to Edinburgh is a 7h30 drive.
#6 to 10 - What type of car to choose
Tip 6 - Recommendations for size of car / power
I know it depends on how many people are traveling and how much luggage you are traveling with.
But here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in Scotland:
Choose a car that is not too large. Scotland has many single lane roads. You may have to cross path with a bus or a large vehicle using the passing places. It is not dramatic, but if you have a narrow car, you will feel less stressed by those situations.
Overall, there are no motorways or really steep roads in Scotland. So even the smallest engine is sufficient. However, as always, you will be more comfortable in your accelerations with a more powerful vehicle.
Tip 7 - Transmission type - Manual vs Automatic
Most cars to rent in Scotland have a manual transmission.
Rental companies have automatic cars, but they are often more expensive. And there are less of them, so book early.
On Discovercars.com, you can use the filter "Automatic transmission" on the left, if this is a must have for you.
Tip 8 - Fuel choice - Diesel, Gas or electric
- Fuel choice is not a significant factor. Diesel is just as easy to find as gas.
- Gas is called Petrol
- Gas stations are called Petrol stations
- See the concentration of electric car charging station, where you are going in Scotland on this website
Tip 9 - Is it useful to have a 4WD?
Not at all. All the best destinations can be accessed by paved road.
Plus, know that even if you have a 4WD, the insurance associated with the rental probably does not cover the use of the car out of paved roads.
This is frequent in many countries. Read the fine print.
Tip 10 - Consider vehicles with sleeping options
Another idea is to rent a vehicle in which you can sleep.
Overall, this could save you money compared to booking extra accommodations.
- Wild camping is legal in Scotland - just leave the place cleaner than when you arrived
- There are also camping sites
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map and tips) in my travel guides eBooks that help you easily plan your Scotland road trip:
#11 to 17 - Best rental car companies in Scotland - reviews
Tip 11 - Cost of car rental in Scotland
To give you an idea, based on data from Discovercars.com, prices are around
- There are big variations throughout the year - The average prices vary from 15 to 65 USD per day
- The cheapest prices are generally for when you travel in November
It is very easy to compare prices online on a single platform - but if comparing between sites, remember to check all hidden fees.
Tip 12 - Things to consider when choosing your car rental company
- First, of course, the company must have the type of car your needs
- Then, check out the cancellation fees - on Discovercars.com, cancellation is free
- Authorized milage - depending on what you are planning, have a look at unlimited or defined daily milage allowance
- The pickup location - some require a shuttle to the get to the rental area
Tip 13 - Best rated car rental companies in Scotland - reviews
When reading reviews, don't forget that on Tripadvisor or Google for example, anyone can write a review even if they have not used the company.
Plus, only the people who had issues write comments, most of the people without issues, don't take the time to write that it went smoothly.
On the platform Discovercars.com, each rental company has a mark on 10 points. This is an average of the marks given by actual customers.
On the search page, you have a filter to select only the best rated ones:
Some of the best rated rental car companies in Scotland are:
- Arnold Clark
Tip 14 - How to save money - cheap car rental in Scotland
If keeping the cost down is your main concern, you should:
- Book very early
- Return the car where you picked it up
- Book a smaller car
- Pay attention to pick-up and drop-off times - Car hire is typically charged per 24-hour period
- Choose a rental without cancellation or with limited cancellation
- If renting for 6 days, check the price for 7 days - sometimes companies have a discount for 1 week rentals.
- Book with limited milage
Tip 15 - Check opening hours if picking a company not at an airport
If you are picking up your car at the airport, the companies are normally open as long as flights are arriving.
However, if you are renting a car from a town, especially a smaller one, they will have shorter opening hours (especially on weekends). This may mean that you have to rent for an extra day if you can't drop off the car.
Tip 16 - Car rental scams in Scotland
There is no specific scam in Scotland, that I am aware of.
As in most country, if the price is very very low, then there must be conditions and tricks behind it.
And some companies do try to charge more for damages. My advice is to always take the time to check the car and take date pictures at pick-up and drop-off.
Tip 17 - Be careful if taking a ferry
From Mainland Scotland, you could also visit Northern Ireland and the Orkneys or Shetlands islands (which are part of Scotland).
However, that implies crossing taking a ferry.
This is not allowed by all rental companies. And for others, there are fees included.
Most of them allow crossing to the islands, since it is within Scotland.
If renting with Discovercars.com, once you selected a car you can click on "Rental conditions" and then again "Rental conditions" or "Additional conditions" to find the "geographical restrictions".
If it is not documented, you can add the question for customer support to answer.
#18 to 20 - Understanding Insurances
Tip 18 - Choose the types of insurance you need + requirements in Scotland
Many levels of insurances are available. And their wording is often not very clear.
Here is a high-level overview of the different types of insurances - which are not really insurances, but waivers to limit your liability:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - It limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay in case of damages
- Theft Protection (TP) - this waiver limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen (proof required are a police report and the car keys). TP is frequently included in the car rental price.
- Third Party Liability (TPL) - also known as Supplemental Liability Insurance, Extended protection, liability protection... - it covers personal and material damages caused to other people’s cars, property and even medical expenses. They have different limits.
- and many others...
The mandatory insurance in the UK is:
- Unlimited third party liability is the legal minimum, and it should be included by default in rentals.
Tip 19 - 4 ways to purchase insurance
- Option no insurance - apart from the mandatory one, you don't have to take extras. Just know that in case something happens, you can be liable for your entire deposit.
- Option 1 - Use your credit card insurance/ or your own car insurance
Many credit cards have some kind of coverage for rental cars. They all differ.
Similarly, your home car insurance can be covering you as well when renting a car.
You need to read all the fine prints to clearly understand what is covered or not.
- Option 2 - Purchase upon booking your rental car
When you book your rental car, you normally have the option to select the insurances you want. The deals are most of the time better than at the counter (I have seen 3 times less, once).
On direct websites, you get the dealer's insurance, but on platforms, you get a special insurance created by the platform.
For example, on Discovercars.com, they have their own Full Coverage Waiver Insurance Option
Personally, this is what I used. I know I may already be covered by my credit card and all, but this just seems the easier route, more straightforward in case of an issue. Personal feeling.
- Option 3 - At the car rental booth
This is the more expensive option, but if you have not done it before, you could purchase it as you are paying.
- Option 4 - Travel Insurance
Get a travel insurance that includes comprehensive car rental insurance with one of the classic insurance companies.
Tip 20 - Consider taking roadside assistance
Technically, it is not an insurance, but it is offered at the same time.
Conditions of coverage vary, but they normally include:
- Loss or damage of car keys
- Keys locked inside the car
- Flat tire
- Rental car not starting
- Car out of fuel
If you are in a country you don't know, traveling alone and not good at changing tires, this could be a great option.
This is something you can get at the counter when getting the car.
Sometimes it is included in the rental.
#21 to 23 - Extras
Tip 21 - Do I need GPS?
To navigate, a GPS can make your experience smoother. So that you can focus on the driving.
- Option 1 - Bring your own GPS
This is my favorite options. I know well how it works, plus I can pre-enter all my destinations, which saves me a lot of time.
On my travel guide eBook you get the GPS coordinates of the carparks of all my favorite locations
- Option 2 - Use your phone
If you have a phone, don't forget that the roaming charges abroad can be very expensive.
However, you can download a map beforehand, when you are connected to wifi, so that you can navigate without spending money.
Don't forget the charger and your phone holder so that it is comfortable!
- Option 3 - Take the GPS extra
I don't recommend it. I think this is a last resort if you don't have your own or a good phone. I always find it very expensive.
Tip 22 - Additional driver charges
Decide beforehand whether or not you will need more than one driver.
If so, take this into account when comparing rental deals between companies.
Some companies have deals that has a free extra driver.
On the platform Discovercars.com, if there are any, it can be selected on the filters:
Tip 23 - Child safety seats rules in the UK
- Children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall, whichever comes first.
- You can choose a child car seat based on your child’s height or weight.
#24 to 31 - How to collect and return the car to avoid issues
Tip 24 - Check your vehicle at pick-up
For a worry-free exchange with the rental car company, I recommend you do a thorough check of the car before leaving the carpark.
Sometimes it is done with an agent. Sometimes they just give you a form with the state of the car before renting. Sometimes they tell you nothing...
Make sure all dents and scratches are noted, if not, make sure they add it.
Plus, for peace of mind, you can take pictures before leaving (like in every country).
Things to look for:
- Check all the exterior of the car for dent and scratches
- Don't forget to check the roof!!!! It is often forgotten, but they might check it when you return
- Don't forget under the bumper
- And don't forget the back of the mirrors
- Check the interior for any damage
- Check the state of the tires
- Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels)
- Make sure the spare tire is in place and in good condition
- Check that gas level and milage match the record
Tip 25 - Check the mandatory equipment is in the car
In Scotland / UK, there is no law requiring pieces of equipment to be available in the car (e.g. Warning triangle, Reflective vest or jacket, First aid kit).
And there are no requirement to fit winter tires.
Tip 26 - Ask about the management of tolls
There are no toll roads or toll bridges in Scotland.
However, if you plan on driving to other destinations, make sure to ask for the process (vignettes or badges may be required).
Tip 27 - What to do in case of fine or tickets (speed / parking)
You are responsible for any parking tickets or driving fines that you receive during the rental period.
If you are aware of it right away, you can go and pay at the police station or online, as indicated.
But know that it can take up to 3 months for a fine to be reported to the car owner (the rental company). In that case, they will send you proof and charge you for it and maybe add an administrative fee for managing the fine.
Tip 28 - What if there is a problem with the car
Don't lose your rental agreement.
On it, you will find the steps to take if you have a problem with your car.
Most use a breakdown assistance service and the number will be listed on the agreement.
Then you can contact the rental company to see how to car can be replaced.
Tip 29 - Don't forget to manage your tank
More and more company now have a system where you must bring back the car with the same level of fuel (not full to full tank but same to same).
This is very annoying, but it is easier for them to manage.
Therefore, you need to understand how much the car consumes and how many kilometers / miles you still have to do, if you don't want to waste money.
Tip 30 - Drop off
For peace of mind, try dropping off the car during opening hours so that the car checks can all be made and validated.
If not possible, take pictures of the car before leaving it.
It is true that you can read horror stories on the Internet about renting cars in Scotland (and in any countries).
However, keep in mind that the thousands and thousands of people who have no problem don't write that all went well with their rentals...
So don't be stressed. If you have taken a reputable company, are respecting the rules, it should go very smoothly.
Tip 31 - What if you damaged the car
If your rental car gets damaged, the first thing to do is to contact the car rental agency.
- If your rental has only basic insurance, you will have to cover the damages up to your deductible amount.
- If you have purchased a full coverage with the rental company, check with them and it should be covered
- If you have purchased with Discovercars.com, contact them and provide all info (within 28 days of dropping off the car). They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted
- If you are using your own insurance, contact them and provide all info. They with refund you for charges and costs related to the damage, if warranted.
#32 to 36 - Get ready to drive in Scotland
Below is a snapshot with the main things to know.
You can learn more on my article about driving in Scotland.
Tip 32 - Understand the rules
- Driving is on the left
- There are many roundabouts, especially in the South. Just drive towards the left. Give way to people from the right unless there are lights.
- National speed limits are 70mph on Motorways and Dual Carriageways for cars - 30mph in built-up areas (20mph around schools) - 60mph otherwise for cars
- Alcohol limit - legal limit is 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood
- Use of cell phone - it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving
- Seatbelts are compulsory for driver and passengers
- All rules can be found on the Code and Road safety page
Tip 33 - Watch videos
To get familiar with the driving you can watch videos of people road tripping in Scotland.
Below is my short video to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Tip 34 - Know the potential dangers
The main "dangers" to be aware of when driving in Scotland are:
- Driving on the left - if you are not used to it, be careful especially when exiting a parking
- Animals - in the countryside, you can have farm and wild animals jump in front of the vehicle, so stay vigilant.
- Weather - conditions can be good and all of a sudden it can start pouring rain. Adapt your driving.
- The scenery - sometimes the road is so beautiful that you are distracted. Better to stop!
- Idiots... well they are everywhere. We were on a road where you can drive at 70mph, one lane in each direction and we had to stop because someone had decided to do a U turn and was no good at it!
Tip 35 - Plan your itinerary
It can be fun to go an adventure.
But if you want to see many locations on your road trip, better to plan ahead to balance your days and book accommodations.
Find all my favorite locations and tips in my travel guide eBooks:
Where to stay in Scotland?
- Edinburgh to explore the fascinating city - see best rated accommodations
- Portree central to explore the isle of Skye - see best rated accommodations
- Glencoe to take the time in the magnificent valley - see best rated accommodations
- Ullapool for the West coast on the North 500 - see best rated accommodations
- Thurso for the North coast and ferry to the Orkneys - see best rated accommodations
- Kirkwall to explore the Orkneys - see best rated accommodations
- Inverness for the famous Speyside whiskies - see best rated accommodations
Find more inspiration in my article about where to stay in Scotland
Tip 36 - What to do in case of accident
In case there are people hurt or there is a conflict, the emergency number in the UK / Scotland is 999:
The best order of actions is:
- contact emergency services
- contact the police
- contact your rental provider
Want to see more of the best Scotland has to offer?
- Most beautiful landscapes in Scotland - read article
- Best things to do in Scotland - read article
- Best Scotland destinations - where to go? - read article
- Best Scottish Castles - read article
- Most beautiful lochs in Scotland - read article
- Most scenic drives in Scotland - read article
- The magnificent Isle of Skye - read my best-of guide
- The magnificent Wester Ross region - read article
- The Borders Abbeys including Melrose Abbey and the photogenic Jedburgh Abbey
And keep track of your own trip!
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