Having just returned from a long weekend visiting relatives in Spain, here are my reflections and top tips for anyone contemplating driving a hire car on the continent this summer.
Driving any unfamiliar car demands extra care and attention, especially so when this is combined with a different country, a language you may not understand, and following a long and stressful flight.
So number one top tip is take your time to familiarise yourself with your new vehicle. Ideally choose one with which you are familiar, in my case a BMW.
This saves lots of angst I can assure you! Ideally carry out POWDERY checks, but at the very least make sure you know where the windscreen wipers are and how they work - likewise the driving lights. And of course ensure all the mirrors are correctly positioned. It goes without saying that if you feel uncomfortable in any way with the car you have been allotted, then ask for another.
If the car has no sat-nav (mine did – hurrah) then take your own device and/or phone – but remember no touching them while on the move. Set your destination before you leave home, thus reducing the stress at the other end.
Number two top tip is learn a few essential words in the local language. My complete lack of Spanish and Valenciano meant that even “salida” stumped me for a while.
It takes time to become accustomed to driving any “new” car, even more so when it’s left-hand drive. Even the glance at the rear-view mirror, which is normally second nature, has to be relearnt.
So number three top tip is take it easy, take it slow. Whilst it’s tempting to rush to the villa and the beach, a little care and caution up front will help ensure you will soon be entering the emerald sea rather than the emergency room.
On this occasion having pre-booked a convertible, the irony of having to find the wipers was not lost on me. But we got going smoothly onto the motorway and all was plain sailing until we exited the autovia and approached the toll booth.
So number four top tip – have cash and credit card at the ready, as no-one wants the added stress of a queue of locals hooting irately as you search the boot for that mislaid wallet.
I was prepared of course, but still stupidly drew up too far from the payment machine so had to contort myself through the window just to pay! Leading to number five top-tip – familiarise yourself with your car’s dimensions.
All in all a very pleasant mini-break. And I am pleased to say the sun did come out and the roof came down leading me to the final top tip – apply that sunscreen before you drive. It may feel lovely in the breeze, but you will end the day with a red forehead otherwise!
By Mike Quinton, IAM RoadSmart CEO