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Top 10 car rental firms rated

Date: 17 April 2008

Which car rental company provides the best service? We acted as a potential business car customer and discovered that while some firms were excellent, several left a lot to be desired. Tom Webster reports

When it comes to the simple matter of hiring a car for a day, an abundance of rental companies means customers are not short for choice.

But what sets one rental firm apart from another?

Past surveys have shown price to be one of the main considerations for daily rental customers.

But if this was all that was necessary then running a hire company would be very easy - buy a field full of cars and ship them out for as little as humanly possible.

No, to succeed in the fleet market, rental companies must do more than just compete on price.

Service is also crucial for fleet customers, which is why we quizzed the frontrunners in the rental race on their service and then rated them accordingly.

With more and more companies taking green responsibilities seriously, we took a look at what is being done in the car hire market.

Offering petrol and diesel cars was taken as a given, so points were scored for going that bit further. Providing cars with CO2 emissions of 120g/km or less gained one point, while hybrid vehicles achieved two points. Further marks were available for the existence of a carbon-offsetting scheme.

According to Damian James, fleet manager for Bracknell Forest Council, speed of service is key. So, we contacted all the companies via email to see how rapidly they responded, and then grilled them on the services they offered that make a fleet manager's life that bit easier.

Points were scored for offering an E-booking system, driver reports, a collect and delivery service, breakdown recovery and finally offering a manager the ability to self-manage the cars.

The spice of life, variety, was the the next test - marks were awarded for offering cars in different sectors of the market, from city cars to seven-seat MPVs. Finally, the 10 rental companies in our analysis were graded on how they fared in our reader-voted 2008 BusinessCar Awards. Click here to find out our results...

Independents versus the nationals?

We've concentrated on the big name, multi-outlet brands in our table, but what of the local, independent companies? What are the benefits and drawbacks of the one-off company around the corner? We asked two fleet managers what their reasons were for choosing the different options.

Going local: Damian James manages the fleet for Bracknell Forest Council and uses a local independent company. His reasons are:

. Flexibility - James says he can call in a last-minute panic and have a response in half an hour

. Availability - A choice is always available of all necessary cars

. Price - A lack of overheads and a continued personal relationship means pricing is superior to any national company

. Location - The company is located conveniently so doesn't have traffic issues, making collecting and delivering cars easier

. Relationship - James cites the personal relationship he enjoys with his rental firm as the most important reason for his choice. He says building up a continued personal rapport with someone not constrained by a large company's policy leads to lower prices and flexible personal service

Bigger is best: Meanwhile, Sheron Douglas, UK fleet manager for Emerson Process Management, has chosen a large national rental firm for the following reasons:

. Coverage - Vital because Douglas is responsible for locations from the south of England to northern Scotland

. Convenience - All transactions are billed together in one invoice

. Outlet locations - With most of her rental requirements being for colleagues flying in and out of the UK, choosing a company with airport coverage was important

. Price - Due to the amount of business she provides, Douglas says she enjoys significant discounts.

. Relationship - Douglas also pointed to the personal relationship she has with the company, but says this is down to the fact that she is "lucky to have a good account manager".

Click here to find out our results...