car hire and debit cards in LHR

Hi all: i have been going around and around trying to get a correct answer to see if the the alamo/national car/europcar rental companies allow debit cards at their London Heathrow location Alamo's website stated yes, the two csr's I called stated no, and when told them the website stated yes, they told me the website was wrong. Called national car which btw is owned or ownes alamo who first told me no, then when i told him that their too states yes, the csr corrected himself and said they do. All of these cars are rented through europcar firm to which I called the csr confusingly stated yes, but the debit card must be issued by the British Bank which is not what the website states. For what we want to do, a British Castle tour, we need to hire a car. Has anyone had any luck with renting with a debit card in the UK? thanks

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Jonathan, While not specifically for car rental, I've found that my Debit Card is virtually useless in Europe, except for ATM withdrawals. I suspect you'll find that regardless of what's listed on the rental firm websites, you will NOT be able to use a Debit Card for the rental. A Credit Card will be your best option. The problem with Debit Cards is that not all Banks have the data links established that will allow the POS Terminals to connect with Banks on this side of the pond. Therefore they won't be able to ascertain whether the card holder has the funds to cover the transaction. Cheers!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6828 posts

"...I've found that my Debit Card is virtually useless in Europe, except for ATM withdrawals..." Not my experience.
While I wouldn't use a debit card to rent a car or for hotels (same issue), I use them extensively for other purchases, and have had zero problems. As long your debit card has the MC or Visa symbol on it, it will be accepted at most merchants that accept magnetic strip credit cards in the first place.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8734 posts

Jonathan I don't have your answer exactly, and it has been 75 moons or so since I last rented a car (OK, a small truck), but let me suggest a small difficulty of doing what you suggest. If you use a credit card the rental company will put s hold on the card for the maximum amount of money they think they may need to get out of you if you don't bring it back or if when you do it is broken. All that is is a limit on the amount of additional credit available - it will only damage your ability to spend if you reach the card limit. If you use a debit card they latch onto the actual money in the actual chequing account linked to the card, and you will be out actual money. There's no credit there to latch onto so it has to be actual money. Right?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

Assuming it's obviously not a Heathrow-unique situation: In the last couple of months, I've twice rented cars in the UK. Edinburgh was Europcar and London was Iforgot. Both had signs that said 'no debit cards'.

Posted by Jonathan
Columbus [cowtown], ohio, USA
69 posts

and Ed: did you use a credit card or debit card?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

Credit card, always. It'd be hard to slip a debit card past the sign anyways, even if I had one.

Posted by Jonathan
Columbus [cowtown], ohio, USA
69 posts

Hi everyone: I think I should make this clear: we are talking about renting with DEBIT cards and not credit cards.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

And we are trying to make it clear that it's iffy at best and probably have never seen it happen - - or even know anybody who's done it. Good luck, anyway.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8734 posts

Jonathan, I think your question has been most clear since you originally asked it. The answers you have received have also been most clear. I'm sorry that they are not what you had hoped for, but they are nevertheless the answers. I hope that somebody comes along with the answer you are hoping for.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Renting cars on debit cards is very inconvenient, and the rental companies often can tie up your whole account for a deposit. You may not have enough funds in the account to satisfy them. The only way do pay for car rentals is on a credit card. And you have some rights and benefits to protect you by law. With a debit card, you have zero rights.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Whether a particular Debit Card will work in Europe is probably somewhat specific to which financial institution it's issued by. My cards are with a smaller Credit Union and haven't worked as "debit cards" in Europe so far (however that could change in future). In my experience, car rental firms require credit cards. Cheers!

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

I assume from your question that you do not have a credit card, and therefore your question really is, "Is it possible for an American to rent a car in the UK without a credit card?" I suspect the answer is no but perhaps someone will have a good idea besides mine at the end. The problem lies in the ability of the rental agency to recover money from a foreigner without a credit card. In the event an agency needs to recover money from you (car damages, stolen, traffic tickets), they normally charge your credit card. But with a debit card, if there are insufficient funds, they might not get their money. Domestically, I have seen agencies allow it. But they either require a hold on the card up to a certain value, which limits your access to those funds, and/or require extensive documentation and paperwork for proof of identity and residency. As a foreigner, they would be very limited in chasing you down if they had to. That's why you are seeing some allow it only for cards issued by British banks. As noted by a previous poster, you may also be very limited in your ability to use your debit cards for other point of sale purposes. It will work just fine for ATM cash withdrawls, but be prepared to pay cash for everything. Unfortunately, that won't work for renting a car. The only long shot idea I have is to try a local rental agency, not affiliated with chains. They might allow it, perhaps if you buy their full coverage insurance, since they don't have to follow corporate rules.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1519 posts

I think Douglas's reasoning is sound. This last summer we needed to rent a car in Canada. After a lot of research, it seemed possible with some (not all) companies to rent with a debit card, IF you were a Canadian resident with a Canadian bank account. So we hurried up and got a credit card. You may have to do the same.

Posted by Robert
Portland
629 posts

I seem to remember a posting here last year from someone who flew to France, went to get his reserved rental car, had only a debit card, and was unable to rent a car and flew home.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

Isaac - Good catch. It does appear that Avis accepts foreign debit cards in many European countries, including the UK. This website is geared towards UK and EU citizens but seems to imply (by failing to state the contrary) that US citizens can also use a debit card in the UK. But note that some countries do not accept debit cards. Robert - I believe that case you refer to was someone with a non-embossed card (raised numbers). Those cards are not universally accepted and that person was out of luck.

Posted by Robert
Portland
629 posts

You're right, Douglas. I now remember the part about the nonembossed card.