Get Your Motor Running: Words & Phrases to Help You Hire a Car for Your Road Trip

As part of our English in the Real World series, we’re taking a look at some essential words and phrases that can really help you out when you’re hiring a car in an English-speaking country. From how to find a rental car, which type of car to choose, documentation you might need to any problems you might face – this guide will give some of the vocabulary you need to make your car rental trip a success.

Finding a rental car

The best way to get the car you need at a price you can afford is to plan ahead and book in advance, before you travel, if you can. This gives you plenty of time to compare different car hire companies, read and understand the conditions of hire and consider the cost and value of any additional charges.

You’ll need to consider pick up locations – where you’d like to collect your rental car for your journey. You’ll find lots of car hire desks at the airport, which are very convenient but often cost more. There’s a good chance that the cost of hire will be lower if you book in advance online before you collect the car.

To save even more you might want to consider picking up your rental car – you can also say hire car – from an out of town location, or a city centre location, rather than the airport. While this might not be as practical an option for those travelling as a group or with lots of luggage, car hire companies often charge you less money to pick up hire cars from these locations.

One more thing to consider is the car hire company’s list of drop off locations – these are places where you can return the car when you’re finished your journey. When you do drop off the car it will be checked over for any signs of damage – bumps, scrapes or dents and so on – that you may be charged a fee for.

What kind of car would you like to hire?

This all depends on how many of you are travelling, the level of comfort you are seeking, how much luggage you are carrying, and the nature of your trip. Here are some of the popular car classifications that you’ll find available:

Hatchback – these are small cars, typically with two doors. They’re ideal for city breaks where roads are narrower and parking spaces are more limited. They will use less petrol too, so are the cheaper option for single people and couples.

Saloon or sedan – these are larger cars, designed to seat five adults comfortably, and they also come with a boot (if you’re in the UK or Europe) or trunk (this is what they call a boot in the US). If you’re in the UK and Europe you’re far more likely to see the term saloon being used, whereas sedan is the more popular term in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Estate car – also known as a station wagon, these are much like saloon cars but are elongated at the rear, creating far more boot space, and sometimes extra seats in the back. This makes them ideal for those travelling with lots of luggage, camping equipment, or with additional passengers.

Sports car – these cars are small, low and fast – think Ferraris and Porsches. They will typically cost more to hire, and will hold very little luggage.

MPV – this stands for Multi-purpose Vehicle and is also known as a people carrier, because this type of car can hold lots of people. Like a taller estate car, an MPV can usually hold around 8 passengers – so there’s lots of room for luggage too.

SUV – this stands for Sports Utility Vehicle and is the name given to large cars that are designed to be driven off-road – that is, they are good for driving outside of the cities and motorways and on dirt roads, on sand, and on country roads in rural areas. They are sometimes called four-wheel-drive cars or 4×4s, which means that all four wheels of the car move when it is steered, not just the front two wheels. Land Rovers and Jeeps are popular SUVs, and they can usually hold a lot of luggage and five adults comfortably.

Convertible – if you’re going to be travelling somewhere warm you might want to opt for a convertible, also known as a soft top. This type of car has a roof that folds down, allowing you to soak up the sun and enjoy a cool breeze as you drive.

Minibus – if you’re looking for a vehicle that can accommodate even more passengers – perhaps you’re travelling with a large group of friends or colleagues, then a minibus will do the job. This is the name given to vehicles designed to carry more than 8 passengers with luggage. It’s basically a van with additional seating.

Campervan – you might want to save some money on accommodation by renting one of these instead of a regular car. Campervans have fold down beds onboard, and some have their own basic cooking facilities and toilets. Very large campervans are known as RVsRecreational Vehicles – and these have more spacious sleeping arrangements, kitchens and even showers onboard. They are a popular way for families to travel on holiday, especially in America.

Extra features

Some extra features that many car rental companies may offer you, and that can help make your journey more enjoyable and comfortable include:

Sat Nav – Satellite Navigation, also known as GPS – Global Positioning System – these devices help you find your way without the need for a map, although you should always carry a map anyway just in case your Sat Nav breaks down.

DVD player – some cars come fitted with built-in DVD players and screens to entertain passengers in the back of the car – this is a great option for those travelling with children.

Air conditioning – if you’re going to be driving in a hot country, you’ll definitely benefit from asking for a car fitted with air conditioning, which helps to keep the temperature of the car cool even in the hottest weather.

On the road

Broken down – this is what you don’t want to happen! If your car has broken down it means that something has gone wrong and it needs to be repaired. When your car has suffered a break down you should call your car rental company to let them know so that they can arrange for repairs.

Garage – this is where to head if your car does need any repair work done. Here you’ll find car mechanics who can fix everything from tyre punctures – when your tyre suffers a hole and starts to let out air – to engine problems and more.

Motorway service station – you might also find mechanics working here. Motorway service stations can be found along the highways and motorways of most English speaking countries and often have several shops that you can visit to pick up supplies, and use the bathroom. Larger stations also have restaurants or diners that you can get a bite to eat in too.

Petrol station or gas station – when you need to refuel, this is where you need to go. In US-English-speaking countries petrol is known as gas, hence gas station.

“A full tank please” – some petrol stations have petrol pump attendants whose job it is to fill up your car with petrol for you. This is what to say when you want to them to fill the car up fully.

“Could you tell me how to get to….?” or “Could you give me directions to…?” – if you get lost en route and your map is not to hand, try asking a local one of these two questions when you want to find out directions to your destination.


When you rent a car, you’ll need some documents with you as proof of identity, such as your passport. You’ll also be asked for a driver’s license to prove that you are qualified to drive a car. Requirements vary from country to country so please check before you travel. Some countries will accept your own driving license from home, while others may require you to apply for an international driving license ahead of travel.