Hiring a rental car is a popular alternative to public transport but sometimes, a standard sedan does not have the seating capacity needed for larger groups. Splitting the group and hiring two cars is an option, but it is not the most cost effective solution and requires more than one person to nominate officially as a designated driver. The best option for a large group is to hire a van and if this is a new experience, a few hints on what to look out for will be very useful.

Check the Maximum Passenger Capacity

The first consideration will be the seating capacity. Among the most popular vans available to the rental market are the Toyota Tarago, the Toyota Commuter and the Kia Carnival. The Tarago seats 8 people, the Commuter 12 and the Kia has the least capacity at 7. Before committing to a van rental package, check first that the vehicle chosen meets the passenger requirements.

Be Prepared – Book Well in Advance
Because the demand for convenient van hire is not as high as for other passenger vehicles, rental companies generally do not have a large number in their fleet. This means that booking in advance is absolutely essential to avoid disappointment. In peak times like school holidays, Christmas and Easter it is absolutely vital as vans are in heavy demand for group travel.

Look out for rental packages that contain an “On Request” clause. There is nothing inherently wrong with this clause as long as you understand what it means. It allows the rental supplier 48 hours to confirm the booking because they may need to transfer a van from another location to meet your needs.

Do You Need More than One Driver?
Bookings for rental vehicles, including vans, must be made in the name of the driver. Depending on the length of the trip, it may be necessary to nominate more than one person, especially if the group will be travelling long stretches of road without stopping. Driver fatigue is a major cause of accidents and being able to hand the wheel to someone else while you rest is a sensible strategy. As this is an optional extra, check costs and compare suppliers before booking.

Look Out for the Age Surcharge
Because vans are a specific classification, rental suppliers may require all drivers to be over 25 to satisfy insurance requirements. If they do allow drivers between 21 and 24 to drive their vans, there may be an additional charge called an Age Surcharge. This cost can vary between suppliers. Note that when checking out hiring packages this surcharge will not be included in the quote but it will be required to be paid at the time you pick up the van.

To avoid the whole vexing issue, nominate drivers who are over the age of 25.

Be Prepared to Leave a Bond
Vehicle hire in Australia requires a bond to be left with the hire company in the form of credit card details when it is picked up. This is standard practice to ensure that the vehicle is returned in good condition. The cost of rectifying any damage is charged against the credit card. Find out exactly how much the bond will be as it may vary between suppliers.

Some Extra Advice for a Smooth Trip
 Drivers are responsible for the behaviour of their passengers and this includes the way they treat the van. Any damage caused by passenger misuse will incur extra costs to cover repairs.
 All Australians know they must wear seat belts at all times while travelling. International passengers may need to be reminded if this is not the law in their countries.
 Only the drivers nominated on the booking documentation are permitted to drive the van.
Viva La Difference

If you have not driven a van previously, take a little time before heading into busy traffic to become comfortable with the different driving environment. Find out where all the controls are so you can access them while driving and familiarise yourself with the instrument panel.

Be aware of the different shape of the van compared with other vehicles and look for blind spots that may not be where you expect. Visibility when reversing may also be different, so keep that in mind.

Safety – the Only Thing that Matters
Driving a vehicle is a big responsibility, and when that vehicle is a van with up to 11 other people in it, safety should be the first priority. Always drive to suit the road conditions. Remember that maximum speed limits are set for good conditions. This means that if it is raining, driving at the maximum speed is not a safe option.

The same goes for driving in other weather conditions that are not normal. For example, in the north of Australia during the monsoon season, rain comes in torrents and often it is not possible to see the road in front, even with the wipers at full speed. Be prepared for these situations and look for places where it is safe to move off the road and wait out the weather.

Never, ever under any circumstances drive through floodwaters. During the 2011 and 2013 floods, many of the people who drowned were swept off flooded bridges or roads while attempting a dangerous crossing. In complete contrast, others have lost their lives trying to outrun bushfires in their vehicles.

Have a Great Holiday
These are exceptional circumstances and are only pointed out as an awareness exercise; it is not to frighten you off. Travelling in an Alpha Car Hire van with a group of like-minded people is awesome fun and with a little common sense and care, you, your group and the hire van will all arrive back unscathed.