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I am wondering which one is more commonly used in the United Kingdom: car hire or rent a car?

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Well, "rent a car" is definitely the more common phrase in the U.S., so if "car hire" is a popular phrase in any English-speaking country, it's somewhere other than the U.S. –  strangeronyourtrain Jul 15 '11 at 9:29
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

In British usage (at least up to the last few decades)

  • "rent" is used for (real) property only: houses, flats, offices, factories
  • "hire" is used for any kind of moveable property: cars, costumes, marquees, glasses (for a party), scaffolding, chainsaws ...

("hire" is not used for people: rather "employ" or "engage").

I qualified this because American usage is now recognised here, and I would guess is used by some people.

But "car hire" and "hire car" are both common expressions still.

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I would suggest that car hire is more common in the UK.

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I don't know about the UK, but I would suggest that "hire car" is a more equivalent term for "rent-a-car" than "car hire". I tend to think of "car hire" as a service, and a "rent-a-car" as a product.

In Australian English, at least, the more common term is probably either "hire car" or "rental car".

As an aside, I wouldn't be surprised if 'rent-a-car' turns out to be trademarked by a company, although a quick google hasn't immediately shown up any likely suspects.

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Etymonline says Rentacar is a trademark registered in U.S. 1924 –  JoseK Jul 15 '11 at 9:30
    
For the service: "car hire" or perhaps "car rental"; for the car: "hire car". –  njd Jul 15 '11 at 11:43
    
JoseK: Thanks! I wonder which company owns it? –  Loquacity Jul 16 '11 at 2:26
    
njd: Yep, I agree. –  Loquacity Jul 16 '11 at 2:26
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