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

  • 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. Jul 15 '11 at 9:29

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.

  • Thanks for the answer. Could you please expain: we never use "hire" for people (therefore, "hire a guide" isn't correct)?
    – Aer
    Jan 21 '18 at 18:45
  • 1
    Hmm. Never say 'never'. ;-) Until American expressions were imported, hire was never used in the UK in the sense of "give somebody a job". I don't think we'd even have used it for casual employees (it's hard to remember for sure). But "hire a guide" sounds OK to me - I think it is conceiving a guide as a service, like a taxi. FWIW, looking up "[Hire] a person" in GloWbE gives instances of 0.13/mil in Canada, 0.09/mil in US, but 0.03/mil in UK and Irelnd
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 22 '18 at 16:46
  • Thank you! I met this expression in a Russian English school book and decided to ask :)
    – Aer
    Jan 22 '18 at 17:01

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


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.

  • 1
    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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