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. Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 9:29

4 Answers 4


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
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 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
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 16:46
  • Thank you! I met this expression in a Russian English school book and decided to ask :)
    – Aer
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 17:01

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

  • I would suggest it too, but unless you present some evidence or argument, who is to know if you are right or not.
    – David
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 8:32

To add to the posts by Loquacity and JoseK:

Rentacar was trademarked in the US at some point, but this company seems to have faltered in the meantime.

The trademark for Rentacar Etymonline is referring to was originally filed on 15 November 1923 by The Rentacar Company in Toledo, OH. They claimed use since 6 August 1921. The original entry in the Official Gazette of the United States Post Office of 19 February 1924 can be found here.

I couldn't find much else about the company. There was, however, a court case in 1928 before the Ohio Court of Appeals, where a man had rented a car from The Rentacar Company without having a driver's license and had killed someone in an accident. The question was whether someone with a license who was driving with him could be held as liable as if they were the car's owner. (The answer was yes: case opinion.)

There was also a 1931 court case by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, involving the same people brought forth by the insurance company hired by the Rentacar Company, whether there was a breach of contract that made the insurance policy invalid. (There wasn't and it didn't: judgment.)

It's been 11 years since your question, but this was just too interesting not to post.


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
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 9:30
  • For the service: "car hire" or perhaps "car rental"; for the car: "hire car".
    – njd
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 11:43
  • JoseK: Thanks! I wonder which company owns it?
    – Loquacity
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 2:26
  • njd: Yep, I agree.
    – Loquacity
    Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 2:26

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