Besides being able to locate rental vehicle providers in the yellow pages, most people will be hard pushed to shed any light on what to expect – until they take the plunge.

Areas such as cost, service and vehicle condition will remain a mystery until you’re at the counter or behind the wheel.

And it’s for this reason that we set about an undercover investigation with sister magazine Commercial Motor.

To ensure, as journalists, we received no preferential treatment, all the bookings were made under civilian names.

Starting from the initial telephone enquiry through to booking and collection, we monitored the level of service and the ease of booking.

But just what condition can you expect to find them in, and more importantly, will they be safe to drive?

To answer this question we enlisted the assistance of the Freight Transport Association’s vehicle inspectors to see if our steeds were in safe working order.

All the major areas were looked at from tyres to engines.

The results proved that though rental companies are at pains to confirm their vehicles are offered in proper working condition, some are in far a better condition than others.

What was also noted was the depth of information required by each company when collecting the vehicle.

As well as a valid driving license most also needed two further proofs including a utility bill as well as a passport — make sure the names and addresses match up, otherwise you’ll walk away without a van, as we found out.

The verdict

There were no particular losers in the test, in fact we were pleasantly surprised by the overall competence of the service.

While all the rental prices were within the same ballpark, we would recommend shopping around.

The quality of the vehicles varied more significantly; of the seven vehicles five had faults, four had safety issues and two would have received immediate prohibitions.

To view a full report buy this week’s Commercial Motor.