Renting a car is such a common part of the travel experience that you’d think the process would be simple and straightforward—yet somehow it is anything but straightforward. Many travelers aren’t sure how to rent a car without making a few common mistakes. Do I need all the extras they offer me at the rental counter? Should I buy additional insurance: should I be worried? What about paying to refuel the car? How about a car inspection? Can I drive Crossing International Borders? These questions come up pretty much every time someone rents a car.
Booking Your Car
Visit the websites of several rental agencies and search for identical cars on your travel dates. Always book in advance. even just 24 hours before pickup. Rental rates are almost always higher at the counter than they will be over the phone or online.
Like the airlines, the computers can quickly readjust prices according to changes in the supply of cars available, and unless you reserve immediately, the rate is likely to change.
Make two reservations while you’re shopping. There aren’t usually any penalties for canceling a rental-car reservation, so long as you do so in advance. If a better deal comes down the line, drop the one that didn’t work for you.
Look Beyond The Airport
Rates can be higher when you rent from the airport, partly due to airport facility fees. If your first drive will be from an airport to a hotel for the night, why not take a shuttle van to the hotel instead? Doing this may save you the price of a day’s rental. Even if you must drive the same day your flight lands, many hotels do offer car rental services. By picking it up off airport, you can often avoid hefty airport surcharges.
Many membership programs establish relationships with car rental companies as a member perk including travel organizations like AAA, and airline frequent flyer programs.
Most car rental companies offer free loyalty programs when you book. These entitle you to certain discounts or free upgrades. When picking up your vehicle, allowing a much shorter process rather than standing in a long line or filling out paperwork.
What Kind Of Car Should You Rent?
Think carefully about what kind of vehicle you’ll need. If you’re simply looking to save money on rental rates and gas, you’ll want to reserve the smallest available model. If you’re traveling with a family or a large group, be sure to order the size you need just in case you don’t get an upgrade.
When making reservations for car rental pickups at an airport, choose a smaller car than you would typically desire. Airport fleets are often stocked with larger cars, as they are primarily used by business travelers, and you might receive a free or inexpensive upgrade from a subcompact booking.
Pay In Advance
Many car rental companies, including Hertz, Budget, Europcar and Payless, offer discounts, up to 35 percent, to those who prepay for their rental at the time of reservation rather than when they return the vehicle. It’s only worth doing if you’re sure your plans won’t change because the prepayment is generally nonrefundable. If your flight got delayed or cancelled, the first thing to do is to contact your car rental company asking them to hold the car for you for pick-up the following day. They might still charge you for a fee as the car was already prepaid and reserved for you.
Young renters who call and plead their case to rental car companies may find a willing office to reduce or even drop the fees.
One-Way Car Rental
For one-way car rentals, drop-off charges can be exorbitant.
Understanding Your Rental
If you’re booking online, read the terms and conditions carefully before confirming your reservation. If you’re booking over the phone, ask the agent about restrictions. Be sure you understand the conditions of your reservation. How long will the car be held if your flight got cancelled or delayed? Is there a penalty for no-shows? Is there a fee for additional drivers and must all additional drivers’ names be listed in the contract? Is your 20-year-old son old enough to drive the car? How about early return? Any restrictions on travel across country borders?
At Pickup Time
The rental agent will ask you, ‘Would you like to buy insurance from us? If you have personal auto insurance or charge the rental to a major credit card, you will probably be covered at least for collision damage — so you shouldn’t have to purchase the car rental company’s collision or loss damage waiver (CDW or LDW) insurance.
Most policies will cover you even if the rental car is a “better” or more valuable car than your own car, so you don’t have to worry if you get an upgrade or rent a much better car than the one you insure at home. Anything your own car insurance does not cover, most likely that your credit card will. Of course, just having a qualifying credit card does not give you any protection; you will need to pay for your car rental using that card. If in doubt, ask your insurance agent or credit card issuer.
Note, it should be emphasized that if you have the minimum legally permissible coverage, it may not include coverage for rental cars. Also, an accident in a rental car will typically raise your rates if you have to make a claim on your own insurance policy.
“Loss of Use” Insurance?
When a rental car is damaged, “loss of use” charges are applied to cover the potential revenue lost when the vehicle is off the road for repairs. Most auto insurance companies do not cover this fee, but many credit cards do. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa all offer “loss of use” coverage with rentals paid for with some of their cards. Check the terms and conditions in advance to make sure.
Low Priced Upgrades
Many travel experts have recommended reserving a low-priced car and then inquiring about upgrades at the rental desk. This works best at busy seasons when the operation is running low on its cheapest vehicles, and may offer you free or very affordable upgrades due to inventory management issues.
In most cases, the office agent has considerable discretion in setting upgrade rates, so if he or she asks if you are interested in an upgrade, respond that it depends on the price; you might be offered with a bigger and better car at minimal additional cost.
Prepaying For Gasoline
Don’t fall for this one, the cost of having them refuel your car is almost always higher than the cost of doing it yourself.
Try to avoid the gas stations right near the airport where you’re dropping off your car.The prices tend to be highest there. Instead, fill up a few miles away. Even better: Check GasBuddy.com before your trip to find out where the cheapest gas stations are in your area.
Examine your rental agreement carefully for all charges and make sure the agent credits any deposit to your account while you wait.
Inspection Upon Departure
When you pick up your car, check it inside and out for anything that could potentially be considered damage before you drive away. Look for scratches, scuffs, loose parts, and working power windows and mirrors. Report any defects at once.
Returning Your Car
Early Return And Late Return
Many rental agencies begin charging for each 24-hour-period from the time of rental, and will only give you a 30-minute grace period before beginning to charge the late fees, or bill a full day for cars returned after another 24-hour period begins.
It may sound counterintuitive, but early return may actually cost you money. You might have to pay an early return fee, yet even worse, your rate structure might change, leaving you responsible for the difference. If you contracted a weekly rate but returned the car after only six days, you could end up paying a more expensive daily rate.
Check to be sure you haven’t left any personal belongings. Don’t forget to check the trunk!
The most serious complaints about car rental companies in recent years have been disputes over damage claims. Be sure that the check-in attendant inspects the car’s body in your presence and that you agree about any damage.
When returning a car at return dropoff without an agent checking it over (and sometimes even when there is an attendant present), the best protection is to take photos or a video of a slow walk around the car.
Most vehicles rented in the US can be driven throughout the US and Canada. Some vehicle classes like Exotics, Large Passenger or Cargo Vans, and other specialty vehicles may not be allowed to travel outside of the US. The US and Canada recognize one another’s car insurance and apply the same policies. Nevertheless, it is important to determine your coverage and requirements from your provider.
Crossing International Borders
Most Car Rental Companies do not allow travel into Mexico. If you wish to travel into Mexico, you will also be required to purchase additional insurance to cover the vehicle while in Mexico.
Please contact your car rental company directly for details on cross-border to determine restrictions and availability.