When you rent a car, chances are you haven’t read the fine print of your agreement with the rental company. And how often do you take time to inspect the vehicle for damage before you drive away? Next time you rent your ride, take a few small steps toward ensuring you’ve covered all your bases. You’ll gain peace of mind, and your wallet will thank you.
Most car rental bookings are done online, so take a printed copy of your booking agreement to the rental agency when you pick up your car. Companies may try to add extra fees or sell you additional services or protections, but with your printed agreement in hand you can make sure they stick to the original price. You might face extra fees, however, if you are under 25 years of age.
Credit Card Hold
When you book a rental car, you will likely need to provide your credit card information. The rental company may put a hold on your card or charge you a security deposit, both of which disappear when you return the car. This charge counts against your credit limit, so factor that in when making other travel-related purchases.
Rental companies will offer you collision insurance for an extra fee. It is only wise to purchase this if you’re not otherwise covered. For example, some credit card companies cover collision damage on rentals of up to 30 days. Your car insurance for your personal vehicle may also extend coverage to rentals.
Most rental car companies place restrictions on driving out of state or into another country. Some also restrict use of the car on unpaved roads. Cars may be fitted with a tracking device, so, if you choose to bend or break these rules, beware.
Check the condition of the vehicle you’re renting before you drive off the lot. Make sure your contract notes existing damage such as windshield cracks and dents or scratches on the auto body. You need to avoid being blamed and charged for this damage.
If you approach a vehicle that shows wear and tear and are concerned about the vehicle condition, ask to see a maintenance report. Before you drive away, run the air conditioning, check the fluid levels, and make sure there is air in the tires.
Before you drive away, make sure you know how to operate the headlights, windshield wipers, trunk release and GPS system. Make sure there’s a copy of the owner’s manual in the car and that you have contact information for the rental agency on hand in case you have problems.
Ask for a set of spare keys. Losing the only set of keys given to you when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area can be stressful. Often the agency will give you a spare set without question.
Make sure your car runs on gasoline. In Europe, cars often run on diesel. Ask the rental agent any questions you have about where the gas release is or how to pump gas if you are in a foreign country. To avoid a fine, be sure to return the car with as much gas as the agency requires. Most require three-fourths of a tank in a returned vehicle.
Returning the Car
Clean your trash, dirt and crumbs out of the car before you return it. If the agency has to do more than a quick vacuum, you may be required to pay a cleaning fee. Check the car thoroughly to be sure you haven’t left anything behind.
8 Things You Need To Know Before Renting A Car
Having a rental car can give you a huge advantage over having to wait for public transportation or having to pay for a taxi every time you want to go somewhere that not within walking distance. But the hidden costs can come back and get you if you’re not aware of them; this list will help you go in prepared.
Your credit card may provide an insurance policy. When you rent a car, you’ll be offered an expensive option at the counter of purchasing rental car insurance to cover any damages. This rental car insurance is usually rather pricey – from $10 to $25 per day – and you may not need it, even if your auto insurance doesn’t cover rental cars. Many major credit card companies, if used for the car rental, provide coverage to the card holder with no additional cost. But be sure before you bank on it. Some credit cards may limit their coverage, and not all credit card companies offer it. Call and check first, and you may be able to save on the additional cost of rental insurance.
2. Your credit card policy may not cover fees over the cost of damage. When you do call to check your credit card’s policy on covering rental car costs, ask specifically what they cover. Some credit card companies may cover any damages you incur on the rental car, but will not cover the cost of fees assessed by the rental car company. Fees can add up, too, so you don’t want to be left holding the bill.
3. You’ll have to pay more for your kids to drive. Or yourself, if you’re under 25. Age is not an advantage for rental car drivers. For a long time, rental car companies wouldn’t even allow drivers under 21. Now, most do, but a hefty fee can be part of the young driver’s experience, usually a daily fee assessed for putting a young driver (under 25) on the registration, whether or not they actually do all of the driving or even drive every day.
4. You’ll have to pay for extra drivers. Even if all your drivers are over the ripe old age of 25, you are still likely to pay a fee for each additional driver registered when you rent the car. Think carefully about how many drivers you actually need, and designate one or two to keep from incurring expensive fees.
5. You’ll definitely want to stay on the paved roads. It’s easy to miss some of the details rattled off when the rental car representative walks you through the company policies. There’s one you’ll definitely want to note, and that is that most companies prohibit the use of their cars on unpaved roads. If you do purchase a collision damage waiver or other rental car insurance, it will most likely be voided when you drive the car on a gravel, or otherwise unpaved, road. So stick to the beaten track, unless you want to pay for your off-road adventures.
6. You’ll pay a lot more for gas at the rental company. One stop is essential on your way back to return your rental car, and that’s the local gas station. Most rental car companies stipulate that you return the car with a full tank, and if you don’t, you’ll get charged for the gas you didn’t put in the car at rental car rates. And rental car companies often charge significantly more for gas than local gas rates.
7. You can avoid the extra airport fee. If you’re traveling by air, and you rent a car from the local counter at the airport terminal, you’ll get a surcharge for an airport fee. Rental car companies are legally obligated to collect and pay these surcharges to the airport, so there’s no way of avoiding it if you rent at the airport. You can avoid it by grabbing a shuttle to your hotel or to a downtown area and renting your car there.
8. You can save a lot of money by bringing your own extras. It’s the little things in life that count, isn’t it, and that’s true for rental cars and the associated fees. Need a child seat or a GPS system? Want to listen to the radio? Equip yourself and save big; you could easily pay $3 per day for satellite radio, and fees higher than that for the daily use of a child safety seat or GPS system. Whenever possible, pack your own traveling extras and be sure to have the rental company remove theirs – from the car and the bill – before you drive off the lot.
The Bottom Line You can enjoy the convenience of having a rental car, without racking up unexpected fees, if you go in prepared. The best tip of all is to do a little research and ask plenty of questions, so you know exactly what you’re getting – and what you’re paying for – with your rental car. (For additional reading, also see New Wheel: Lease Or Buy?)