Indispensable Car Rental Tips That'll Have You Cruising in Style
Explore According to Your Own Schedule
Having a rental car offers the freedom to explore places you might not be able to with public transportation and eliminates the need to hail a taxi every time you want to get somewhere that isn’t within walking distance.
But if you plan to rent a car for the first time, or if it’s been a while, the experience can be a bit daunting. There are lots of things you need to know before you begin to book, and being prepared can make the experience significantly smoother. Here are some tips on how to rent a car that will help you navigate every step of the process.
Car Rental Requirements
While rules vary by destination and by car rental company, one thing that’s true no matter where you go is that you’ll need a valid driver’s license, which also doubles as proof of age.
The minimum age to rent is 21. While it can be a little more challenging to rent a car if you’re under 25, drivers aged 21 to 24 can usually rent a vehicle by paying a little more.
If you plan to rent a car in a foreign country, you may also need an international driving license. In most cases, if you’re traveling to an English-speaking destination, you won’t need one, but it’s always a good idea to ask the rental agency either way.
You’ll also need to have a valid credit card to present along with your driver’s license as the agency will place a hold on the credit card for insurance purposes. It cannot be in anyone else’s name either — it must match the name on your driver’s license — and most car rental agencies won’t accept debit cards, even those that have a credit card logo.
If you don’t have a credit card in your name and there is someone else with you who can be added as a secondary driver that has one, that will work too, although it might cost a little more as there is a fee for additional drivers.
If you don’t have a credit card and won’t be traveling with someone who does, you may still be able to rent. But it’s going to be expensive and it could be challenging to find a company as most consider renters without credit cards to be a risk.
Your best bet is to do an online search in your destination city. If you find a company that will rent to you with a debit card, expect it to lock the entire rental amount on the card in advance, plus a hold, which will be released within a few weeks after the car is returned.
Some agencies will also run a credit check, require an additional form of identification, and ask you to produce proof of insurance or require you to buy theirs. If you don’t have a debit card, it’s going to be even more challenging, but some Rent-a-Wreck locations in the United States will accept cash.
To be safe, when it comes to documentation you’ll need to bring, call or email the rental agency and request a list in writing — each one has its own policy, and they may differ from others.
Rental Car Costs
Rental car costs often vary significantly between companies. They depend on the location, the type of vehicle you want, your age and many other factors.
They can sometimes be rented for as little as $10 USD a day, or as much as $50 or more per day. There are additional costs for returning the car to a different location, adding a second driver, renting a GPS or car seats, and so on.
That’s why it’s so important to compare rates and read all of the fine print to find out what’s included and what’s not.
How to Book
Your best bet for booking a car rental is to do some comparison shopping online. Avoid looking for a rental car at the last minute, such as when you arrive at the airport, as you’re likely to pay more.
You may want to try third party sites such as Expedia.com, and compare those rates to what the company offers on its website. Just be sure you’re comparing apples to apples — does the rate include everything? You should also be aware that there are some risks of booking with third-party sites and that it may be more beneficial to book directly.
The good news is that booking a car rental reservation isn’t like purchasing airfare — you can usually cancel anytime, even at the last minute. So go ahead and book, but then occasionally check the rates to see if better deals come up before you embark on your trip.
Do be aware that this doesn’t apply to prepaid reservations. If you prepay, you usually get a discount, but you’ll also incur a fee if you cancel.
Car rental companies will offer you auto insurance. In most cases, it’s optional, but strongly encouraged if your own personal auto insurance or credit card does not cover rental cars. If you’re not sure, check with your bank or insurance company before you’re at the car rental counter.
Most credit cards provide varying degrees of rental car insurance, but in order for it to be effective, you must pay for the entire rental on the credit card and decline all insurance offered at the counter. When you do call, ask your credit card company specifically what they cover when it comes to renting a car.
In some foreign countries, such as Ireland, your credit card or personal auto insurance company may not be accepted as insurance, which means you may have to buy the car rental company’s insurance. There are plenty of differences between driving in the UK vs the US beyond this one, so make sure to do you research ahead of time to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Picking up Your Rental Car
Depending on the company and the employee, the experience at the rental car counter can be a bit intimidating, but as long as you’re prepared — such as knowing that you’re already covered when it comes to insurance — it’ll be easier to stick to your plan and not get talked into purchasing unnecessary extras.
Reading reviews of the company beforehand can give you an idea of what your experience will be like.
When the representative brings you to your rental car, they should do a walk around with you, noting any damages the car already has. If they don’t, be sure to do so yourself and bring any damage to their attention before driving away.
This is also a good time to find out where the gas tank is for when you need to fuel up later.
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Problems on the Road
While most car rental companies generally keep their cars well maintained, rental cars, like any other vehicle, can break down. If that happens, worry about your safety first, and pull over or drive slowly to a safe place.
Call the car rental company immediately, and most will bring you a replacement and tow the broken down car away, unless it’s an easy fix and can be repaired on the spot. In case of an accident, if there are any injuries, call 911 or the emergency number in your destination to get help, and then call the company as soon as you can.
Generally, you’ll be given all of this information when you pick the vehicle up.
Returning Your Rental Car
To avoid extra fees and make things go smoother at return, be sure to fill your tank just before drop off, unless you’ve prepaid for fuel. Don’t be late either — while most have a grace period of 30 minutes to an hour, if you’re any later than that you’ll be charged by the hour and it can be very pricey.
If you need it longer, call the agency and make arrangements ahead of time.
While this may seem like a lot to know, being prepared goes a long way when it comes to renting a car. Do your research and ask lots of questions so you know what you’re paying for to ensure the best experience possible.