At 18, you can vote. At 21, you can go into a bar and buy a martini. And now that you’re 25, as long as you have a driver’s license and a credit card, you can finally rent a car from all the major rental companies without having to jump through crazy hoops or pay additional fees. This opens up a world of travel and exploration with new freedom and flexibility… but there are some things you should know in advance before you book so you get the right car and the right deal for your budget.
What You Need To Know Before You Rent A Car
Making a Reservation
Airport-based car rentals are convenient, but often are more expensive than off-airport facilities/have additional taxes and fees. Shop around at the majors like Budget, Avis, Enterprise, or Alamo, or see what budget sites Expedia or Priceline have to offer (most of the other popular travel sites like Travelocity, Kayak, and Rentalcars are owned by these two).
Pro tip: the further in advance you book usually means better pricing.
The Gas and the Insurance Questions!
After providing driver’s license and credit card there will be two key questions:
- Do you want to buy insurance or the Collision/Loss Damage Waiver (CDW). You can always pay for this extra insurance at $10-$30 per day, but most drivers do not need this as regular insurance on your own car will cover rental cars. Or, you may have a premium credit card that covers insurance on rentals. Other options include insurance from online travel sites like Expedia or new sites like www.insuremyrentalcar.com. Bottom line, BE SURE you have coverage of some sort to limit your liability.
- Do you want to pre-pay for the gas?You can choose to pre-pay the gas and return the car empty. Or you can choose to fill up the tank just before you return it. The latter is proven to be the most economical because you’d need to run the car to around 1/8 of a tank to get your money’s worth of the pre-paid gas. But don’t forget to actually fill the tank at a station near the airport before you return it! RACs charge a significant premium on gas if they have to top it up themselves.
Pro tip: Advise the agent if anyone else in your group is going to be driving the vehicle as this might be an extra fee to authorize additional drivers. In many cases, spouses can drive the vehicle at no extra charge, but be sure to check. If you let others drive the vehicle without authorizing them, you will not be covered in the case of an accident!
Before Leaving the Lot
Perhaps the most important 60 seconds you’ll spend prior to driving off with your rental is inspecting the vehicle. The key aspect on inspection is actually about damage, specifically, damage that is already present on the vehicle. For your protection from damage disputes, definitely do a thorough inspection.
Pro tip: Many people use their phones to take images, or consider a mobile app to capture a time-stamped vehicle condition at time of exchange.
Driving the Vehicle
The best advice from seasoned travelers is to drive the car carefully and treat it like it’s your own new car.
Pro tip: If by chance you get in an accident or breakdown, call the rental car company (not AAA or the online travel site) and they’ll advise on what to do.
Returning A Vehicle
To return a vehicle, find your way to your rental car location, follow the “Return” signs and you’ll end up in a queue with others returning their vehicles. In some cases, you‘ll park and walk to the desk agent to return the car, but most times an agent with a scanner will come by and check mileage, fuel level, and any damage.
Pro tip: If you’ve chosen the “I’ll fill up the tank before returning” fuel option, don’t forget to stop at a gas station within a few miles of the return center. RACs will charge around $8-$9 per gallon to fill it up if you don’t!