Top ten tips for renting a car in USA
Things to know before renting a car
Car rental has now become a common practice for most travelers. If you value convenience, then you know that renting is the best decision when going on holiday or business trip. This makes it cheaper for your wallet as opposed to using your own car, and you have the option of selecting the type of car that will be appropriate for your trip. It will also give you the opportunity of getting a different feel from what you are used to. Renting a car comes with more advantages than using your personal vehicle: you will not have to incur any maintenance costs, and it’s the responsibility of the rental company to ensure that the car is in a perfect condition. Renting a car for long trips will spare your personal car from getting old just a few months after purchase, and help you to avoid putting the cost of mileage and wear and tear onto your shoulders.
Now the other very important factors are how you can go about the whole process, and make everything very convenient for you and stress free. Here are tips for renting a car that you should consider before walking into the doors of a car rental company, and ensure that you get the best deal and the best ride to fit your needs.
The following guidelines will protect you from rip offs, and will come in handy no matter whether you want the car for a business trip or for pleasure.
1. The size and the budget.
First determine your budget and the size and type of car that you intend to use for your trip. These are factors that will make the whole process easy for you to decide what type of car you will choose to rent. Important things to consider are costs, and the size of the group that you will be traveling with. If you travel alone or with one companion, then booking a smaller car will be a good idea. It’s a double saving by cutting the cost of the rental, and later at the pump. Usually economic cars are in high demand and sometimes rental companies won’t have them in stock.
If you change your mind and want to upgrade to midsize or premium, than an agent will be more than happy to do it for you, likely without additional charge.
Alamo Rent a Car will give you a free upgrade from compact to midsize, when you book online.
If your budget allows, you can go for a luxurious car, or SUV, but get prepared to pay a higher price at the pump too. Sixt Car Rental offers luxury cars like BMW 5, or Mercedes C class, and prices are rather affordable.
2. Check out the prices and car types online before you walk to the office.
To cut down your costs, it is wise that you go for a package deal, or use online promo codes to get a better deal. Most companies have special deals for their customers, such as weekly rentals, weekend rentals, discounts for loyal customers and packages when you bundle your car rental with flights, or hotel booking. If you have AAA membership, then you may get a discount on car rental and hotel booking as well.
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3. Pick up and drop off location
Try to pick up the car and drop it off at the same location to avoid any extra fees. If you pick up the car in one location, but drop it off in another, then for vehicle transfer between locations Rental Company may charge you an extra fee, sometimes several hundred dollars. Not every rental agency is open on Sundays, and working hours vary by location. Enterprise Rent a Car offers a pick-up and drop off service, but once I found out the hard way that this service was not available at all locations; it was not offered on weekends, and it had a limited radius of approximately 3 or 4 miles. So take all the facts into consideration in order to avoid any surprises at the end.
4. Age restrictions and Extra driver.
Almost all companies have an age limit. Drivers 18 to 21 will have a harder time to find a rental car than for people with a different demographic. Most states have a minimum age requirement to rent a car, which is usually 21, and if you’re between ages 21-25, prepare to pay a higher price. It’s usually not stated on companies’ websites, but for drivers above 70 years of age, the price might be higher, too. This goes by insurance statistics due to the fact that those age groups are more likely to be involved in accidents than are others.
If you are planning to drive with other people in the car, which was not stated in your rental agreement, then you need to add an extra driver and pay an additional driver fee. Fees may wary from $3 to $10 per day for every additional driver. Do not trick the rental company by not reporting an extra driver; if he or she is involved in an accident, then you will be the one responsible for paying the bills for the damage. In some states, some companies will waive the additional driver fee if he or she is a spouse or a domestic partner who will pass the age restriction and have a valid driver license. Always verify these details before you sign the agreement.
5. Use the best Credit Card you have got.
Go through your wallet and find the best credit card to pay for the rental. Not all credit cards are the same. Usually banks offer better benefits on travel credit cards, and if you have reward credit cards and enough miles or points, then you can cut a big chunk of the bill by cashing out those points. Remember you need to pay for every day you’re going to have a car in your possession and, also, the rental company will place a hold on your card for usually $100, like a security deposit. Make sure you have enough credit limits on the card. It’s not a good idea to use a debit card because the rental company will put up to $500 hold on your card, and usually it takes a week or two after you return a vehicle before they will take a hold away.
6. Opt out Rental Company offered insurance.
One thing that you should always remember to do is to read the contract carefully. Avoid falling into the hands of tricky salespersons. They usually work on commission and will try to push you to buy insurance through the rental company, but the following reasons will help you avoid buying a costly coverage, and instead save some money. If you have an insured car, you will not have to take out any extra liability insurance. This is because most companies normally extend their coverage to any other car that you will drive, even when your rental car is newer and more valuable than your car, but it never hurts to call your insurance agent and ask for all the details. Remember to ask about the deductible because this will be the portion you have to pay if you wreck the rental car. When you are planning to take passengers with you during your trip, then don’t forget to inquire about Umbrella insurance in case of an accident.
To get coverage from a credit company, then you have to use their credit card for the rental, and it’s better to use one card, not two, to avoid any problems later on. Use the card which gives you a better coverage. Most of the credit companies will provide you with the insurance coverage on your rental; furthermore, some of them will cover the deductible in case of the accident. Check your credit card agreement, or even better, call your bank and ask a customer service representative to go through the details with you. Also remember to ask if your card covers “loss of use”. This is the relatively new fee imposed by rental companies: when you are involved in an accident and the car is off the road during the repair, the rental agency will try to extend the expenditure costs by not renting out the vehicle. Almost all major credit cards will cover “loss of use”. Even better, when you combine your insurance with a credit card to get full coverage: insurance would cover the repair, and the credit card will take care of deductibles and “loss of use”.
A few minutes on the phone with an insurance agent and the bank will help you avoid wasting your money for the service you already have.
7. Opt out Extras.
At the beginning, the clerk will explain to you the convenience of prepaid gas service, and how you can return a car with almost empty tank without a hustle to go to the gas station. This is typically the other way to get more money from you. Simply opt out this service, and do it yourself. When time comes to returning the vehicle, just find the closest gas station and fill the car up to the point where it was when you picked up the vehicle, otherwise the rental company will charge you for the refill price, which might be up to twice more per gallon than you pay at the pump.
Always use your own GPS, child seats, satellite radio (unless it comes preinstalled and without extra charge). The cost of the rent of the GPS is $13 to $20 per day; you can buy a brand new one from Amazon.com for less than $100 , or simply, you can use your smartphone. Using a GPS is always better than a smartphone app because in case of a loss of cell phone reception in some areas you may get lost, whereas this is impossible when you’re using satellite reception of GPS, unless you’re passing through a tunnel or navigating in a concrete garage. Having a GPS with life traffic alert can save you money by calculating a detour to avoiding traffic and finding local routs to avoid paying tolls.
8. Make a detail inspection of the vehicle before signing an agreement.
Before taking the car and signing an agreement, carry out a thorough interior and exterior checkup to be certain that there are no damages. Make sure the car is clean inside and out. Don’t hesitate to ask an agent to take a car to carwash before inspection; many dents on the exterior are not visible when the car is not clean. Don’t be shy and point out all the defects, dents, scratches, stains, and the loose parts you found before you get behind the wheel. Check the odometer reading with the records on the contract. The best way to insure yourself is to slowly walk around a car and take a video with your smartphone, while pointing out all of the above mentioned details, if any. Take a picture of the odometer, tires and any questionable parts inside and outside of the vehicle.
Pay attention to any unpleasant odor such as that of cigarettes. Don’t smoke and don’t allow anyone in the car to smoke; some companies may charge you for cleaning, and if you accidently damaged the interior, then you may end up with a costly bill for repair.
Upon return, once again, take a video and several pictures of the vehicle, and then ask an inspector or an agent to get the final inspection completed before you leave.
9. Unlimited mileage and state borders.
The other important aspects are mileage and crossing the border whether it be state or country. While some car rentals will offer unlimited miles throughout the US, others will restrict you only by instate or neighboring states and impose mileage caps. You won’t be allowed go farther and cross the boundaries that are stated in the contract, and you will be charged by mileage for every additional mile you drove above the limit. Shop around to get the deal you need if you need to take a car for a long ride, or across the borders.
If you are taking the car for a trip and planning to cross the US border, then you need to mention that in advance because not all rental companies will rent you a car for it. In this case is better to take insurance offered by a rental company, even if it’s more expensive, because it might have a special coverage for this case, which your insurance might not offer. Read the fine print and ask the agent to walk you through the all details, before you sign the agreement.
10. Early or late fees. Other fees.
Plan in advance the time of pick up and drop off. If you need to return the car a day or more earlier, call the agency and ask if they will credit you for unused time, but even if they do, you may be charged extra fees on rental equipment, such as GPG, child seat, or satellite radio.
Most companies have a grace period on returns, which is usually 30 minutes, but if you’re late more than an hour or more, then they may charge you by the hour, or even a one day extra rental. If you’re running late, it’s always better to notify the agent by calling the number on the car keys, or on the rental agreement. Ask the agent which of the mentioned options will be cheapest for you, and remember: drive safe, even the most expensive option is not worth it if you get in trouble on the road.
Usually all rental companies offer a roadside assistance. For example, if you have a flat tire, or you locked the keys inside, it’s usually better if you have club subscriptions, like AAA, which will be a lot cheaper than using a rental company offered service. I’m always taking with me a tire inflator everywhere I go; it’s better than any roadside assistance, or even spending quarters at the gas station to pump air in the tire. Be very careful with your car keys because if you lose them, they can cost up to $400 to replace, not to mention a great waste of time.
Follow these tips for renting a car and be safe from stress and headaches, and enjoy the ride. If you have any other tips on how to save money on car rental, or disagree with the above mentioned advices, please let us know in the comments below.
Image Credit: flickr.com/photos/nrmadriversseat/