Car Rental Tips for Road-trips


Road-tripping has become my new favorite sport. Especially in America. Exploring the world on wheels offers a lot of freedom and mobility. If we cannot take my car, we end up flying to a distant city and rent a car there. Although renting the car is a simple process, I learned several things that may help to reduce the cost of the rental, and make the road-trips more enjoyable. Here are my observations and suggestions.


Choosing The Right Car

  • Shop around. See which car rental companies operate in the area where you are going. Check out their websites to see what they offer. There may be significant differences in price for the same car model offered by different companies. Other conditions may also differ, e.g., the included daily mileage, international travel restrictions, included insurance, and the deductible.
  • Local vs global. I noticed that local car rental companies may offer better rates than, e.g., Avis, Hertz. There are several caveats, though. First, the offered cars may be older and in worse condition. Second, be careful about the deposit: the local companies may require higher deposit on your credit card. If you don’t want to deal with traditional car rental businesses, check out RelayRides.
  • Pick something enjoyable. If you’re going to drive for many hours, choose a car that is enjoyable to drive and appropriate for the terrain/weather/climate. For example, if you go to the West Coast, convertible is a good choice; if you go to the jungle, get a jeep. If you don’t have to, don’t settle on the cheapest car just to save few bucks. Most likely, it will be underpowered and unpleasant to drive.
  • Check what cars are available in the group. Typically, when you book a car, you don’t book a specific model. Instead, the company books a car in a certain group. The group includes cars with, supposedly, similar characteristics. Check out whether you are OK with other cars in the group, in case you do not get what you were hoping to book.


Making a Reservation

  • Make multiple reservations at several companies. More often than not, car rental companies overbook cars as there are no commitments. Here is why: 1) people do not return cars on time, and 2) people do not pick up the booked cars. Lack of commitments means that if you make a reservation, you are not required to pick up the car; similarly, the company is not required to hold the car for you.
  • Never pay before actually renting the car. Some companies ask for a downpayment before you pick up the car. Unless you are almost sure you’ll pick up the vehicle, refuse to pay any money.
  • Find better rates. There are several ways to get discounted rates on rentals: 1) try booking much in advance; 2) use coupons, e.g., from airlines, as they can save you up to 15% on the rental; 3) check out deals on the company’s website; and 4) sign up for customer loyalty programs (they are free).
  • Check if your credit card offers insurance. That way you won’t need to worry about purchasing additional insurance. Many credit cards in the US offer car rental insurance. Beware, however, that the conditions differ. Whereas one credit card may cover you up to $100k, another may offer only $25k insurance.

At the Counter

  • First, ask about the available cars, but don’t mention the reservation. See if the offer is better than whatever you booked. If it is, take it.
  • Ask about one-way specials. If you need a one-way rental, it may be quite expensive if you book it online. Sometimes it happens that an office has many one-way rentals that people dropped off. Check at the counter if this is the case. If it is, offer them taking a one-way rental at a discounted price. It is in their best interest to balance the number of available cars.


Picking up the Car

  • Carefully check the car condition. When you are ready to pick up the car, make a detailed visual inspection of the vehicle. Ask to mark every single ding and scratch. If they are reluctant, take pictures. That way you can avoid paying for the damage that you did not cause.


Returning the Car

  • Remember to refuel the car. Car rental companies charge a lot for the fuel if you don’t return as much as you started with.
  • Don’t bother with cleaning up the car. Car rental companies clean up the vehicles themselves. The car can be very dirty and you won’t be charged any cleaning fee.