The Real Deal With Rental Cars
Whether you're traveling on business or on vacation,
you may need to rent a car for at least part of your trip. I have
had the pleasure, and displeasure of renting three cars in the past
5 months - enough times to really appreciate the differences in the
industry. One company was great, one was fine, and one was terrible!
My criteria for judging a car rental deal are
threefold: price, condition/type of car, and service. In my travels,
I have found first and foremost that the best car and the best
service do not necessarily come with the highest price or with the
When staying in Las Vegas, I decided to go with a
relatively unknown company. I had never heard of them before, but at
$18 a day, how could I say no? It was a pleasant experience, as the
car was brand new and the service was good. When I was in San
Francisco, I decided to go with a more well-known company, and
unfortunately endured a dirty car, and downright awful service.
Returning from a recent trip from Orlando, I decided to go with a
major national chain. The car and the service were first rate;
however, the price was high mainly because of the one-way rental.
With so many companies to choose from and so many
factors to consider, how can you find the best deal in terms of
price, quality, and service?
Finding the best rental car rates can sometimes be
even more challenging than finding the best airfare. Rates are set
by each company, and vary depending on the location, length of
rental, season, and type of vehicle.
As always, you should check Smarter
Living's Car Rental Database and Smarter
Living's Car Rental Guide for current deals, specials, and tips
before. Also, don't forget to inquire about special rates you may be
eligible for, including corporate and senior rates.
Most rental car companies require a major credit card,
or debit card with a major credit card affiliation, at the time of
rental. If you do not have a credit or debit card, you can often pay
with cash or you can obtain a pre-paid voucher through a travel
If you should fail to cancel a reservation in advance
or if you simply don't show up to pick up your car, you may be
subjecting yourself to penalty. Most car companies charge penalties
for four-wheel drives, minivans, convertibles and other specialty
rentals. Some companies will do so on all rentals.
Most major companies will not rent a car to anyone
under 21 or in some cases 25, unless that person is an employee
using a corporate account or military personnel traveling on orders.
In addition, companies that do rent to people as young as 21 usually
charge an additional fee for drivers between 21 and 24.
If you are renting in a foreign country, you will need
to do some research. Laws regulating car rentals differ in every
country. Most countries will accept your valid state driver's
license with another form of photo ID. However, certain countries
may also require an International Driver's Permit. This is an ID,
which lists, in a number of languages, the type of license you have,
limitations, and expiration date. You don't need to take a test to
get an International Driver's Permit; however, you will need to pay
a fee to obtain one. You can attain one at any AAA office, and other license
Rental car companies can add extra fees on if you are
not careful. All companies must inform you about the fees before you
rent. The most common add-ons are:
Mileage charges. While many companies offer
unlimited mileage, mileage charge policies change frequently, and
you should ask each time you rent.
Extra fees for renting at an airport. Renting
at an airport may be more expensive than renting at an urban or
suburban location, because airports and local governments often add
surcharges and taxes to rental car rates.
Additional driver fees. Most rental car
companies charge extra for anyone who drives the car other than the
person who signs the rental agreement. Many times, additional driver
charges are waived for your spouse, immediate family member, or
Young driver fees. Most car rental companies
add a daily surcharge for any driver aged 21 to 24.
Child safety seat fees. All states require
children under a certain age to be placed in child car seats. If you
don't bring your own seat, you will be required to rent one, usually
at a cost of $3-$5 per day, or $25 per week.
One-way rentals. You may be charged more for
one-way rentals, and you may be required to make an extra deposit
for the seat if you are paying cash for the car rental.
Vehicle drop-off fees. Many rental car
companies charge higher rates for dropping off a car at a location
other than where you rented, unless the drop-off location is within
the same metropolitan area as where you picked up the vehicle.
Refueling charges. All companies require you
to return the rental car with a full tank of gas. If you don't, you
will be forced to pay the company's exorbitant price per gallon.
Some fees are as much as $3 a gallon! DO NOT buy the full tank of
gas! This is one of the biggest rip-offs in the travel industry.
Unless you plan to drive hundreds of miles, it shouldn't be an
option. Many people think they will be credited when you return the
car with gas. Wrong! YOU WILL NOT be credited for any surplus gas in
the tank when you return the car.
The Skinny on Insurance
What about insurance? Do you need it? Not necessarily.
Rental car insurance options are difficult and confusing to understand. Most insurance is not necessary because your personal automobile insurance policy and credit cards often extend coverage
when you are renting. It is estimated that travelers in North America spend
2 billion dollars on rental car insurance. States such as California
and Texas require that car companies advise you that the rental car
insurance may duplicate your personal automobile policy. Know what
coverage you already have through your automobile insurance and
credit card affiliations.
Beware of the loss damage waiver, and/or collision
damage waiver. Rental agents tend to push this insurance more than
any other, and it tends to be the most expensive type of insurance.
Loss damage waiver is a written statement stating the rental car
company's right to collect from you if the rental car is damaged or
stolen while under your control. In most rental contracts, the
rental company shifts all responsibility for collision damage or
other loss to you. If you purchase a loss damage wavier policy the
liability will be shifted back to the rental car company. There are
some loopholes in the loss damage waiver that allow the car company
to charge you even if you purchased the policy.
Again, read the fine
print! Are there times when you need this coverage? Yes.
There are times when loss damage waiver may be necessary, such as
foreign rentals. Check to see if your personal policy and/or credit
card cover you for foreign rentals. If not, you should probably
purchase loss damage waiver protection. In addition, if you do not
own a car, as many city residents do not, you should purchase the
In short, you should know what is covered by your
personal car insurance policy and credit cards to avoid duplicate
insurance and the added expenses.
Click here to return to article index