Best tips for people renting a car

How long will you be renting? If it’s for less than a week, you’ll probably do best with a major company, such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, or Thrifty. For rentals of a week or longer, you may get better rates from local companies, particularly auto dealers. Be wary of local companies if you plan to drive a lot; if you break down or have an accident, they usually lack the support services of the majors.

Internet Resources

Always shop around, even on the Web. Major companies often offer Web-only discounts — take advantage of them whenever possible. Check the Car Rental Center, as well as the individual car rental Web sites. If you’re booking online, read the restrictions carefully. If you’re booking on the phone, make sure to ask the agent about restrictions. Always be sure to check out our selection of bargains before making any reservations.

Renting Tips

Ask about discounts for major national organizations, frequent-flier programs and credit card programs you may belong to. They’ll frequently offer deals on car rentals. Those offered through AAA can be very good. If you’re employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.

Be sure you understand the conditions of your reservation. Is there a penalty for no-shows? How long will the car be held if you’re stuck in traffic on the way to the pickup station? Is there a fee for additional drivers and must their names be listed in the contract? Is your 20-year-old daughter old enough to drive the car? (For liability reasons, this is important.)

If pertinent, ask about any restrictions on interstate travel. For your own protection in case of breakdown, be sure the company has offices in all the states on your itinerary.

For one-way rentals, ask about drop-off charges. They can be exorbitant.

Always get a confirmation number. For airport rentals, be sure to give the customer service representative your flight number and scheduled arrival time. This will usually protect your reservation if the flight is delayed.

The Basic Rate

The rate you see advertised in big print may become so inflated with state and local taxes, airport surcharges, additional driver fees, insurance and gasoline bills and drop-off charges that you end up paying more than double what you expected. Also, the advertised rate may be valid only in off-season Florida or California, when many cars are idle there, but not where you want to rent. Finally, it may be only for a car size that you would find unsuitable.

Travelocity is taking away some of the mystery surrounding car rental rates: they’re the first on the Internet to offer “total pricing” for cars. Your total rental cost (including all taxes, surcharges, and fees) will be calculated prior to making the reservation, guaranteed to be within one percent of the actual rate. We recommend utilizing this service when booking any car rental so that you’re not shocked by all the additional fees.


Like the airlines, the major auto rental companies have adopted “yield management.” That means that their computers can quickly readjust prices according to changes in the supply of cars available. This means the rental rate you are quoted is valid only at that moment. Unless you reserve immediately, the rate is likely to change.

At Pickup Time

If your first drive will be from an airport to a hotel for the night, why not take a shuttle van to the hotel instead? That may save you the price of day’s rental. In major cities, you could probably pick up the car downtown. Even if you must drive the same day your flight lands, you don’t have to necessarily get the car at the airport. By picking it up downtown, you can often avoid airport surcharges.

If you have personal auto insurance or charge the rental to a major credit card, you will probably be covered at least for collision damage. If in doubt, ask your insurance agent or whoever issued your card.

Be wary of prepaid gasoline plans. Always fill the tank before returning the vehicle, as rental car companies can charge up to several dollars a gallon to refuel – says Mitch from Elite Auto Rent.

Before you drive away from the pickup station, inspect the car carefully for body damage. Be sure the lights and turn signals are working properly. Check the mileage odometer. Report any defects to rental personnel at once.

Upon Return

Be wary of returning the car early. It could be expensive because your rate structure may change. Also be sure the check-in attendant inspects the car’s body in your presence and that you agree about any damage. Examine your rental agreement carefully for all charges and make sure they credit any deposit to your account while you wait.

We thank Elite Auto Rent for helping us creating this article.