Renting a car for the first time can be intimidating, but it does not have to be. Here are some useful tips to make the experience both smooth and painless.
Assess your needs
It is important to be clear on your situation and your needs. Where are you going? What is your budget? Whom are you traveling with? How much space do you need? Do you need a compact car, a camper or a high-end vehicle?
Thanks to the Internet, exploring your options is now easy. The rental companies all have Web sites, customer reviews and coupons can be found online, and there are even sites that aggregate and compare the different companies.
Book your car
To reserve a car, you need a valid driver’s license and a credit card. An international driver’s license may also be required, depending on your destination country.
You can simply walk in to rent a vehicle right away, but making a reservation is much better. The rental rate fluctuates depending on the vehicle supply and demand, so the earlier you book, the cheaper it would be. Plus, it is more likely that your preferred car would be available.
And don’t worry about possibly missing a better deal. As long as you don’t prepay for the vehicle, you can continue to look at other options even after you’ve reserved a car. If you later find a better offer, you can just cancel your reservation without any penalty.
Sometimes, unexpected delays happen, so allocate extra time when picking up or returning the vehicle. Otherwise, you can end up having your reserved car given to another customer, arriving when the rental office is already closed, missing a flight due to the delay, and other stressful situations.
Also note that some rental agencies charge extra if you return the vehicle past the agreed-upon time. The penalty might be hourly, but can also be a full extra day’s worth.
Familiarize yourself with the vehicle and the traffic rules before driving away
It seems obvious but even experienced drivers sometimes get confused when driving an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar place. Learn things such as which side the fuel tank door is located, how to operate all the lights, and how to work the gears. Needless to say, if you’re going to another state or country, also get acquainted with the traffic rules.
Don’t overpay for insurance
Car rental companies sell collision-damage waiver that protects you in case of damages to the rental car while in your custody.
Before buying an insurance policy, however, check first with your credit card and personal car insurance providers, as many of them offer some form of rental car insurance.
If you still need insurance, avoid buying an expensive collision-damage waiver from the rental company. Instead, buy your insurance from a third-party seller, which typically offers car hire excess waiver insurance with better terms, for only a fraction of the price.
Consider your pick-up point
Collecting the rental car from the airport terminal is convenient if you’re flying, but know that doing so is more expensive than picking it up from another location. Sometimes the convenience is worth the additional pay, but oftentimes it is not.
Know about driver surcharges
Stick to a single driver, if possible, because you usually have to pay extra for additional drivers. Drivers below 25 years old are also sometimes hit with a ‘young driver’ surcharge.
Check the vehicle thoroughly
When collecting your hire car, inspect the interior and exterior meticulously for dents, windshield cracks, scratches, and any other damage, no matter how small. Make sure that they are all included in the rental agency’s list of known damages. Take pictures or videos, in case the company tries to charge you for them later on.
Skip the add-ons
The rental office will try to upsell you add-ons, such as child seats and GPS. To avoid paying extra, just bring your own car seats (if traveling with children) and download maps for offline use.
Return the car with a full tank
Fill up the gas tank before returning the vehicle. If you don’t, the rental company will charge you up to double the pump price for the gas. Some companies also require the fuel receipt, so save it.
Watch out for one-way fees
Return the car to where you picked it up. If you return it to another location, you may be charged a one-way fee.
The bottom line
Renting a car may seem complicated but having a car to go around with offers ease, comfort, and flexibility that public transportation does not provide. With the tips provided above, you won’t be a clueless newbie, but an informed customer.