Whether you're traveling out of town on a business trip, taking an extended vacation or just need a different form of transportation for the weekend, renting a car is a convenient and affordable option. But there's money to be saved and inconvenience to be avoided. “Many times people rent cars over their vacation," said Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks. "But the last thing they want to do is read the details of the agreement on their way to having some fun, but it’s important. You need to understand what you’re responsible for with that car. What happens if it breaks down? What happens if you get into an accident? Know exactly what your obligations are.”
Hicks suggests you get the answers to these questions before you sign your next car rental agreement:
- What’s included in the quoted daily rate? When obtaining quotes from car rental services, verify that all applicable taxes and fees are included in the quoted price. Otherwise you might end up with a higher-than-expected cost. For example, if you rent a vehicle from an airport location, you’ll likely pay more due to airport surcharges – make sure the quote rate includes your pickup and drop-off location.
- What is the mileage plan? Many rental companies offer unlimited miles for the car rental period, allowing you to drive the car as much as you want without facing extra fees. But others may assess extra fees for surpassing a daily mileage maximum. If you rent a vehicle, especially for a period more than a few days, make sure you have unlimited miles or sufficient miles to cover your travels.
- What if the car develops a mechanical problem? Cars in rental fleets tend to be very well maintained, but make sure you know what your options are should the vehicle break down. Ask the rental company what type of mechanical issues are covered, if any, in the quoted daily rate. Most companies will gladly give you a new car if the one that was initially provided has a problem, but what if the car breaks down on the road? Will the company provide a free tow truck to get you back and into a new car?
"Before you hit the road, call your insurance agent and find out whether they cover you in a rental car and what kind of coverage you have. Also, you might check the credit card that you use to pay for the rental car. It might provide insurance as well. Check both of those to find out if there is a gap you want to cover from the rental company," said Hicks.
Book your car as early as possible. Jeff Neiman with Hertz Corporation said you should be thinking about a car when you book your flight or hotel. “If you have a six month travel time, that’s the best time to do it. Most people will book their airfare and their hotel out, and they’ll wait on the car rental. It’s the same principal, the sooner you can book, the better.”
Angie’s List Tips: Cost-saving advice
- Book early: Book your vehicle as early as possible. Rentals can sell out of available vehicles, especially at busier locations like airports and during peak travel periods.
- Shop online: Along with almost everything else travel related, like plane tickets and hotel bookings, you can often find the best deals, discounts and freebies by performing plenty of researching and shopping online ahead of time.
- Avoid the airport: Look for rental car locations that are located outside of airports. Airport locations often have higher prices due to the zoning and taxes associated with being located on airport grounds.
- Opt for the compact: Unless your trip calls for something larger, only rent as much car as you need. Although compact and smaller rental cars are usually in higher demand by business travelers, you’ll save money on the rental itself and on the gas you’ll use during the rental period. If you’re offered an upgrade to a larger vehicle, be wary of gas guzzlers.
- Think twice about purchasing additional insurance: Check your existing auto insurance policy or credit cardholder agreement – both may already provide insurance that covers your rental car. If you do purchase an insurance product, make sure you know what exactly the insurance does and doesn’t cover. The collision damage waiver or CDW, also known as the loss damage waiver, waives you of responsibility for loss or damage to the rental vehicle.
- Check extra thoroughly for damage upon inspection: Most rental car fleets are maintained meticulously, but damages like scratches or dents in the body or spills, stains or tears in the interior can go unnoticed. If you see any wear, damage or defect during the inspection, make sure you immediately make the company aware – or you might end up paying for it.
- Return the rental car on time: Returning your rental car late can cost you money – as much as a full day’s rental, depending on the rental company. Make plans to allow for plenty of time to return your vehicle on time.
- Top off the tank yourself: Although it’s a lot more convenient to have the rental company top off
- the tank for you rather than you doing it yourself, it’s an unnecessary expense that can be avoided with a quick trip to the gas station.