Whether you’re on a business trip, on a vacation, or your car is in the shop for an extended period, there may come a time when you need to rent a vehicle. Be it for a single day or upwards of several weeks, it can feel overwhelming to navigate the process — especially if you’ve never rented a car before.
Not to worry, though! Here are the top things you need to know before you step into a rental office.
If you are taking a vacation and plan to rent a car, you’ll need insurance on the vehicle. It’s illegal to drive a vehicle without insurance, no matter how short the trip or whether you’re on vacation or not. But insurance through the car rental company can sometimes be expensive. So what are your options? You could look into car insurance for a week, which is a growing option in the U.S. for eligible drivers. You pay by the day for what you need; prices vary and the option for daily or weekly insurance is not available everywhere in the U.S. yet.
Rental agencies will require you to have insurance on the vehicle you’re renting, no matter what your business is when renting. If the price from the agency seems steep, shop around to see if there are alternative options.
Many car rental companies charge a fee for drivers under 25 years of age. This can seem unfair, especially if you’re a younger driver with a spotless record. Chances are this policy can be modified or fees even dropped if you give the agency a call.
Fees and Fuel
When you borrow a friend’s car, it’s basic etiquette to return it with the gas tank full — or at least at the level, it was when you borrowed it. When you rent a car, however, you will want to carefully review the policies about gas, mileage, and any other fees, such as road tolls or parking tickets.
A rental agency will charge you for the fuel used, based on the local price per gallon unless otherwise specified in the contract. Depending on the rental agency, you may be charged per mile for distances driven during your rental. Make sure you understand what fees and services you’ll be paying for before agreeing.
Returning the Vehicle
Rental agencies that have multiple branches make it easier for you to return the car without having to drive extra miles or bring the vehicle back where you started — unless you’re returning it to the shop to pick up your own car. When on a vacation, see if there is a car return space nearby the airport. Many airports have car rental agencies on the premises or partnered with the airport, to make it convenient for you to drive where you need and not worry about return logistics.
When you do drop off your rental, make sure it’s in good — or better — condition than when you started. Depending on the contract, you may be charged for cleaning fees or minor wear and tear on the vehicle. If you’re not sure, always ask! Most rental agents will be happy to clarify any points in a contract. And if you don’t like what you read, you can always go elsewhere.
While it can seem daunting to rent a car, the process is not impossible. Ask questions, carefully read the contract, and know you always have choices — you don’t need to take the first option you see.
Be smart and be safe, and you’ll be on the road in no time.