Car rental companies have played an important role in increasing the convenience of travel, whether for business or pleasure. The ability to rent a vehicle of almost any style, model, and size at a reasonable rate has been a boon to travelers all over the world. However, the process of actually renting a car can be just as tricky as buying one.
Here are some tips and advice to help you avoid “contract shock” in car rental. First, you should know that car rental companies have four basic, but very different, ways of charging their vehicles: daily rates where mileage is billed as an extra; daily rates with a limited number of free miles per day; daily rates with unlimited mileage; and a varying rate with free kilometers for a longer period.
Another important consideration when renting a car is the length of time you will need the vehicle. If it’s less than a week, you’ll likely find better rates with a nationwide company like Avis, Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Thrifty, or Hertz. However, if you need a rental car for more than a week, you may be able to get lower rates from local companies, especially car dealers.
Third, keep in mind that the base rate you see advertised in bold in magazine ads and on television is usually just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true cost of renting a car. Additional costs, usually in the form of taxes, can add up to the total bill quite quickly. Sales taxes, airport taxes, concession fees, car lease fees, and drop-off fees usually don’t show up when you get a base rental rate.
Also be aware that another major expense of renting a car is the insurance that the company will try to sell. By the way, the term ‘insurance’ is not entirely accurate, as car rental companies are not licensed to sell insurance. What they actually sell you are waivers so you don’t have to pay for any damage caused by an accident. Your personal auto insurance policy may cover any damage, but it may not! Call your car insurance company before renting and ask about insurance coverage on rental cars.
There are also various options when it comes to tank plans. You can prepay for a full tank at the time of rental (but you may not use the full tank). The most expensive option is to return the car with an empty tank, as you will be charged about $5 per gallon in addition to the refueling fee. Your most economical choice – only pay for the gas you actually use. Make sure the tank is full when you take possession of the car and allow yourself plenty of time to refill it with reasonably priced petrol near the airport or return point when you finish your trip.
Always comparison shop, also on the internet. Ask about special discounts for membership in national organizations such as AAA or AARP. Special rates may apply for frequent flyer cardholders or certain credit cardholders.
Finally, make sure to schedule pick-up and drop-off times so you don’t get charged for an extra day. Best wishes for safe travel!