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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yay for Renting a Car 4.11.12

When we travel, we often get a rental car, unless we are in a place with an awesome (or at least usable) transportation system, like Honolulu or London. We have learned a lot about what to ask for before renting and how to make the most of a rental by using things we already own, like insurance. We have full coverage on both of our vehicles at home, which covers us in any vehicle we drive, so we can skip the insurance at the rental counter. We also use a credit card with coverage, so we are double covered in case of an accident or theft. Here are some other things to know when renting a car that could save you from giving them all your money before you even drive off the lot.

The prepaid gas option is usually a rip off. Here’s the deal: people like convenience and if they can skip a step and get on with their lives, they might be willing to do it. Unfortunately, $9 per gallon is a bit steep. Even if they tell you that the rate is comparable to what’s at the pump, confirm what you will be paying for. When they told me I could pay less than $4 per gallon when I came back at less than a full tank I kind of got excited, but then I asked if I would only pay for what they put in the tank (like if I had half a tank, I would only pay for the other half), but was told that you pay for an entire tank no matter what. Good deal? I think not. We chose to fill up down the street before we returned the car.
Keep your gas receipt. Possibly this is just in Vegas right now, but make sure you keep your last receipt anyway, just in case you need proof that you actually did put gas in the car. I was told there had been a lot of incidences where people didn’t want to pay for gas, so they filled the rest of the tank with water and returned the car at “full”. To avoid getting fined, you must bring proof of receipt.

If you pay cash, you will be asked to pay a deposit. If you steal that car or wreck it, they want to be sure they are covered. It is more likely that there will be a scratch when it is returned than either of those scenarios, but you are looking at either the cost of the rental or up to $350 for a deposit. (This can vary when you rent out of the country.) Make sure you find out if it refundable BEFORE you sign all the paperwork and hand over your money.

If you use a debit card, you will be asked to pay a deposit. To a rental company, a debit card is pretty much just like cash. You can’t guarantee that money will be there when you bring the car back, so they put a hold on it while you are driving it around. Once the car is returned, they refund your card, assuming all is fine with the car. This doesn’t help you if you are counting on that money for your trip, though, so always try to bring a credit card with you for rentals.
If you use a credit card, you may be charged a deposit. I have rented from a company several times and been charged a deposit sometimes and then not other times. Usually, they charge your rental fee and taxes and a deposit that can be up to your rental fee (not more than $350) and refund you when you turn your car keys in. My last rental cost $250 (with taxes) and I only paid a $100 deposit. Bottom line, if you are on a tight budget and need to know exactly what you will be paying for, call ahead and ask.
Rental agencies at the airport can cost you more. Airports impose fees on rental agencies that are on-property for each rental they do. This isn’t something they can get around, so they pass that fee onto you, making them a little more money than they would have made if they paid for it themselves. Sometimes it’s significant enough to look for an off-site rental location, so make sure to compare before you rent.

If you live in the same house (married or not), the second driver is free. This has always been true for any rental I make, but I have learned that not all rental companies are created equal. Dollar enforces a $10 per day fee for each additional driver, which caused us to only add me on as the driver of the car, since I do most of the driving on our trips. This is another thing you may want to read the fine print for, especially if you think only having one driver listed will be an issue.
Bring your own GPS. If you own one, bring it with you, because you’ve already paid for it and know how to use it. Plus, you save up to $16 per day by not using one from the rental company. And if it gets lost or stolen, even if it was a spendy model, it will probably still be cheaper to replace than if you borrowed one and something bad happened to it.
Always reserve the smallest car you can get away with. Bigger cars cost more to fill up and drive around. Also, upgrading seems like it’s not so bad when it’s “just” $13 or $20 more, but multiply that by day and you may have just added $200 to your rate, especially since you also have to pay taxes on the overall total. So, if you can all comfortably fit in a compact, reserve that. I don’t care if I look cool to people I don’t know. I just want to save money and get around. Also, less people want to steal a Kia than a Mustang. Just sayin’.

Unless an upgrade is free, don’t take it. This goes back to the tip up above. Why spend an extra $100+ if you don’t have to. Besides, if they don’t have the class of car you reserved, they have to upgrade you for free (they will never downgrade you). In Vegas I had asked for a compact and ended up with a full-size. I was certainly not going to complain about choosing between a Cadillac and a Crown Victoria, though it took some getting used to. It would have cost me twice as much to rent if that is what I had reserved in the first place. Once I figured out how to use all the buttons and knobs and which got my seat to the correct position, we cruised down the highway in (elderly) style.
If you want a lot more tips on renting cars, you can find them in my book, Shereen Travels Cheap, now available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle, Smashwords and other online bookstores, like Powell’s and Barnes & Noble.
Have you had any weird/awesome/aggravating car rental experiences?
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