A hefty rental car bill takes all the fun out of the open road. “If you’re on business and time is of the essence, stick to one rental car company and join their club,” advised frequent renter Alan Schupack.
Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind when renting a car.
Try booking your flight or hotel room and the car rental to save money. Look through DexKnows for listings and coupons. You can also search online coupon sites (e.g., PromotionalCodes.com and CouponWinner.com) for coupon codes.
If dealing with a travel agent, be sure to include the car rental when booking the rest of the trip.
Orbitz, Travelocity and other discount travel sites let you compare rates. Priceline allows you to bid on rental cars, though a disadvantage of this site is that it charges your credit card at the time of your reservation and you can’t change the date or the car company that accepts your bid, says Schupack.
Consider renting from an in-city rental location rather than at the airport.
Airport rental facilities tack on airport contract and concession fees. Rental locations in town may be harder to get to and have more limited hours.
Ask whether “unlimited” mileage carries restrictions.
Most rental companies limit or forbid taking a car across an international border; some restrict driving into another state. If you plan to leave the vehicle in a location different from where you rented it, check to make sure whether that’s allowed.
Know whether your auto insurer covers rental cars, or you may be able to buy this insurance more cheaply through your credit card issuer.
You’ll likely pay less than buying insurance from the rental agency.
Refill the gas tank before returning the car.
If the rental company refills it, even at a reduced rate, they may charge you for a preset amount of gas, not necessarily the amount the car needs upon return.
Inspect your bill at drop-off.
It’s easier to resolve overcharges on the spot than later by phone.
Tips & Warnings
- For a free upgrade, book the cheapest car possible, preferably for late in the day. These run out quickly, and if they do, the agency will give you a larger car at no extra charge. Or, “ask nicely and you may get it for free,” says online marketing expert Andrea Woroch.
- Bring your own GPS unit rather than paying for the rental company’s. Don’t use the rental’s toll pass (e.g., EZPass) either. “Pay the tolls yourself, as the third-party vendor that provides the [rental] pass marks up the toll,” Schupack says.
- Document every damaged spot on or in the car before driving it from the lot. Insist on filling out an inspection sheet. Often, the rental company won’t offer this form, especially when the customer is checking out at the exit rather than at the counter, says customer service expert Barry Maher. Photograph any damage using the date/time stamp feature on your camera or phone.