Renting a Car
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office encourages consumers to take a closer look at the fine print to avoid getting caught off guard.
Is your car in the shop for repairs? Are you flying to your vacation destination? Do you need a shiny new car for your high school reunion? In most states, all that’s required is a valid driver’s license and a good driving record, a minimum age of 25 years (21 in some states, 18 in a few others), and a valid credit card in your own name (or in some cases a debit card or even cash). The passenger car rental industry generates over $20 billion in revenue each year.
A Word About Age Restrictions
Companies have long had policies to restrict car rentals to anyone under the age of 25. Although some companies have lowered their minimum age to 21, most charge an extra fee for renters aged 21 to 24. The amount of the fee depends on the company and the location. In New York, for example, state law requires car rental companies to rent to anyone over the age of 18. Yet the extra fee charged to the under-25 group can be up to $100 per day.
If you are thinking about renting a car abroad, upper age limits may take effect as well. While this is not typically an issue in the United States, some rental companies have refused to rent to customers over a certain age. Be sure to inquire about a particular company’s overseas rental policy.
All major rental car companies will take a credit card for payment, and many prefer it. Several companies will accept a debit card, but may place an “authorization hold” on your account. An authorization hold essentially freezes an amount of funds in your account sufficient to cover the transaction. These funds will not be available to you until the hold is lifted, usually when you return the car and settle the account. Some companies will accept cash as payment, but often have very specific rules about this transaction, and may charge an additional fee. You should ask what forms of payment the company will accept before making your reservation.
The Cost of Car Rentals
When you rent a car, you pay a basic fee plus several standard additional charges for the car. These commonly include fuel and mileage, but you can also get slapped with surcharges. Ask about them before you rent.
Fuel is charged three ways, all starting with a full tank of gas:
- You can return the car with a full tank of fuel and pay only what it costs you to refill the tank at a local gas station. This is usually the least expensive option for you.
- You can let the car rental company refuel your car when you drop it off. You’ll be charged a rate that’s higher than market value, but it may be more convenient.
- You can pay for a full tank of gas up front based on the local self-service price, but you’ll get no rebate for unused gas when you turn in the car.
Some car rental companies offer unlimited, unrestricted free mileage, while others apply extra charges for mileage, as follows:
- With unlimited mileage you may have other restrictions such as the geographic area you travel in or limited dates for rental.
- The most common way to charge for mileage is the per-mile charge. An odometer reading is taken before and after rental, and the per-mile charge is added to the final bill.
- Some companies offer a certain number of free miles and then add a per-mile charge for extra miles or charge a flat fee when you exceed the allotted free mileage cap.
Ask about the following when you make your reservation:
- Drop-off charge. Some rental agencies charge extra for dropping off a car at a location different from the one you rented it at.
- State and city surcharges. Rental companies may add their own city surcharge if you’re renting in a large city or the surrounding area, or in some cases entire states, such as Alaska, New York, Texas, and Illinois (for some companies).
- Airport fees imposed as a tax on deplaning passengers for airport car rental if you use a non-airport shuttle bus to get to the rental car company. This is called an “airport tax.”
- Late charges. Your rate may be calculated based on the day and time that you return the car. If you’re late, you may incur a charge.
- Additional driver fees. Some companies charge for additional authorized drivers and others do not.
Insurance and Waivers
Treat a rental car as you would your own. All car rental companies hold the renter responsible for the safe return of the rented vehicle. It should be in the same condition as it was when rented, aside from normal wear and tear. If you are in an accident, you are liable for repairs — even if it wasn’t your fault. The good news is that Minnesota law requires all auto insurance policies to include rental cars, for at least $35,000 in coverage. If you own a car and have paid your insurance, your rental car is covered too. However, your auto insurance may not cover cars rented in another country. Be sure to check first. The car may also be automatically covered by your credit card company. Check with your credit card company before you rent a car to see if it provides such protections.
If you aren’t insured, you can purchase a collision damage waiver (also called a loss damage waiver) from the car rental company. A waiver, which isn’t insurance, is an agreement between the car rental company and you stating that the company will not hold you responsible for accidental damage or loss and will pay for all costs itself, unless you violate the terms of the rental agreement.
Look before you rent. Before you rent, look over the car and make sure any existing damage has been recorded by the rental company. Otherwise, you could be responsible for the repairs of damage that you didn’t cause.
Don’t allow unauthorized drivers to take the wheel. If you allow an unauthorized driver to operate your rental vehicle, you may inadvertently cancel any liability protection you were entitled to under the rental agreement. This can be costly if you have an accident. Tell the rental company up front if you want others to be authorized to drive.
Ask about weekly rates if you plan to rent for five days or more. It is bound to be less expensive than five times the daily rate. Be aware that an early return may void your weekly rate.
For additional information, to file a complaint, or to request a copy of The Car Handbook, contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as follows:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
TTY: (651) 297-7206
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