Wheels to Rent
If you need to leave your car in the shop for repair, if you’re traveling, or if you seldom need to drive at all, you may want to rent a set of wheels. You can rent anything from rental heaps to luxury sedans.
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).
- A valid credit card in your own name. (Some places may allow you to pay cash, but you’ll need to show a return airline ticket, post a deposit, and offer a long list of identifying information so you can be tracked down if you don’t return the vehicle.)
Car rental is easy. To help you reserve a car almost anywhere, rental companies have 800 numbers. You can also reserve a car through a travel agent. Agents can shop for the best car and rate for you. When you’re ready to rent, have the following information available:
- Dates you’ll need the car. If you’re renting at an airport, be prepared to give your airline flight number and the time of arrival and departure.
- The model and size of car you want. You can rent one of several classes of cars. While rental companies don’t share a common system for classification, you can usually rent them in categories such as economy (also known as subcompact), compact, midsize, luxury, premium, and specialty (convertibles, vans, and four-wheel-drive vehicles).
Rental companies may not be able to guarantee the model you want, but you can make a request or shop around for a rental company that offers the model you want.
When requesting a car, keep in mind how many people will be riding in the vehicle and how much luggage you’ll have. You should also ask about the following:
- Safety Features: Air bags, child safety seats, and other safety features.
- Options: Air conditioning, cruise control, four doors vs. two doors, car phones, ski racks, and luggage racks. Naturally, these may cost extra. Letting the company know in advance what you need will speed the rental process when you pick up the car.
When you rent a car you’ll 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.
- 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 such as New York, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.
- Airport Tax: 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.
- 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.
- Refundable Deposit: This can be several hundred dollars and is held against your credit card. It won’t be charged to your account unless the car comes back damaged or not to the specifications of your contract. You may be able to leave this deposit in cash, if you ask, so you don’t have to limit the spending on your credit card.
- Additional Driver Fees: Some companies charge for additional authorized drivers.
- Other: You may pay a surcharge if you’re under age 25 because rental companies consider your age an added risk.
Getting the Best Deal
- Ask about weekly rates if you’re considering rental 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.
- Ask if you can confirm a price at today’s rate. Some companies will guarantee today’s rate for no more than 60 days in advance, while others will extend their guarantee for a full year with a confirmed reservation. Find out about cancellation requirements.
- Are you part of a club or organization that offers car rental discounts? Also check for coupons you may have collected from airlines or credit card companies to reduce charges.
- See if frequent flyer points are available with the rental.
- Don’t assume an economy car is always the best deal. For a few dollars more, you may be able to drive a luxury car, depending on current discounts and promotions.
Look Before You Rent
Before you rent, look over the car very carefully 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.
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. If you own a car and have paid your insurance, your rental car is covered, too. The car may also be automatically covered by your credit card company. Check before you pay out of pocket for repairs. However, your auto insurance policy may not cover cars rented in another country. Be sure to check first.
Accidents Happen…and You’ll Pay for Them
You have to pay for repairs if you have an accident and don’t carry proper insurance or a waiver. You also probably will have to pay for the lost revenue the rental company incurs because it can’t rent the car to anyone else. And you may pay an administrative fee for the processing of your damage claim. So carry insurance.
If a rental company automatically charges your credit card for an accident or demands payment at the time of the accident, ask to see a manager. Most reputable firms will work directly with your credit card company or insurance carrier for payment.
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.
If you want a waiver you’ll pay an additional cost of anywhere from $10 to $30 a day. Do your homework in advance to be sure you need this before you buy it. Companies can’t require you to purchase it.
You can also purchase liability insurance. In the event of an accident, liability insurance covers you against claims by others for bodily injury and property damage up to a specific limit. Some companies provide only secondary coverage, meaning that your own insurance will be applied first to meet the state’s minimum requirements. Major companies offer an extended liability package at a daily rate, with up to $1 million in additional protection. Some packages provide uninsured driver protection as well, in the event that the other driver is not insured.
Don’t Let Unauthorized Drivers 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.
Personal Accident Insurance
This is available separately or in a package with options. It insures against death and certain medical expenses.
Personal Effects Coverage
This protects your luggage and personal property, but there are limitations for damage or loss. It may, for example, exclude jewelry and cameras.
Report the Accident
In the unfortunate event of an accident with a rental car, report the accident to the police and complete an accident report, just as you would if you were driving your own car. Also, notify the car rental company within 24 hours. You’ll have to fill out another accident report. Be aware that any statements you make may be a permanent part of the accident report. Be truthful because your statements may be used in legal claims.
— Adapted with permission from Alamo Rent A Car, Inc.’s, “A Consumer’s Guide to Renting a Car.” The guide was written in cooperation with the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.