Car Handbook

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:

Making Reservations

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:

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:

The Cost

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:


Some car rental companies offer unlimited, unrestricted free mileage, while others apply extra charges for mileage, as follows:


Ask about the following when you make your reservation:

Getting the Best Deal

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.

Purchasing Waivers

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.

Liability Insurance

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.