While there are some who travel for work and have a lot of experience renting a car, many people will only need to rent a car on a handful of occasions. However, it's important to realize that a situation where you need to rent will arise sooner or later. Your car might break down or you might be traveling and want to explore the city. You may not have a car and need to make an emergency trip. In any case, having some knowledge of car rentals will make the next time you find yourself in need of a rental less stressful, simpler, and more economical.
Here's what you need to know about renting a car:
Just like flight fares, car rental fares change with the season. If you are planning a trip during peak travel times such as the holidays or Summer months, you can expect to see inflated seasonal rates. There's also a possibility that many lots may not have a vehicle available for you, especially if you're looking for a specific kind of car.
To avoid this, you can reserve your rental during the slow months to lock in a lower rate and know you while have a vehicle waiting for you. Most lots have adopted prepay policies as well, and prepaying can often get you a discount. Just make sure that your rental plans match your other travel plans first.
One thing that just about everyone will run into at a rental lot, is being offered a larger vehicle. Rental companies will generally take what you ask for and push it one size up. This is a common upselling tactic, as larger vehicles will cost more to rent. Consider your needs and know a few car models that match them. Getting a larger vehicle will not only give you a higher rate -- it will give you a higher gas bill as well. Don't be afraid to ask for something smaller than what is offered if you don't need the larger vehicle.
Where to Rent
There are so many rental car options, that it can be hard to decide where to rent. But one place you should avoid is rental lots at the airport. Rental lots that get the most business are by far the lots located at airports and it's easy to understand why -- but airport lots tend to have exorbitant prices and hefty taxes on their vehicles. If possible, get away from the airport before renting, by using an airport shuttle, public transportation, or getting a ride from a friend with some time to spare. It's a little less convenient, but can save you some serious cash.
Renting further from the airport has the added benefit of giving you more options. Looking beyond the big name agencies and going to some smaller rental agencies can often get you lower rates. In many cities, there will often be some local rental lots that won't necessarily appear on the first page of your online search results. These are even less likely to appear on a trip planning site, as these sites generally look at larger, more widespread agencies. It's a good idea to do an independent search for rental options in the local area.
At the Counter
When you arrive at the counter of the rental lot be sure to check on their age requirements (most companies require you to be at least 25), terms and conditions, and special deals. Even if you know exactly how long you need the vehicle, it doesn't hurt to ask about different rates. For example, sometimes going with a weekly rate can save you money even though you'll only need the car for five days. You can still return it when you had planned to, but you might save a bit by buying a little more time. The key is to ask questions and get as much information as possible!
Another important issue is the rental insurance policy. Most customers tend to buy rental insurance from the lot as a precaution. If you have your own auto insurance policy, it's a good idea to review it in regards to your coverage of vehicles you rent. You might not need additional insurance, but if you do, make sure you understand exactly what the rental agency is going to cover. If something isn't clear, don't be afraid to ask.
The last thing to be aware of at the rental lot is any other policies that might be tacked on. These could include roadside assistance programs, GPS, or other features. Be sure that you aren't buying something you don't want or need. Lastly, be sure to fill your rental car up before taking it back to the lot as rental companies often charge steep prices to refill gas.
Once you have a grasp on how rental car companies work, you will be less likely to be pushed into paying for things that you don't need. Next time you are in need of a rental car, know what you want, understand the pricing and insurance, and ask lots of questions. Doing your research ahead of time can save you a lot of money!