Did you just have an accident and need a car while yours is being repaired? Are you going on vacation and planning to make at least part of it a road trip? No matter what your reason for renting a car, you’re going to want to take a little bit of time to assess your needs and compare carriers and prices. There’s a lot of differences and flexibility in the car rental market. Let’s look at some options that may save you money and give you peace of mind.
Many auto insurance policies will extend to a rental car, but only for the insurance you already have in place. Make sure you understand your current auto policy and the coverage you have, so that you don’t buy rental coverage you don’t really need. For instance, if you have liability and comprehensive insurance, but do not carry collision coverage on your car, you may need to purchase insurance from the rental car company. If you already carry that coverage on your auto policy, your insurance will extend to the rental car.
There is a case for purchasing insurance from the rental car company, though. Your auto insurance policy may pay for the cost to repair a rental car if you damage it, but it will not pay for the rental car company’s “loss of use,” or the income they can’t make because they aren’t able to rent the car out to someone else. If you are in an accident, the car may be out of service for an extended period of time. The rental car company could bill you for “loss of use” and since your own auto policy doesn’t cover that, you would have to pay bill out of pocket. Most rental car companies include this coverage in their insurance terms. Make sure to ask about “loss of use” at the rental counter before signing on the dotted line.
Special note: A lot of credit cards also extend insurance coverage to rental cars if their cards are used to make the rental reservation. Check to confirm the terms, as you could easily avoid the extra expense with that perk as well.
Don’t just compare rates from company to company, but ask about discounts that may be available as well…sometimes on very short notice. You can often get a better rate or better car just by asking the representative when you make the reservation or go up to the counter to fill out the paperwork. Sometimes you can find deals on the rental car’s website or other coupon sites. You may also get a discount with certain companies for being an AARP or AAA Road Service member. Make sure you’re really getting a fair deal, no matter what you find. Don’t let taxes and fees eat up whatever savings you thought you found. Ask the rental car representative to explain savings and discounts so that you know exactly what you’re getting and what you’re saving.
Unless your situation is an emergency, such as a car accident or last minute trip, there’s no reason to wait to book your rental. Make your reservation as early as possible. An early booking will ensure the type of car you want for the days needed. Booking in advance will also ensure the car you need is available despite other emergency situations. For example, many Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents found themselves scrambling to find rental cars as Amtrak and Septa schedules were disrupted after the Amtrak Northeast Regional Train derailment in Philadelphia back in 2015. Hundreds of people who usually take public transportation along the affected routes found themselves in urgent need of transportation, leaving those with a casual need wishing they had made prior arrangements.
How it works: you pre-purchase a full tank of gas so you don’t have to worry about refueling before you drop off the car. Refueling the car before drop-off will save you money, often a considerable amount. It’s usually not that difficult to find a gas station within 5-10 miles of the drop-off location. Remember you prepaid for a “full” tank of gas. You don’t get a refund if you only need half a tank. This is simply a convenience purchase and not a very smart one. The only winner in this transaction is the rental car company.
Though it may be tempting to rent a sports car or a big SUV, the safest and most affordable option is usually to rent a car similar to the one you own and drive at home. If you’re traveling on business and need to carry extra people and/or haul equipment, then a larger van or SUV makes sense. Otherwise, the sedan or small compact car most like your own is your safest, most comfortable option, and will cost you much less than a flashy convertible.
Car rentals can be complicated but they really don’t need to be. Do as much as you can to prepare and schedule in advance, including checking on your insurance needs, and you’ll be well on your way to a hassle-free experience. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the reservation representative questions, and don’t sign the contract until you’re comfortable with the answers and understand what you’re getting.