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What to Look for When Renting a Car

A rental car parked during sunset

What to Look for When Renting a CarZipping around in a rental is a lot of fun, but getting the car in the first place — and returning it — can be a bit stressful and confusing. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the process and shop around. Then, when you’ve found a company you want to rent from, educate yourself on their policies. Here’s what to look for when renting a car:

Know What You Have

Preparation should always include a thorough list of things you already have.

  • Existing car insurance: Call your insurer to find out what they will cover. Depending on your coverage, it’s possible you can opt out of the rental company’s insurance completely. Or you might only need to supplement your policy with some of what the rental company offers. It’s also possible to purchase insurance from a third party prior to renting.
  • Health insurance: Call and ask what they cover out of state (or internationally, if applicable) in the case of a car accident.
  • Credit card coverage: Some cards offer protection and insurance when renting — and some banks do this better than others. Again, it’s important to call them directly and ask what rental insurance they provide.
  • BYO: Rental companies charge extra for add-on items like a GPS or child safety seats. Pack your own from home to avoid fees.

Beware Hidden Fees and Charges

Bring your printed agreement in case that online quote was too good to be true. There are normal surcharges like state taxes that will appear on the bill, and the company should be straightforward about those costs if you ask. However, there are sometimes other items to be aware of.

  • Holds and deposits: These charges show up when you rent the car and (assuming all goes well) disappear when you return it. However, if you weren’t expecting them, they can cause quite a jump in your statement balance.
  • Check boundaries: Some companies charge extra for crossing state and international lines. Ask about their policy before you get behind the wheel.
  • Mileage and gas: Always clarify the fuel policy. Is mileage unlimited? Do you need to return the tank full, empty or exactly where it was? Follow the rules closely to avoid hiked-up fuel prices through the company upon return.
  • Extra drivers: Again, different rentals have different policies, so ask how many drivers are covered under the agreement, or you may find yourself paying extra.
  • Cleaning fees: If the agency has to do more than a quick vacuum of the interior, they might charge you a cleaning fee, which can be steep. Clean the vehicle before returning it to avoid this.
  • Time and location: Read the small print to make sure the pick-up and drop-off times and locations are as you expect.

Document Damage

Give the car a thorough inspection before driving, or you could find yourself paying for someone else’s mistake. Consider taking pictures from all angles, just in case you need proof later.

  • External checks: Dents, scratches, missing plates or stickers, windshield cracks and especially tire condition.
  • Operational checks: Lights, signals and wipers. If you suspect poor maintenance, ask to see the record and check the fluid levels under the hood.
  • Interior checks: Look for an owner’s manual, spare tire and installation kit, dash warning lights, odometer and fuel readings, upholstery damage or cracks and smells.

Don’t be shy about asking questions and pointing out problems with your rental. If you wait until the car is returned, you could be the one footing the bill.

For more information on what to look for when renting a car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Blair Lampe View All

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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