With the high cost (and high hassle) of air travel, many vacationers are opting for a classic American road trip over a flight. A 2022 travel survey found that 80% of Americans had at least one road trip planned for the year. And, for many of us, these road trip plans include a rental car.
But before you rush into your car rental, take a few minutes to understand what you’re signing up for. Here are three things to consider before renting a car.
1. Understand Your Rental Terms and Conditions
Before you sign those rental car papers, give them a read-through. Some of the terms and conditions are surprising. For example, did you know that some rental contracts don’t allow you to take the vehicle out-of-state? Maybe that’s no problem for you. Or maybe it completely ruins your plans!
Here are a few other items to look for in your contract:
The minimum age requirements for the driver
Potential fees for additional drivers
An early return fee for handing off the rental earlier than the intended time
Rewards programs that can save you money on this rental or future rentals
The grace period for returning your car. You might need to make sure the vehicle is returned by the appointed time on the appointed date. Or you might be able to return the vehicle at any point overnight without incurring late fees. Every rental service is different.
2. Know Your Coverage
Rental car coverage is a big money-maker for car rental companies. And it certainly sounds like a good idea, right? You know you’re responsible for the vehicle while you have it, and if you run into any trouble, you want to have insurance coverage so that you don’t have to pay a fortune out-of-pocket.
Most rental companies offer multiple insurance options, including:
Loss-Damage Waiver (also known as a Collision Damage Waiver). This prevents the rental company from making a claim against you for damages to the rented vehicle.
Liability Coverage. This is a form of supplemental coverage that protects you if you were at fault in an accident.
Personal Accident Insurance. This helps cover your medical bills in case you’re injured in a crash.
Personal Effects Coverage. This covers your personal belonging in case they’re stolen and/or damaged during a collision.
But here’s the thing: you might not need any of this!
Your existing auto insurance policy might already include these options in your coverage, even for a rental car. And if this coverage isn’t included in your current policy, it might actually be cheaper to adjust your coverage with your current insurance provider than to purchase the insurance plan for the rental company.
Interestingly, your credit card may offer insurance options as well. If you rent a vehicle with a credit card, you may be eligible for secondary insurance. This form of insurance kicks in after you’ve exhausted your primary insurance coverage to minimize your out-of-pocket costs.
So before you agree to any insurance add-ons at the rental car counter, check with your auto insurance provider and/or credit card company to see if they already offer the coverage you need.
3. Inspect the Car and Document the Condition Before You Drive Off
So you’ve rented a car, and you’re about to hit the road. But wait! But before you put the pedal to the metal, you’ve got to give the vehicle a thorough inspection. Check for dents, scratches, or anything that may resemble damage. Then snap some pics so that you can prove the damage was there before you ever left the lot.
Also, make a note of the gas level in the vehicle, so that you know how much gas you need to return the vehicle with. After all, you don’t want to return the car with a full tank if you didn’t get to start with a full tank.
When you return the vehicle, you can have a rental company employee check the condition of the vehicle with you to confirm that there is no additional damage. You might even want to take pics of the not-damaged vehicle just in case there is any point of contention later.
Benefits of a Rental Car
Renting a vehicle for your vacation offers several benefits:
You can find a more suitable vehicle for your trip. You can get a large vehicle to fit your whole group. Or you could get a compact that will make it easier to navigate narrow streets. You can even rent an RV or camper (just make sure you have the proper licensing for driving an RV).
You avoid putting those extra miles on your own vehicle.
You can save gas money by renting an electrical or hybrid.
You can get a car with features you might not have. If your car doesn’t have GPS, for example, renting a car with a sat nav system could save your cell data.
You can use the opportunity to test a model you’re considering buying. By the end of the trip, you’ll know if it’s the right full-time vehicle for you.
Stay Safe in Your Rental Car
Driving long distances increases your exposure to other drivers and potential road hazards, especially if you’re driving an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar area.
Before you hit the road, take just a few hours to take an online defensive driving course. Not only will this course help you be a safer driver, but it could also save you money on your auto insurance.
Enjoy your road trip!