Renting a car, like many other travel experiences, can be both easy and complicated. It’s easy to reserve a car, but you’re often presented with additional choices that are confusing. Things like GPS navigation, insurance, refueling — all of these things seem important, but they come at a premium. In this video/post, we hope to help you save money and maximize your experience by sharing our top 10 rental car tips, especially for drivers in the US.
1. Sign-up for a car rental rewards program:
Some of you might have access to a car rental rewards program through work or your credit card. If so, you’ll want to register for the loyalty program. The biggest perk of registering is having your car ready for you when you get to the airport without having to check-in at the rental car counter. Rather than waiting in line, you simply pull up your reservation on your app or look for your name on the board in the lot.
If you have a premium travel credit card, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you might have access to some higher status levels with certain rental car companies. Just make sure to activate the benefit!
2. Inspect your car:
When we get to our destination, we often want to get on the road as quick as possible. However, we suggest doing a quick visual inspection of your car’s exterior and noting any damage. You’ll want to document any big scratches and dents with the rental car company before leaving the lot. You don’t want to be held liable for any damage to the car, especially if the damage was already present when picking up your vehicle. This is especially important if you don’t have primary insurance coverage for your rental car through a credit card.
3. Know your insurance options:
Many premium travel credit cards offer primary insurance coverage for rental cars. This allows you to decline the expensive and limited insurance coverage when renting a car. It’s a bit complicated, but worth understanding before your next car rental.
4. Don’t use points to book your car rental:
This tip is controversial. I haven’t seen anything official, but I noticed a few folks on FlyerTalk explain that the car insurance coverage only applies if you pay for your car rental in full with your credit card. I heard this advice a few years ago, so I generally pay for car rentals out of pocket instead of using points. Though if you have any experience or first-hand knowledge of this requirement, please let us know below in the comment section.
5. Avoid underage rental fees:
Most rental car companies will charge you extra if you’re under 25 and want to rent a car. While this charge is hard to avoid if you’re under 25, there are potential ways to waive it. If you happen to be an AAA member, you can get the fees waived with Hertz, and if you’re a USAA member, then you can do the same with Enterprise.
6. Avoid refueling options:
Rental car companies often pitch refueling options and services which seem convenient but are generally a bad deal. One option is to refuel your car to the original level, but at three or four times the normal cost of fuel. On our last trip, the sign at the Las Vegas Avis desk said that they charged $9 per gallon to refuel your vehicle!
Also, another option is to prepay for a tank refill. The per gallon rate is generally slightly higher than the normal market rate. However, the catch is that you’ll be charged for a full tank, regardless of the fuel level when you return the car.
In general, it’s a better deal to fill up your tank before returning your car. And with all the tools and apps available, it’s easier than ever to find a gas station near your location.
7. Pack a phone charger, cable, and cradle:
If we plan to rent a car, we always pack a car charger, two charging cables, and an inexpensive vent clip mount for our phones. It’s much cheaper than renting a navigation system from the rental car company. Plus, we can use the apps that we’re familiar with, such as Google Maps and Waze.
8. Turn on speed limit indicators:
Several navigation apps offer the ability to show the speed limits. We find this feature to be useful when driving in new places, especially when the speed limit isn’t visible or known. We use Waze (iOS | Android) most times when driving, and this feature can be enabled under Settings in the Speedometer section. Also, if you’re an Android user, you can enable this feature in Google Maps. Sadly, this feature is not available for the iOS version of Google Maps.
9. Enable eco mode:
I’ve noticed that a lot of cars that we’ve rented have the option to enable an eco mode. We drive hybrid cars, so we tend to be more conscious when it comes to fuel consumption. What we’ve found is that the eco mode setting on a lot of rental cars seems to be disabled by default. So if you’re trying to conserve fuel and lower your consumption, it might be worth enabling the eco mode in your rental car. Eco mode usually makes the throttle and cooling system less responsive, but can help save money at the pump.
10. Carry an emergency kit:
This might seem like overkill, but we think it’s valuable. We use a special travel case for this purpose, specifically the WaterField Transit Travel Case. If we know that we’ll be renting a car, we’ll pack important documents, like a copy of our auto insurance along with backup maps in the case. We’ll also carry a mini flashlight that pulses, pen, tissues, and a basic tire pressure gauge. This makes it easy when dropping off the car since we have everything in one place. We’ll even put our charger and cables in there so we don’t forget them.
We’re going to do a full review of the WaterField Transit Travel Case soon, so stay tuned for it. It’s always a good idea to be prepared, especially since you never know when you might encounter a problem while on the road (like our recent flat tire experiences in Ojai and Lake Tahoe).
Do you have any tips for renting a car? If so, please share them below in the comment section. We’re always curious to hear about other tips and tricks that people use to save money and improve their travel experience.