Renting a car can be a daunting experience for first time renters. Choosing a rental car company, type of car, how to get the best deal, what insurance do I need, etc. There are many items to consider when renting a car and virtually no drivers ed programs cover any of this information. Most agencies have a minimum age requirement of 25, but some agencies provide rentals to younger drivers so make sure you check the age requirements before renting a car. This article will cover the basic points on renting cars and a few tips on getting off on the right foot.
- Picking a rental car company. There are many different rental car companies, some of which are household names and some not so well known. There are tradeoffs in picking a rental car company, which are usually price versus ease of use. The more expensive companies may be found on-site whereas the cheaper ones tend to be off-site. Its best to pick an unbiased shopping service like rentalcars.com or expedia to get the best deals on rental cars. You can also reserve rental cars through hotels and airlines when booking travel.
- Car types. There are many, many types of cars to pick from when renting a car. The most important item is to pick a car large enough to hold everything that you are travelling with, which is probably larger than you're thinking. If you are just using the car to maneuver around town, a smaller car would make sense. If you will be putting a lot of miles on the car, something a bit larger and more comfortable may make sense. And if you are adventurous, this is your opportunity to try out different types of cars and maybe even treat this as an extended test drive for a future purchase.
- Rental options. There are many add-ons that can be purchased when renting a car, including items such as child safety seats, GPS, fuel service option, and additional insurance. Child safety seats can be handy if you don't want to lug around your own seat through the airports. However, I very seldom purchase any of the optional add-ons. Smartphones can be used for your GPS. Typically your insurance covers rental cars, but you should check with your agent. Some people find it convenient to take the fuel service option, which means pay for a full tank up-front and return the car as empty as possible.
- Rental car facilities. There are mainly two types of facilities: on-site and off-site. The on-site facilities are by far the most convenient but are dwindling in number. Renters can usually just get off their flight, grab their baggage, and walk directly to the rental car area which is nice and convenient. However, due to expansion needs, most airports have moved their rental car facilities off-site. This usually entails finding the bus or train to get to the rental car facility, which can be found by following signs titled "To Rental Car Shuttle", "Rental Car Bus", or similar wording.
- Getting in the car. It is important to realize this car will be different from your daily driver so it is important to get properly setup for driving. Review our driving tip videos on seating position and mirror setup to get ready for safe driving. Do a walkaround and make sure to note any defects in the car as you are responsible for returning the car in the same condition as when you initially took the car. Make sure the fuel tank is full. Get in the car and familiarize yourself with the controls. Start the car and make sure there are no warning lights showing. If there is anything wrong, go back to the rental car desk, explain the problem, and make sure its rectified
- Leaving the facility. Pay close attention to the signs for exiting the facility. Plug your destination into the GPS prior to driving away - this is important. You will be in an unfamiliar car in unfamiliar territory and the last thing you want to do is be setting-up your GPS while trying to drive under these conditions. Keep the rental car contract in the glove compartment as it is your proof of insurance, registration, and it contains contact information in case of a problem with the car.
- Returning the car. Most rental car facilities are well marked when returning to the airport. If you didn't take the fuel service option, make sure you fill up the fuel tank as rental car companies usually charge a hefty premium if they have to refuel. Be courteous and clean out the car prior to returning to the facility.
The easiest way to avoid stress in renting cars is to have your trusty smartphone navigation system primed and ready to go. This allows you to worry about driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads without having to worry about what route to drive.