Driving a rental car is often a part of traveling. Unless you’re taking a road trip, you’ll need your own means of transportation when arriving at your destination, and when you’re on a budget, you can’t foot the bill of taxis and Ubers everywhere you go.
When you arrive at the rental car agency, it helps to know what you’re getting into. Your first priority is to avoid being injured in a car accident by renting a safe vehicle, but you’ll also want to protect your financial investment.
If you’re trying to save when renting a car, here are some dos and don’ts to follow.
1. Don’t Prepay for Gas
“Unless you are completely sure you will return the tank empty, or you have a pre-dawn flight that would make it worth the money not to have to refuel yourself, don’t fall for this one,” recommends Ed Hewitt in a SmarterTravel.com article.
He continues by explaining that rental car agencies will often tell you that the fuel rates they charge are competitive, and they’ll only charge you for fuel you use. However, their rates are never in your favor, and you can save by simply filling the vehicle tank before returning it.
2. Do Consider Off-Brand Companies
A BusinessInsider.com article discusses how there are three primary household names for rental cars: Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz. All three are parent companies for other institutions like Budget, Zipcar, Dollar, Alamo, and Thrifty, and 95 percent of domestic car rentals occur under these names. However, they’re not the only options.
"There are many brands that aren't household names," Neil Abrams, President of Abrams Consulting Group tells BusinessInsider.com. "They're good companies, and valued companies, that have the same cars at every different price point. They may suffer a little bit on service and convenience, but you can save a lot of money."
Overall, you’re likely to be just as satisfied with your experience while saving money because you’re not paying for the brand name.
Still, do your research to avoid renting a vehicle from a sketchy, low-end company. Read reviews and trust your gut.
3. Don’t Buy the Extra Insurance
For an affordable price of something like $24.99, you can have your rental car fully insured through the agency for the duration of its use. It seems like a good deal, but most people don’t need it because they’re already covered.
“Most credit cards already provide varying degrees of rental car insurance,” explains an article from HuffPost. “In order for it to kick in, 1. The entire rental must be paid on the credit card, and; 2. The renter must decline all insurance offered at the counter. Sometimes it will even act as primary insurance but that usually means there must be no other existing coverage in effect. For people who don't own cars, this is awesome.”
4. Do Drive Smart
You can’t control the actions of others on the roadway, but you can control your own. Be careful to avoid an accident by obeying posted speed limits, leaving space between you and other cars, and applying defensive driving tactics.
You can also drive more intelligently by protecting your deposit. Avoid things that might damage the rental car. For example, always drive on paved roads to avoid dings and nicks on the underside of the vehicle. In fact, according to Annie Mueller of Investopedia, many rental car companies prohibit driving on unpaved roads. Doing so can void your collision damage waiver or any insurance that might be on the car.
5. Don’t Rent at the Airport
“It’s easy to just pick up a car at the airport, but what you may not realize is that you pay a premium for the right to pick up the car moments after stepping off the plane,” warns Judd Hall in a SkyScanner.com article. “Rental companies are obligated to collect and pay fees to the airport where they do business, so they pass these fees onto the customer.”
It's surprisingly more affordable to hail a cab or take an Uber to another rental car facility than it is to pay the high premiums demanded at the airport.
6. Do Bring Your Accessories
Most rental cars offer a variety of extras for the convenience of their customers, but you’ll have to pay for each one. For example, every child seat, GPS system, Bluetooth radio system, satellite radio, and charge cord will be added to your final bill.
It might be less convenient, but if you’re looking to save money when renting a car, pack each of these items independently. It’s also more convenient to have these items on you in case you switch rental cars.
Renting a car doesn’t have to demolish your budget. If you know how to work the system, you can get the best deals to make your trip enjoyable on all fronts.