Rental Car Guide

How Often Do You Rent a Car?

Whether you find yourself in a strange city with the need for transportation or require a reliable vehicle for client meetings on a business trip, you may be in the market for a rental car.

Yet for even the most well-seasoned traveler, the topic of car rental is murky at best.

How much is a rental car going to cost you? Are there any hidden fees and surcharges? Where can you get the best rental car deals? Do you really need rental car insurance?

Diving into the wide world of car rental can provide fast answers to these popular questions. Once you’re fully equipped in your car rental research, you can make the smartest – and most affordable – decision in the rental car you choose.

Rental car options and needs are diverse. You may consider a rental car in the following situations:

  • Family vacation

  • Road trip

  • Business trip

  • Airport

  • Broken down/ damaged vehicle

  • Cross-country

  • Need for a larger

The above rental car scenarios are commonplace. However, there is one other
often-overlooked purpose in renting a car: to test and compare vehicles before you buy.

Shelling out a major chunk of change to buy a new vehicle is not a matter to be taken lightly. While you do have the opportunity to test drive vehicles at a dealership, you can also invest in short-term car rentals to give you more one-on-one time with each car.

Renting a vehicle make and model that you are interested in buying will allow you to take it for a real-life test drive throughout your average day.

You can test drive the car for hours at a time driving to work, running errands, and picking up your kids from school.

This will give you a complete picture on the type of car that is best for your family based on common rental car classifications, i.e. economy, compact, midsize, full-size, premium, luxury, SUV, and minivan.

  • Ford Focus

    Economy Car
    2 doors, 5 passengers

  • Chevrolet cobalt

    Compact Car
    2/4 doors, 5 passengers

  • Nissan sentra

    Midsize Car
    2/4 doors, 5 passengers

  • Chevy Malibu

    Full Size Car
    2/4 doors, 5 passengers

  • Nissan Maxima

    Premium Car
    4 doors, 5-6 passengers

  • Mercury grand marquis

    Luxury Car
    4 doors, 5-6 passengers

  • Ford Explorer

    4 doors, 5-8 passengers

  • Chrysler town & country

    4 doors, 8-9 passengers

If you find yourself in need of car rental on a business trip, you’re certainly in good company.

An Enterprise car rental survey on the habits of business travelers revealed that

  • 91% of business travelers would do whatever it takes – including going to “an extreme measure” – to find transportation to a business meeting if a commercial flight fell through.

  • 54% of business travelers would rent a car or use their own personal vehicle to get to an important meeting if air travel was canceled.

Based on March 2012 statistics, Mid-management business professionals are 147% more likely to visit car rental sites for travel compared to the general population.

When it comes to both business and pleasure, renting a car is a popular option to get from point A to point B. The odds are that you will need to rent a car in your lifetime. Thankfully, you have your hands on this complete car rental guide to tell you what you need to know about renting a car without getting swindled.

Let’s begin…

Step 1: Shop Around

Right out of the gate, you will come upon your first rental car shopping dilemma:

Is it better to rent a car online or in person? Which will provide better rates?

Most industry experts recommend searching online for rock-bottom rental car rates simply because of the vast amount of information available at your fingertips. But as Journey says: Don’t Stop Believin’. Meaning, don’t give up in your search for an affordable rental car deal, no matter where you may find it. It pays to do your research online and cover your bases by checking with rental car dealers in person and over the phone.

  • The reason that booking online can often provide cheaper rental car
    rates is because you will be able to book in advance.

    Booking at least 2 weeks out is highly recommended – up to 4-6 weeks in advance, if time allows.

  • If you show up at the rental car
    counter looking for a vehicle, it
    may be slim pickins.

  • If rental car inventory is low, you may have to pay more for booking a last-minute deal in person.

    Since many people are known to book cars with no strings attached and “forget” to pick up, a rental car company is even more likely to overbook to keep vehicles occupied.

Start by researching price quotes online and follow up with a telephone call to confirm rates. Many times, when you request a price quote online, it may not reflect all taxes, fees, and surcharges bundled into the overall rental car price. Call a rental car company directly before booking to confirm the rate; some drivers swear by cheaper rate quotes provided over the phone compared to booking online.

As you embark on your online booking quest for the right rental car, you can use the convenience of the Internet to search for accompanying coupon codes. There are designated promo code sites for this purpose, like You can also type in the name of a rental car company with the keywords “promo code” or “coupon code” into Google to locate brand-specific offers.

According to a New York Times insider tip, you can go so far as to combine advertised rental car specials with promo code deals for an even deeper discount.

For example, a full-size Hertz rental car was advertised with a Memorial Day discount at $255.71; using a Hertz promo code along with a United Airlines frequent flyer discount slashed the rental car price by almost $100 to just $160.02.

Booking with a lesser-known, local rental car company is also a savvy option.

Off-brand rental car companies without a national presence still offer a viable way to save a buck on car rental. Most regional companies provide the same selection as larger rental car dealers with a cheaper price tag to boot. Budget Travel estimates that a smaller rental car company could provide as much as $20 in savings per day compared to a larger dealer with the same potential for rewards, discounts, and loyalty programs.

The only catch with using a little guy is that you may not be able to secure off-the-plane vehicle access if it isn’t supported by a local company.

Nevertheless, in many cases, airport car rental isn’t recommended since it is notably more expensive than car rental outside of the airport; in-airport rental car prices may be up to 20%-50% higher for the convenience.

Another contributing factor to sky-high airport car rental rates is excess fees in the form of airport concession charges and local taxes.

Taking the time to research car rental options outside of the airport and potentially from a lesser-known brand could save you hundreds in your total rental car cost.

Step 2: Find the Best Price

Now that you know where to look, it’s time to whittle down your list of top contenders to find the rental car dealer that offers the best price. You can put it in perspective by analyzing the average price you can expect to pay when renting a vehicle.

Here are basic rental car cost estimates as provided by USA Today

  • Economy/Compact

    Ideal for two adults, two children at $45-$65 per day

    Think Nissan Versa or Toyota Escort

  • Mid-Size

    Ideal for two adults, two children with extra trunk space at $50-$70 per day

    Think Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Sonata

  • Standard

    Ideal for two adults with three backseat passengers at $55-$75 per day

    Think Chevrolet Impala or Ford Taurus

  • Luxury

    Ideal for five passengers or more at $80-$120 per day

    Think SUV, minivan, or passenger van

Once you’ve narrowed down your car selection, you can use helpful tips to keep rental car costs low:
  • Avoid renting from an airport whenever possible (as mentioned above).

  • Take advantage of weekend specials; some rental car companies offer as much as 50% discounted weekend rates.

  • Pay a weekly instead of a daily rate; it can be cheaper to rent a car for a week instead of paying 4-5 individual day rates.

  • Ask for a local rental car company recommendation from your hotel or a friend in the area.

  • Avoid booking last-minute; booking early may provide access to lower rates with a better vehicle selection.

  • Consider naming your price with an online booking service like

After putting the above tips into practice before booking, you can almost guarantee that you’ll pay a significantly cheaper rate than what’s advertised by most rental car dealers.

You can also take it to the next level by tracking your rental car savings with a website like AutoSlash is a carrental specific tracking site that offers coupons and discount codes, as well as the ability to analyze rental car rates after booking.

  • If rental car rates drop drastically after you book, the website will provide post-booking coverage by tracking
    your rental multiple times a day.

  • If a better deal is detected, the
    rental price will automatically be re-booked to provide extra savings.

  • If you can find competitive rates through a rental car tracking site like AutoSlash, it may be worth using for the “post-booking price protection” feature alone.

Last but not least, we can’t overlook rental car price bidding on websites like

Is name-your-price hunting really worth the hassle? If you’re well-versed in the world of Priceline, rental car bidding may be your best bet. If you’re new to Priceline bidding, make certain you understand the terms and conditions in detail before you put your money on the line.

Priceline bidding can and will offer remarkably low rental car deals, but… you must be cautious about advertised “exclusive offers” if your bid is rejected. Like any other website, Priceline’s purpose is to make money. If your bid is rejected, you may be referred to a special offer that could be twice the price of a quoted rental car rate.

Before you get too hasty with your mouse-clicking finger, make sure you know exactly what you are agreeing to pay for in a rental car bid.

Step 3: Avoid Hidden Fees and Unnecessary Insurance
Finding the best price on a rental car is all about what you are willing to sacrifice to shave down your bill even further.

Here are some add-ons that may hike up your rental car rates:

  • Paying for a larger vehicle

  • Paying for your kids to drive under the age of 25

  • Paying for extra drivers

  • Requesting a child car seat

  • Upgrading to GPS

If you’re hoping to save money on a rental car, be smart about what you’re willing to pay for. If at all possible, rent the smallest vehicle to accommodate your party. Unless absolutely necessary, stick with one primary driver of the vehicle and avoid adding drivers under 25 onto your rental car policy.

Many rental car companies will charge an extra fee for more than one driver of a vehicle, regardless of age. If you’re traveling on business or with family, designating one to two drivers should be enough to keep costs low on the trip.

In a recent poll comparing airlines, hotels, cruises, travel agents, and car rental companies, customers believed that rental car companies were the primary offenders in charging the most “surprise fees:”

80% of customers surveyed believed that rental car companies were the most likely to add hidden fees onto their travel charges. This was compared to 40% of customers that expected the same from a hotel or airline.

Some of the most common surprise charges from rental car companies include:

  • Airport Fee

    May lump in customer facility charges, concession recovery fees, and more.

  • State/Country Sales Tax

    Value-added tax in Europe could range up to 25%, for example.

  • International Fees

    Overseas car rental may be subject to a number of fees by country; an international driving permit may be required, estimated at $20.

  • Gasoline Refill

    Charges may spike up to $9 per gallon for returning a car with a partially full tank; unused fuel refunds are not available.

  • Frequent Flier

    Charges may be incurred for requesting frequent flyer miles for a car rental.

  • Drop-Off Fee

    When returning a car to a different location, depending on the company.

  • Licensing Fees

    Extra charge permitted by law in some states to cover the cost of licensing rental vehicles, ranging from 3%-8%.

  • Extra Day Charge

    Another full day charge may be added on after a window of 24 hours.

  • Early Return

    Charge penalties for returning a vehicle too early.

  • Extra Mileage

    Larger companies may offer unlimited mileage, while smaller companies may not; specials and discounts may be subject to mileage caps.

  • Peak Season Rentals

    Rates will automatically be higher in peak season and around holidays.

It pays to keep your eyes peeled for a number of hidden, extraneous fees
when signing your car rental contract.

Although many of the fees listed above may seem minimal, they can quickly add up to several hundred dollars by the end of your journey. You’re better off calling a car rental company directly if you have questions about any hidden charges before booking their service. You should also read your car rental contract in great detail before signing on the dotted line.

But what about rental car insurance?

This is one of the most confusing areas of service for a car renter since rental car companies push additional insurance so heavily at the checkout counter. Even worse, if you book your car through a website, considered an online travel agent, they may try to sell you Online Travel Agent (OTA) insurance. This extra insurance may be entirely unnecessary and is likely to be far more expensive than a standard rental car insurance policy.

Keep this insider tip in mind when you’re staring down the barrel of the gun at the rental car counter:

Rental car agents are encouraged to upsell insurance in order to earn promotions and bonuses.

Most car rental industry insiders agree on the fact that you are likely to already be covered by your personal auto insurance policy.

Rental car insurance policies sold by car rental companies are actually considered Collision Damage Waivers.

This waiver will protect you from any legal action if you damage a rental car, but it won’t cover you for damage that you may cause to a third-party. Your best bet is to call your car insurance agent before you belly up to the car rental counter. If you are paying with a credit card for the car rental, secondary car insurance coverage may also be available for rental cars.

Do your homework before you agree to buy car insurance from a rental car company.

  • The Collision Damage Waiver that they sell could add $9-$19 a day onto your car rental costs

  • A rental car company may also try to sell you additional Liability Coverage to meet state minimum requirements estimated at $7-$14 a day

  • Personal Accident
    Insurance Coverage
    estimated at $1-$5 a day

  • And Personal Effects Coverage estimated at
    $1-$4 a day.

After speaking with your car insurance agent, you’re likely to find that the majority of these add-on policies are completely unnecessary. Full coverage car insurance will already offer liability and personal accident insurance (personal injury protection) coverage; a homeowner’s/renter’s insurance policy may provide coverage for personal effects.

In the event that you don’t have car insurance on a personal vehicle, you will need to purchase liability coverage from a car rental company to meet state minimum requirements or purchase a non owners car insurance policy. You can also consult with your insurance agent to determine if extra car rental coverage will help if you don’t have a full coverage auto insurance policy that offers comprehensive and collision coverage.

As a bottom line, find out how much coverage you have in your current car insurance policy before even considering rental car coverage at the counter.

A quick chat with your insurance agent or credit card provider should clear up how much additional rental car coverage you actually need to avoid wasting cash.

Step 4: Book It!

By now, you probably have a long list of car rental booking tips in your arsenal to help you save your hard-earned money the next time you rent a car.

As the icing on the cake, consider these 5 must-read car rental booking tips from industry experts:

Provide your email address or phone number with
an online reservation.

This will give a rental car agent the chance to confirm your booking before
you pick up the car.

Book specialty vehicles far in advance.

To avoid a specific car getting snatched up last-minute, book specialty vehicles (like a van for a large group or a sports car) more than 2 weeks in advance.

Confirm your reservation.

To make sure that you get the vehicle that you need on the day you need it, take a moment to call up a car rental company and double-check your reservation before your trip.

Bring your coupon with you.

If you’re not using an online promo code, make sure to bring your physical coupon with you when you pay for your car rental; there’s nothing worse than losing a discount simply because you forgot your coupon.

Know your insurance coverage.

Don’t expect a car insurance agent to know what type of auto insurance your provider offers versus their rental coverage (i.e. Progressive, Allstate, or Farmers); become well-acquainted with your car insurance policy before you rent.

Car Rental Final Thoughts: Debunking Rental Car Myths
We’ve given you the inside scoop on everything you need to know to successfully and affordably rent a car. So it’s time to start renting! Right?

Not so fast… There are a few car rental myths that must be busted before you rent a vehicle:

You must be 21 to
rent a car.

This is certainly the norm in the car rental industry, but some smaller companies, like Fox Rent A Car, have made discount car rental available to drivers as young as 20. Fox charges drivers ages 20-24 a flat daily surcharge of $14, plus car rental costs.

Big-name rental car companies are more expensive.

While you may be able to score a deal with a local rental car company, many major companies try to price-match their smaller competitors. The only way to find out is by comparing rates both online and off-line to locate the cheapest deal.

You can return a rental car late.

Remember when we mentioned the 24-hour clock? If you return a rental car even a few hours late, especially in a peak time period, you may be charged for a full day of service. This time, “better late than never” does not apply.

You can’t cancel a reservation.

Au contraire! If you find a better rate or change your mind about car rental, you do have the right to cancel at the last minute. Most major car rental companies won’t charge for a cancellation, but make sure to check terms and conditions beforehand.

Upgrades are non-negotiable.

Upgrade rates are actually set by rental car salespeople, meaning that extra fees are at their discretion. Requesting that an agent come down on an upgrade may land you a better vehicle for little to no charge – it never hurts to ask!

As a parting word of wisdom, always take the time to inspect your
rental car before you sign your contract.

A car rental company is supposed to inspect each vehicle before it exits the lot.
However, it’s wise to participate in your own inspection and use your smartphone camera to document the condition of the vehicle. Taking this precaution will ensure
that you don’t get saddled with unnecessary or unfair damages.

With this complete rental car guide in your bag of tricks, you’re ready to rent a car without getting taken for a ride.

The truth is that car rental can be a pleasant experience. As a savvy consumer, it helps to know what you’re getting into in advance to avoid any nasty surprises on your bill.


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  • “Seriously? Poll finds car rental companies have the most surprise fees.”
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