Car Rental Basic 101

carrental

Renting a car can enhance the flexibility of any trip, be it business or leisure. This information explains the process of renting a car and provides some car rental tips and advice.

THE COST OF RENTING A CAR

Car rental companies generally charge four types of basic rates: a daily rate with a mileage charge; a daily rate with a limited number of free miles per day; a daily rate with unlimited mileage; and a rate that has free mileage over an extended period. Rates vary according to the size and style of vehicle but most companies rent economy, compact, intermediate and premium cars. Special promotional rates are often available, especially over weekends, but these should be specifically requested in advance.

Other charges may also be added to the rental price, including:

Car Rental Taxes
In addition to the daily rental rate and the charges mentioned above, taxes (which vary by state) are also charged. For international car rentals, taxes often add up to 10 to 30 percent in addition to the rate quoted. International rentals are also subject to a possible Value Added Tax (VAT). At a few airport rental locations, some car rental firms may also charge an “airport surcharge” fee of about 10% of the rental rate in addition to normal taxes.

Be sure to read the rental agreement carefully to see what the rental rate covers, possible restrictions, and the liability for the renter. If a car rental firm is offering a low rate, make sure that the agreement’s restrictions do not outweigh the cost savings.

Car Rental Drop-off Charges
An extra fee is usually charged if a car is returned to a different city or location than where it was picked up. Be sure to advise the agent when making your reservation if you wish to drop off the car at a different location. The drop-off charge may already be included in the car rental rate.

Gasoline
Familiarize yourself with the car rental company’s policy on gasoline when you check in. Some companies charge you a flat rate for gas upon renting the car and expect you to return with the gas tank empty. Most, however, will assess a charge based on the firm’s gas rates for filling the gas tank when the car is returned, if it is not already full. Since gas prices are usually less expensive at gas stations, it is advisable to fill the tank before returning the car if you are expected to return it with a full tank of gas.

CAR RENTAL INSURANCE OPTIONS
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)
If a rental car is damaged, the renter may be responsible for the first several hundred dollars of damage (the deductible) up to the full price of the car. By purchasing CDW (also known as Loss Damage Waiver or LDW), the renter is released from responsibility of any loss or damage to a vehicle up to the full value of the car. However, if the renter is in violation of the rental agreement, the waiver is void. Your personal auto insurance may already provide coverage for damage to rental cars and the purchase of CDW or LDW may not be necessary. Regulations for selling CDW/LDW vary from state to state.

CDW/LDW is usually an optional feature, however, a few companies require renters to purchase this waiver. Determine whether or not you need CDW/LDW before you arrive at the rental counter (check your own automobile insurance policy) and consider how much this CDW/LDW may increase the daily rental rate (CDW/LDW costs range from $8 – $12 per day). In some cases, you may find a special rate for a larger car which already includes CDW/LDW. In the long run, the larger car may be less expensive than the economy car with additional CDW/LDW costs.

Also, some credit card companies offer CDW/LDW insurance as a card holder benefit. Be sure to read the fine print on these agreements (as well as on car rental agreements!) Usually the protection afforded by credit card companies could be supplemental to your own insurance. Therefore, if you get in an accident, your own insurance will cover the repair costs up to its maximum and then the credit card company will cover the difference. As a result, your own car insurance rates may be affected.

Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
Personal Accident Insurance provides accidental death and medical coverage for the renter and additional passengers during the time they are riding or driving with you. Check your personal car insurance policy to see if it covers car rentals. If your policy covers car rentals, you may not need PAI. This insurance is usually optional.

Personal Effects Coverage (PEC)
This coverage provides protection against loss or theft of personal belongings from the rental car. Once again, check your own auto insurance policy to determine whether your coverage includes rental cars.

Additional Liability Insurance (ALI)
ALI is an optional insurance that protects the renter and other authorized operators against claims made by third parties for bodily injury/death and property damage caused by the use or operation of the rental vehicle. Check with your own auto insurance policy to determine whether additional excess coverage is already provided.


CAR RENTAL DOCUMENTS AND REQUIREMENTS

All car rental companies require a valid drivers license. Some car rental companies check the driver’s history and will deny a car to a customer with a poor driving record. In some foreign countries, an international drivers license may be required.

In addition, many car rental companies require a major credit card to guarantee payment even if there is a prepaid voucher or direct billing to the client or corporation. If a credit card is being used for payment, be aware of your credit card limit; many car rental companies require immediate credit approval before renting the car which can substantially reduce your remaining balance of credit.

Alternatives to Credit Card Payment
If you do not have a credit card, most car rental locations will accept their own pre-paid vouchers issued by an appointed travel agent. Some car rental companies require that you fill out a cash qualification questionnaire at the rental location during normal business hours so that it may be verified.

Most companies will require a large cash deposit or a cash advance that can even exceed the estimated charges of the rental if a credit card is not presented for payment. They may also require the renter to be over a certain age. The final acceptance of a non-credit card rental, however, is the decision of each individual rental location.

Driver’s Age
Usually, car rental companies require renters to be at least 18 years old, but some firms now require a minimum age of 25 years. For consumers under 25, a credit card is usually required for payment and the rental rate may be slightly higher.

Similarly, senior citizens over a certain age may not be allowed to rent cars in some cities. Verify the age restrictions when making your reservation.

Number of Drivers
Although policies vary, many car rental firms allow an immediate relative who is of age to drive the rental car. Some firms also permit a direct business associate to drive. Read the rental contract carefully; it will specify who can drive the car. Signatures of all drivers and their drivers licenses may be required by the rental firm. There may be a charge for any additional drivers added to the rental agreement.

CAR RENTAL CONFIRMATIONS

Travelers should always receive a voucher or confirmation from their travel agent before departing. This document should have a confirmation number, the car rental company name, type of car requested, flight information and date. If the car rental firm is located outside the airport, a telephone number for the courtesy car pick-up should be provided.

Confirmations also often help the car rental firms locate customers who have not picked up their reserved car. As a result of industry automation, the car rental firm can sometimes inquire to see if a renter’s flight is delayed. Usually, a car rental firm will hold a reserved car for several hours before cancelling.

If you are considering two different flights, be sure to advise the car rental firm. Also, the company should be notified of any cancellations so that they can rent that car to another customer.

PICKING UP YOUR RENTAL CAR

Upon arriving at the car rental counter, present your confirmation number, voucher and credit card, if necessary. The customer service agent will then complete the process and direct you to where you can pick up your car. READ YOUR CAR RENTAL AGREEMENT before you sign it to familiarize yourself with your liability and to ensure that you know exactly what you will be paying for when you return the car.

Before leaving the rental lot, inspect the car for the correct mileage information and any visible damage to the car. If damaged, a notation should be made on the contract before leaving.

Take a few minutes to become familiar with the car. Adjust your seat and mirrors. Locate the controls for the turn signals, windshield wipers, lights (high and low beams) and cruise control (if applicable). Notice the placement of the horn and control panel for defroster, air conditioning, etc.

RETURNING THE RENTAL CAR

Rates are usually based on a 24-hour period, with a one-hour grace period allowed to return the car. If you keep the car for more than four hours after it was due back at the rental company, it is usually worth extending the contract for another day since overtime charges average $12 to $15 per hour. Hourly car rental rates are usually higher.

Some rates, like weekend specials, are only available during certain time periods. Keeping the car beyond that time may change the rate you pay for the entire transaction.

OTHER USEFUL CAR RENTAL INFORMATION

  • The renter of any car is liable for all parking and traffic violations both domestically and internationally.
  • Most contracts and insurance policies are void if you have an accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Be sure to lock the car and trunk and do not leave valuables in the car.
  • Seat belts should be worn at all times – it’s the law in most states.
  • Most states require car seats for children under four years old. Advance notice is usually required to reserve a car seat and a small fee may be charged for the rental of these seats.
  • Many car rental firms have cars or vans that are accessible for customers with physical disabilities. Be sure to make arrangements in advance to ensure that an accessible vehicle is available.
  • Most major car rental companies offer free local maps. Plan your route before leaving the car rental lot to minimize the need to ask for directions.
  • Read your rental agreement carefully and ask questions of your travel agent and the car rental agent if you are unsure about anything. The policies discussed in this brochure may vary among companies and locations.

Returning Vehicle

2016 Nissan Sentra

Be wary of prepaid gasoline plans unless you pre-pay at rental time (because you will use at least one full tank). Always fill the tank yourself before returning the vehicle so that you’re only paying for the amount of gas you actually used. Try to avoid the gas stations right near the airport where you’re dropping off your car — the prices tend to be highest there. Instead, fill up a few miles away. Even better: Check GasBuddy.com before you return to find out where the cheapest gas stations are in your area.

Returning the car late could cost you. Many car rental companies only give you a 30-minute grace period before beginning to rack up the late fees and extra days.

Before leaving the vehicle, check to be sure you haven’t left any personal belongings. Don’t forget to check the trunk! The most common lost articles include cell phones, sunglasses and umbrellas.

Be sure that the check-in attendant inspects the car’s body in your presence and that you agree about any damage. Examine your rental agreement receipt carefully for all charges and make sure the agent credits any deposit to your account while you wait.

Rental Pickup

2016-sentra-blue

If your first drive will be from an airport to a hotel for the night, why not take a shuttle van to the hotel instead? Doing this may save you the price of a day’s rental. Even if you must drive the same day your flight lands, you may not have to get the car at the airport. By picking it up downtown, you can often avoid hefty airport surcharges, taxes and concession fees all while getting a much better rental experience.

If you have personal auto insurance or charge the rental to a major credit card, you will probably be covered at least for collision damage (in some form to be determined) — so you shouldn’t have to purchase the car rental company’s collision or loss damage waiver (CDW or LDW) insurance. It’s always a good habit to ask your insurance agent or credit card issuer for deductible and coverage details.

Before you drive away from the pickup station, inspect the car carefully for body damage. Check for scratches, dings or tears. If the car rental agent is circling your car with a pad making notes of scratches and blemishes, make sure you are on the same page. Don’t be afraid to take pictures with your camera or smartphone should you feel the need to. Be sure the lights and turn signals are working properly, and check the mileage odometer as well as the gas gauge. Report any defects at once during the checkout process.

Familiarize yourself with the workings of the car before you leave the lot and ask questions. Check which side your gas tank is on, and learn how to use the headlights, windshield wipers and turn signal. It may seem obvious, but you’ll also want to memorize the make, model and color of your car — that way you won’t lose it the first time you park in a crowded lot!

Booking Your Car

2016-maxima-interior-3

You’ll find major international car rental agencies all over the world — think Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty. But depending on where you’re traveling, locally owned companies (like us) could offer lower rates; before booking, read reviews to be sure their companies are up to the standards of the majors.

Always shop around. Check the major booking engines and aggregator sites (such as Expedia, Priceline and Kayak) to get an idea of what rates are available, but you should also visit the car rental companies’ websites as well — they often offer exclusive discounts. Call the local office, speak to the agent in person and submit all your questions. Transparency is key!

To lower your rate, ask about discounts for any major national organizations, frequent flier programs and credit card programs to which you may belong. They’ll frequently offer deals on car rentals. (Those offered through AAA can be very good as well as Costco & AARP.) If you’re employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.

Before you book online, do an Internet search for coupon or promotion codes to put into the booking engine of your car rental company’s site. Just type the name of the company followed by “coupon code” into the search field and you’ll often find special promotion codes that could save you anywhere from 5 to 20 percent off the cost of your rental.

If you haven’t already, consider joining your car rental company’s loyalty program when you book. These vary by company, but most of them are free and entitle you to certain privileges when picking up your vehicle; your information will be on file ahead of time, allowing you to jump into the car and go rather than standing in a long line or filling out paperwork. You could also be eligible for special discounts or free upgrades.