Travel Tips -- Renting a Car

In a nutshell  (Dec.97)

Renting a car is not easy, even the experts get stung. There are too many cases when you arrive at your destination and the car rental agent is unable or unwilling to give you the car for the price and terms you thought you had arranged. Here are some hints.

1. Use a nationwide well known company.
    Easier to resolve disputes after you return home.

2. Reserve in advance, preferably at least a week before your trip.
    Otherwise you may find only expensive cars.

3. Learn the rules and policies before renting.
    Some companies demand you buy insurance.

4. Decide on insurance coverage
    Usually you don't need coverages sold by the rental company but...

5. Confirm the price for the entire rental.
    In case weekdays cost more than weekends. Bring written confirmation.

6. Allow for late airplane arrival.
    Your car reservation might get cancelled.

7. Use a credit card with collision coverage, if possible.
    Then you can skip the expensive collision waiver.

8. Don't buy an entire tankful of gas.
    Cheaper to refill the tank yourself.

9. Inspect the car before leaving the rental lot.
    Familiarize yourself with controls, verify scratches and dents.

10. Fill up the gas tank the night before you return the car.
    Less last minute hassle, also top it off just before return.

11. Allow time to get back to the airport and return the car.
    Some rental lots are far from the airport.

12. Check it in, check it in.
    Make sure your responsibility is finished and you have the final bill.

13. Got a parking ticket? Ask for proof.

Updated 6/3/04

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Gas  (Sept. 1997)
Most rental companies offer you three choices:

(1)  Refill the tank just before returning the car (best),

(2)  Buy an entire tankful and return the car unfilled,

(3)  Don't pay for gas first and return the car unfilled anyway.

Of these choices, (1) is the cheapest. Check the wording, that may be confusing and you might accidentally select (2).

About (2):  When you pay for a tankfull of gas, there is no refund for gas left behind when you return the car. It is almost impossible to return a car absolutely empty, and it is a big hassle and worry about running out of gas if you try. That is, you enjoy the convenience of not having to fill the tank only when you come back with lots of gas to spare. So the effective price per gallon you used is much higher than the price they quote. Normally they sell you the tankful up front for the same price or a few cents less per gallon than the nearby gas station does.

About (3):  When you don't buy the tankful and return the car unfilled anyway, they charge you to refill the tank at a price much higher (typically double) than the local gas station. It's convenient but costly to use this choice.

We actually suggest that you fill up somewhat in advance of returning the car, and top it off just before returning it (if you did not buy the tankful up front). Then, if a last minute errand leaves you not enough time to fill up at return time, you are forced into choice (3) but only charged for a few gallons at double price. Also you might find a cheaper gas station some distance from the rental station.

Keep in mind that on most cars, the gas gauge reads above the "F" mark when the tank is filled. If, when you take out the rental car, the gas gauge moves as you drive, or is not above the "F" after driving a block or through a few parking lot aisles, you cannot be sure it is full.

Name Brand Rentals  (Sept. 1997)
Unfortunately, small local car rental companies are more likely to leave you with problems.

Such As -----

--- Car not available; sold out.

--- Shortchanging you on gas.

--- Car itself not in good condition. I once found the front license plate missing only after I had driven awhile.

--- Simply dishonoring your reservation, but maybe offering you a car for a higher price.

Nationwide car rental firms are more likely to upgrade you if the car you ordered is not available.

You can take care of problems involving a nationwide car rental firm after you get back home if they also have rental stations in your state. Whereas dealing with a local firm has to be done in the state it is in. Still you should do as much as you can, including speaking to the manager, before you leave.

Pick up time should allow for delayed flight (Dec. 97)

If you don't pick up your car on time, your reservation might be cancelled. I have had no problem telling the rental company I will pick up the car a few hours after my plane should arrive and then come early. Some rental companies will take down your flight number and then if the plane is delayed, they will hold the car. You should ask. Rental car pickup may make it difficult for you to volunteer to be bumped, if you like to do that.

 Reserve in advance  (Sept. 97)
Always reserve in advance, otherwise you may only find very expensive cars. We have observed people going up to the rental counter at the airport and heard the rental agent begin the conversation with "we only have full size cars left".

Learn the policies and rules (Sept. 99)

Some companies require you to buy their collision insurance if you don't have collision coverage on your own car back at home. This part of their rules can be complicated, for example apply to non-US citizens or persons under 25 or persons over 69.

Some companies, although they say that insurance coverages are optional, reserve the right not to rent to you if you decline their coverages. This is the same thing as saying the coverages are mandatory for some customers, or for some peak travel dates when cars are in demand.

Some companies do not allow you to drive the car on unpaved roads, including for example a popular dirt road up to a volcano scenic point on the Big Island and also on Maui (both in Hawaii).

Most of the companies listed in (one on line reservations agent) have their rules and policies available on line when you make your reservation. You should print it.

(1/00) Caution -- When viewing the policies, especially on, verify that the title matches the company. There is a bug that sometimes brings up some other company's policy page.

Sometimes you are advised to contact the office of the location where you will be renting. This may be enough hassle for you to select a different company.

Confirm the price of the entire rental  (Dec. 97)

Most car rental companies have different weekday and weekend rates, but sometimes quote you only the rate for the first day of your rental. On line Internet reservations often do this too. Be sure to inspect the web page carefully on on-line reservations, and if necessary, call the rental company and confirm the rates for all of the days.

Allow time to return to airport (Dec. 97)

ABC News has noticed that car rental lots are being moved further and further away from airports, forcing you to ride a shuttle bus. If time is short when returning home I go directly to the car return lot. I do not go to the airport terminal first because that makes it take longer to go return the car. However the others in the party may immediately jump in the first shuttle from the rental lot and I'll take the next shuttle after I check the car back in.

Click here for ABC News's story (subject to availability)

Check it in. In person

At the end of your rental it is much better to check the car in when the office is open and an agent is there. You need a statement showing the dates of the rental, the miles driven, and the amount to be charged to your credit card.

There have been stories of customers being charged for extra days because the car was not checked in properly.

Got a parking violation while renting?

Actually the rental company gets the violation notice and sends you a notice about it and/or charges your credit card an additional amount.

You should write to the rental company, asking for proof of the violation in the form of a copy of the actual violation notice, if you did not already receive that. The notice should have the time, date, and location of the violation.

The location of the violation is important. If you were in that location, it is entirely possible you committed the violation but the rental company put the wrong date on their notice to you. If you were never in that location you have every right to dispute the added charge.

Don't contact the city that issued the violation just because the rental company told you to. Contact the rental agency first. Wait until you are reasonably sure you committed the violation.

Something to beware of: Some hotel, restaurant, theater, or stadium valets in big cities take your car and tip and park the car right out in the street where it might get a ticket. The valet might even go somewhere using the car. When you are done dining or watching the show, the valet throws away the ticket and brings your car back. You are responsible in this situation.

They didn't honor my reservation

There have been isolated incidents of this, particularly during peak travel dates.

We don't have evidence whether the refusal to honor the reservation had to do with the customer's not meeting the rental company's policies and requirements such as having proof of insurance, although some accounts mention that the company offered to rent a car at a higher price.

If you reserved through a travel agency (including on-line reservation services other than the rental company itself) it is not easy to prove that the rental company has the reservation. You can try to see if the reservation can be viewedon the company's own web site.

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