How to Rent a Car

The process of renting a car is sometimes expensive, time-consuming and full of hidden fees and surprising requirements. Shopping for the best price and ensuring you understand the rules and regulations before and after you use the car will help. Rent a car by making a reservation, ensuring you have all the required documentation and returning it in the same condition that you rented it.

  1. Reserving a Rental Car

Compare prices online. You should check travel websites such as Kayak, Hotwire, Expedia and Priceline as well as agency websites like Hertz, Avis, Enterprise and Alamo. Compare their rates for their most basic, economy-size cars. Find the best deal for your location and the period of time in which you’ll need a rental.

  • In the majority of situations, you’re best off sticking with one of these agencies, as they are the most widely used and reputable: Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National.
  • Before you decide on an agency, look into and/or ask about their additional fees. These fees can change what agency provides the best deal all things considered. Some common fees include:
    • Underage-driver fees: Additional charge for a driver under 25.
    • Airport surcharges: Additional charge for picking up a rental at the airport.
    • Mileage fees: Additional charges for going over a certain miles per day cap.
    • Additional driver fees: Additional charges for having more than one person drive the rental.

Consider the size you will need. You can rent a car in any size, from compact to SUV.

  • Keep in mind that the definitions of terms like “compact” and “luxury-sized” can vary. Most agency websites will include examples of models or how many passengers can fit in each car size.

Consider booking a flight and a car together. If you plan on renting a car after landing from a flight, it’s worth looking into booking your flight and rental car together. This can often save you money, as better deals and rates will be offered. You can book a flight and a rental car together either with travel websites or with airline websites.

Add features that you will need with your rental car. These might include a GPS system or car seats for the kids. These additions can be factored in while you’re going through the online rental process. Different car models will have different options, so keep that in mind as you choose a car size and model

  • In most cases, you’ll be much better off financially by providing these kind of extras yourself, instead of renting them. Avoid extra features unless you absolutely need them and can’t provide them yourself.

Include the cost of insurance, if you are going to need it. Many personal auto policies and credit card companies include coverage for rental cars, but you also have the option to buy additional coverage. These offers will most often be made at the time of rental. Look for an option to view policies on the rental website you choose to use. Before you make any rental decision call your insurance company to learn about their car rental policy. Most personal auto insurance policies extend whatever coverage you have for your main vehicle to any rental.

  • Expect to pay for insurance and other upgrades on a daily basis. For example, collision insurance might cost you $9 per day of your rental.
  • For example, if you’re using, you’ll see an option in the top right corner to “view policies”. There you can view their policies for things such as “Personal Accident Insurance” and “Roadside Protection”.

Prepay for your rental car or simply make the reservation and pay when you pick up the car. Most rental car companies will hold your reservation without any form of payment, while others will require a credit card number.

Make your reservation by phone if you do not want to use an online system.You can call the company you plan to use and reserve a pickup time, date and location with a customer service agent.

2. Picking up the Rental Car

Go to the location where you have reserved your rental car. If you are renting a car after flying into an airport, follow the signs to rental cars. Often times, the agency’s policy will include a large surcharge for picking up at the airport, so consider taking a shuttle to your hotel or the downtown area instead, and picking up a different location.

  • Find out if the rental car company will pick you up. Call and ask about this service. Local car rentals can sometimes be arranged so that a customer service representative will pick you up at home or work and drive you to the rental car company to get your car.

Review your rental contract. Make sure all of the information is correct, and the price you were quoted when you reserved is reflected in the contract.

  • Discuss any questions with the customer service agent.

Pay for the rental. If you didn’t pay online, you’ll be required to pay when you arrive at the pick-up location, before you leave with the rental. Provide the reservation number as well as your driver’s license and credit card.

  • It’s often recommend to pay with a credit card when possible. Credit card companies will often cover some of your insurance, which makes using a credit card in this instance a smart option for many.
  • Different car rental companies have various policies on whether debit cards can be used. It’s worth calling the rental place beforehand to ask about their policy when it comes to debit cards.
    • Some require a credit card and will not accept debit cards.
    • Others will allow you to pay at the end with a debit card, but require a credit card in order to rent the car.
    • Some will allow you use a debit card only if you’re dropping the car off where you picked it up.
    • Some require a pre-authorization charge that puts some of your funds on hold until you drop off the car.

Check the car carefully before you leave the car lot. You want to make sure any scratches, dents or problems are documented so you are not held liable for these when you return the car. Be thorough here. You want to look for problems both big and small. Make sure the windows work properly. Make sure there’s no loose parts, dysfunctional lights, leaks, or anything that could be considered damage. If there is, record and take a picture or video of it.

Leave with the rental. Collect the keys and a copy of your contract and drive the car off the rental lot.

Check the policy before crossing state or national boundaries. Be sure to tell the rental company if you’re crossing a country border in the rental. You’ll need special insurances that can be purchased. Depending on the agency, there may be additional fees for crossing state lines as well.

3. Returning the Rental Car

Fill the car with gas. Some rental car contracts give you the option of returning the car without a full tank of gas, but you will be charged extra. Try to find a gas station a few miles from the drop off location. But be aware that the gas stations that are closest to the rental location will likely have the highest prices.

  • Many agencies will offer to allow you to pay for the final fill-up upfront, but this is often a bad deal, money-wise, despite the convenience.

Clean out the inside of the car. Do not leave any trash behind for the agency to clean out, or you will be charged. Make sure you check both the front and back seats thoroughly and remove all of your possessions before you leave the car.

  • Check under all the seats for any items that might have rolled under there.

Bring the car back to the rental agency at the agreed upon date and time. Do not be late; some agencies will charge you for another full day if you bring the car back even 30 minutes later than you said you would. Check with the agency beforehand to find out their exact policy on late returns.

  • Also be aware that some agencies will even charge a fee for returning the car too early. Once again, it’s best to ask for their policy regarding this sometime before the time comes to return the car.

Hand over the keys and wait for your receipt. If you want to pay with a different card or with cash, make sure they take the charge off the card you initially used.


What Should You Know About Renting a Car?

There are different methods for renting a car in Ontario. You can use car share services to rent temporarily, by the hour or car rental companies for days or weeks.
You can find out how to rent a car through car share services, in the What is car sharing? article.
For most car rental companies, you need to meet some requirements before you can rent a car. These requirements will vary depending on the company, but there are some general guidelines.

What are the requirements?

Valid Driver’s Licence – You need to have a valid class “G” driver’s licence to rent a car in Ontario. It must be valid for the entire duration of the rental period. If you only have a learner’s permit (a G1 or G2 licence), you will not be able to rent a car. If you have a driver’s licence from another country, you may still be able to rent a car.

Minimum Age – Most rental companies across Canada have a minimum driving age in order to rent a vehicle. In Ontario, the most common minimum age is between 20 to 23 years old. According to most major rental companies, there is usually an additional surcharge if you are below the age of 25 and there may be restrictions on renting luxury cars, minivans, or SUVs. The surcharge will depend on company policies and the type of rental car.

Good Driving Record – Maintaining a good driving record is important if you want to rent a car. Rental companies have different ways of screening for acceptable driving records.

Authorized Operators – Major rental companies mostly authorize a single driver to operate the vehicle. The driver is not required to be present in order to rent. Additional authorized operators can be added to the rental agreement with an extra fee per day.

Insurance – By law, the car you drive has to be insured. Most rental companies will offer you a liability waiver in case of damage during an accident, with an additional charge. If you have car insurance, you may already have coverage for damage to a vehicle you do not own. Some credit cards also provide insurance if you pay for the rental with the card. Be sure to check with your own car insurance and credit card policies before paying for coverage from a rental company.

Credit Card – Most rental companies require you to pay for their rental services by credit card, in case any damages occur during the rental period. They can also put ”holds” on your credit card for a certain amount of money while you rent the car. Debit cards and payment by cash are generally not accepted to rent, but some companies may allow you to use it as payment when returning the vehicle.
It is a good idea to talk to different rental companies about their requirements, insurance coverage policies, additional fees, vehicle options and contract details before you decide to go forward. To find a car rental company in your area, you can search online.

For More Information

  • Protect Yourself When Renting an Automobile – A detailed list of what to keep in mind when renting a car. From the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO).
  • Understanding Automobile Insurance – A guide to help you understand your automobile insurance policy, including all the components of your coverage. From Settlement.Org.


The Process of Renting a Car

Make a Reservation
Many major rental car agencies gladly accept walk-up customers, but companies sometimes rent out their entire inventory and are left unable to service new customers. To ensure that a vehicle is available to rent, place a reservation for the rental using the company’s website as far ahead of time as possible. As an added bonus, customers with reservations are usually charged a lower rate than walk-up customers.

Present Payment and License to Rental Agency
Upon arriving at the car rental location, the agent behind the desk will verify the reservation and request two items: a valid driver’s license and a major credit card. The driver’s license is used to validate the renter’s identification, license status, age, and address (in case the car is not returned), and the credit card is generally charged a “hold” in the amount of the rental (rental companies use this hold to ensure they will be paid when the car is returned).

Review the Rental Agreement
Rental agreements vary from company to company, and should be carefully reviewed before taking the keys to the rental car. Verify how many miles are allowed per day — many, but not all, companies offer unlimited mileage allowance — and other nuances, such as when the car must be returned, any grace periods, and additional fees that may be incurred.

Review the Damage Insurance
A part of the contract that requires special attention is the loss and damage insurance. Most companies offer special insurance at the time of rental that pays for repair of any damage, though this coverage often comes at a hefty charge. In many cases, the credit card used to reserve and rent the vehicle offers similar coverages as a free benefit. Before accepting or declining the car rental agency’s insurance, be certain to become familiar with the free benefits offered by the credit card cardholder agreement. You should also check with your own car insurance company, as many policies afford you the same protection on a rental car as you have on your own car.

Accept the Keys
With the contract signed, the car rental agent will offer keys to the rental car. Many companies simply assign a vehicle at random based on the class of car reserved, though some companies allow their customers to select a car from a designated portion of the lot. Before you drive off the lot, quickly review the car, both inside and out. If the gas tank isn’t full, if you see some body damage, if something isn’t working properly, be sure to inform the rental agent. Otherwise, you might be held responsible for those problems once you return the car. If everything’s in order, off you go.

Return the Car
When the car rental period is complete, simply return the vehicle to the designated area. Depending on the company, an attendant may be present in the lot, or the keys may be returned to a designated drop box inside the rental office. Most car companies require that the car be returned with a full tank of gas, unless you pre-paid for the gas as part of your agreement.