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.