Smart Shopper’s Guide to Renting a Car

Featured Article, Living & Spending
on December 10, 2014
Cheap Car Rentals

Americans spend $24 billion on rental cars every year, and about $7 billion of that is spent on airport car rentals during vacation travel. It’s no wonder competition for rental cars can get stiff surrounding busy holidays. To minimize the amount of your hard-earned money that goes into the rental car industry’s coffers, it’s important to be strategic about your car reservations. Start looking for the right car as early as you can—especially if you travel in a large group.

Booking Resources

It pays to shop around before you book a rental car, because prices can vary dramatically between the many rental companies out there. But regardless of which company you end up renting from, AutoSlash is a good resource.

AutoSlash allows you to compare rental rates from several companies and book your car. The site will continue to track prices and automatically modify your reservations if it finds better deals.

However, the availability of cars on AutoSlash tends to be poor. Some rental companies have removed their cars from the site because the automatic cancellations hurt their profits. Fortunately, even if you book the car elsewhere—on a comparison site like Kayak or Expedia, for example—you can still use AutoSlash to get free price drop notifications.


Extra Fees

You may get a nice deal on your basic daily rate, but extra charges could easily double your bill. Read the fine print before you book, and watch out for the following fees.

Taxes and licensing: While taxes are not hidden fees, they’re often overlooked during the budgeting stage. Additionally, rental companies in some states can tack on their licensing expenses to your bill without having to tell you about it in advance.

Insurance: The rental car company will probably try to get you to purchase their insurance coverage, but you may already be covered if you use a credit card to pay for the rental, especially if you’re traveling domestically. Check with your bank for details on your policy and what’s covered.

Age penalty: Rental companies often charge a penalty for drivers under 25 years of age. In other countries, senior drivers may also have to pay an age penalty.

Additional driver: If your traveling companions will also be driving, you may have to pay additional driver fees. While it’s possible for you to let someone drive without letting the rental company know, doing that may void your insurance.

Air miles: You may be charged a fee to earn miles on the car rental, so calculate whether the miles are worth the cost.

Gas: There’s often a fee if you return the car with an empty tank or even with a half tank. This fee is usually more expensive than what you would pay if you were to visit a gas station and fill up the tank yourself right before returning the car.

Mileage: The typical rental company’s policy is to allow unlimited mileage as long as you remain within the borders of the state or the country. Still, watch out for mileage fees in the fine print. It’s possible that you may have to accept mileage limits in order to enjoy lower daily rates, for example.

Locations: If you’ll be picking the rental car up at an airport, don’t forget to check if you’ll have to pay any airport surcharge. Regardless of the pick-up location, it’s usually cheapest for you to drop off the car at the same location. Otherwise, you may be charged an extra fee based on the distance between the pick-up location and the drop-off location.

Late return: Returning the car late gives the rental company another excuse to charge you extra fees. On top of the rental rates for the additional day(s), you may also be charged late fees. Even if you return the car only a couple of hours late, you may still be charged an extra day if the rental car company uses a 24-hour/day system.

Early return: If you think a late return is bad, an early return can be even worse. You may be refunded for the unused rental time, but not before you’re charged an early return fee. And if you previously enjoyed a discounted weekly rate, you may now have to pay a higher rental rate. Read the fine print and make some calculations before you drop the car off early.

At the end of the day, extra fees aren’t necessarily always a bad thing. It can be nice to have the convenience of simply renting some items—such as a GPS system or a child seat—instead of having to bring them yourself. Just check these fees in advance so you can budget accordingly.

Interested in more ways to save money and travel cheaply? Visit and follow along as Deia B offers regular advice and resources for ways to do just that.

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