Summer is a time for weekend road trips, extended vacations and a sense of adventure.
Have you ever thought about renting a vehicle, instead of putting miles on your own, for your summer travel plans? Now is the peak time for car rentals, starting in April and continuing through September.
If your own car isn’t up to a long road trip, or you lease your car and need to save on miles driven, you may want to consider using a rental car. Maybe your current vehicle isn’t big enough to carry extended family and gear for a summer camping trip, or you want to try out a fun summer sports car.
If you’re under age 25 and live in Michigan or New York, you’re in luck — state laws require agencies to rent to drivers age 18 and up.
However, you can expect to pay extra fees and be restricted in the type of cars that can be rented, especially if you’re aged 18 to 21. Even drivers aged 21 to 24 often have to pay a daily surcharge and some luxury vehicles and SUVs may be off limits.
If you haven’t had a lot of experience in renting cars, do some research first before standing at the rental car counter. Even if you’re making your plans online, you’ll need to know what kind of vehicle to want to rent, whether you need to add additional car insurance and if you’re going to pre-pay your gas tank refill. Those are the questions you’ll be asked when you pick up your car.
Here are some other things to think about before renting a car:
Look beyond the airport
Because so many people flying into a particular destination are also looking to rent a car, you may have longer waits and higher rates. Check review sites like Yelp and Google about particular pick-up sites. If you’re traveling during the holidays or your trip is for a wedding or another time-sensitive event, call and ask what steps are needed to guarantee that you you’ll have a car waiting for you.
Know what your insurance
One of the first questions you will be asked is whether or not you want to buy insurance. The key is to know what your own auto insurance policies cover, then consider your options carefully.
“Our customers who have comprehensive and collision policies — those policies will extend to the temporary use of a rental car,” said Linda Hathaway of Brad Hoffman Insurance in Fenton. “However, the rental car company might come back at you for ‘diminished value’ or ‘loss of use’ fees if you have an accident that pulls that car of the rental fleet for repair.”
The important thing to know is that you want to make these insurance decisions before you’re standing at the counter, under pressure to buy an expensive policy.
“If you rent cars frequently, you can buy an endorsement to add to your own policy,” said Hathaway. “That will be much cheaper than insurance by the day. But if you only rent a car once a year on vacation, it will be cheaper just to buy their insurance.” But contact the rental company in advance for a better deal than standing at the counter, advises AARP.
Use an app for
the best price
New apps are designed to find drivers the best prices, while providing companies with more accurate predictions for having the right number of cars. Autoslash, for example, checks your reservation against new rates, coupons and discounts several times a day. When a better rate pops up, Autoslash cancels the existing reservation and books a new one.
Watch out for “upsells”
A rental agent might try to get you into a more expensive, larger vehicle by claiming the company doesn’t have any more of the size and type you reserved. Hold out for the price and size you asked for, and make the compromise be on their end, not yours.
Don’t go for the pre-paid fuel purchase option
You’ll almost always pay at least slightly more for gas if you prepay it, but there are some times it makes sense to decide on this option at the counter.
If you know you’re going to be pressed for time before a flight, or you’re worried about security, you can opt to pre-pay. Check where your return-car location is compared to nearby gas stations, and that can help guide your decision.