What you should know before renting a car

car rentals

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You and the Law

If renting a car is part of your vacation or business travel plans, doing research ahead of time can save you money and headaches. Start by comparing prices online to see what is available in your price range.

The vehicle’s size, your driving record, where you pick up and return the vehicle, and the insurance coverage options you choose can affect the rental price.

“Compact,” “mid-size” and “luxury” can mean different things at various car rental companies. Look at the car models or passenger seating capacity of the vehicles in each category to get a better idea of the size.

You may be disqualified from renting a car if you have a recent traffic violation, such as reckless driving, seat belt violations, wrecks, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence convictions, or driving with an invalid, suspended or revoked license. To know if your driving record might disqualify you, ask the company if it checks driving records.
The rental company may offer to sell you insurance to cover you while driving its car. If you have auto insurance on your personal car, check with your insurer to see if that policy covers your rental. When traveling for business, your employer’s insurance may cover the rental car. Also, some credit card companies provide coverage when you use their card to pay for the car rental.

A collision damage waiver is an agreement with the rental company in which you pay a fee up front and, in return, the company agrees to not hold you responsible for any damage to the rental car when you return it. Before you purchase insurance coverage or a collision damage waiver, be sure you understand the details and any exceptions that might apply.

Other factors that will affect the price of the car rental include:

  • State and local taxes on the rental price.
  • Fees for early or late returns. Contact the rental company before you return the car early or if you are running late to find out your options to avoid additional fees.
  • Airport surcharges. Picking up the car at an airport, rather than at a rental center elsewhere, may cost more.
  • Fuel charges. Return the car with a full tank of gas to avoid paying the rental company to fill the tank, usually at prices higher than a local gas station.
  • Out-of-state charges. If you plan to drive the car to another state, check to see if the rental contract permits that and if there is an added charge.
  • Equipment rental. Navigation systems, car seats and ski racks cost extra.
  • Additional drivers. There may be a charge to add an additional driver.
  • Drop-off fees. Ask about the fees to drop off the car at a location other than where you picked it up. These can be steep.
  • Tolls. The rental company may offer a way to automatically pay any tolls along the route you are traveling. This is a convenience, but the cost varies among different rental companies.

To avoid unpleasant surprises on your bill, know all the fees and conditions that are part of the total rental contract.

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