By Steve Sherlock
Woohoo it’s vacation time! Hotel, vacation rental and flight reservations are sorted, yet the thought of the rental car hire still hangs in the air. Avoid some rental car pitfalls by following these ten tips.
1. Bring Your Own GPS
If you know directions are going to be needed while on vacation, save yourself the costs, and bring your own mobile phone GPS for the trip. These can be quite expensive when rented along with the car, so connecting your USB cable to the rental car will allow you to use your mobile phone over the car speakers as your preferred (and free) navigation tool.
2. Bring Your Own Child Seat
Same budget thinking goes with the child safety seats. Major rental car companies would love to charge a hefty fee to use their own child seats. Instead, BYO, given many airlines are pretty flexible and will allow you your seat to be checked for free or a small fee.
3. Book in Advance
By booking a rental car well in advance you will generally help you save significantly compared to last minute rates or at the counter rates (similar to airlines seats being cheaper when booked ahead of time). Invest time comparison shopping online, there are a number of sites that make it quite easy to see a side by side comparison of all the available rates and various car classes all on the one page.
4. Stick to the Airport
More off-site car rental services are appearing, and even though sometimes it’s cheaper off airport given some airports charge an additional fee, more often than not, they are more trouble than they are worth. Save your time and energy by choosing a rental that is located on the airport premises, it will make the whole process much smoother and well worth it in the long run.
5. Choose Your Own Vehicle
Another sneaky way car rental companies try to get a bit more money out of you is by always offering a more expensive car than you will need. Always go with the lowest car class, they will always be far less expensive and still get the job done.
6. Buy Car Rental Damage Insurance Ahead of Time
You know that sinking feeling, when it comes to picking up the car rental, is having to contemplate with the car rental insurance sales pitch at the rental counter. You start off not wanting the extra expense, but then they make you feel anxious with their dooms-day prediction, if you don’t take the insurance. Be prepared ahead of time, by purchasing car rental damage insurance online before you pick up the car, and thereby avoid the outrageous prices at-the-rental-counter. Over the counter rental car insurance can vary between $20 to $40 a day.
Buying it online from an insurance company will give you better coverage at a fraction of the cost, compared to at the counter.
7. Understand Mileage and Payment Policies
This is where reading the fine print during the reservation process can be useful. Before leaving on holiday check if the rental includes unlimited miles or if there is a daily limit. A rental with a daily limit, on a long trip, can end up doubling your rental costs, so beware. Also pay particular attention to things payment restrictions. Some rental sites allow you to pre-pay the rental at a discount or pay a higher fee if paying at the rental counter. If you are sure you will travel, then pre-paying could save you a lot and speed up the pickup process at the airport.
8. Know the Fuel Policy
Same thing goes with gas. Most airport based rental companies will give you a car with a full tank and then give you the option to return the car near empty for a fee or return it full for no extra cost. Be careful here, given the price to return the car empty can be a 20% premium to your overall fuel costs. Though if you want to avoid the hassle of finding a gas station right at the end of your trip, this option could be convenient. Other off airport companies may give you a car with only half a tank and to avoid additional costs you need to return the car with half a tank, though it’s not easy to fill up a car to just half. So, one way to not overfill it, is by finding out how many gallons your particular car model requires to fill up, then if you need to add a quarter tank of gas, you simple add 25% of the cars maximum capacity and voila! So be sure to find out what the policy is so the right decision can be made ahead of time.
9. Inspect the Car
Whatever you do, don’t wing it hope that the rental car doesn’t have any damage. Always take the time to slowly walk around the car, and check the bonnet, room and trunk for existing damage. Scratches that are less than an inch tend not to be noted on rental agreements, so be sure to take a photo of anything you think could potential be seen as damage. And if the rental staff is with you at the time of inspection, then ask them to add the damage to the report before you sign. Better to be safe than sorry, even if you do have the rental car damage waiver or insurance.
10. Returning the rental car
Generally, a rental car day starts at the pickup time and finished the exact same time the following day i.e. 24-hour period. There if your flights and car rental pickup times align this could save you a full day on the rental. If you are returning the car after the pickup time, most rental companies will give you one hour grace period. Though returning the one hour after the pickup time could incur 1/3rd of day, and two hours incurs 2/3rds and three hours incurs a full day. Check this ahead of time, as some companies will charge you a full day even if you return the car one hour after the pickup time.