Angie's LIST Guide to
Car Rental

Whether you're traveling out of town on a business trip, taking an extended vacation or just need a different form of transportation for the weekend, renting a car is a convenient and affordable option. But there's money to be saved and inconvenience to be avoided. Before you rent a car again, read up on these consumer-focused car-renting tips.
 

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Renting a car is a good option when out of town on business or vacation. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Theresa N.)
Renting a car is a good option when out of town on business or vacation. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Theresa N.)
 
 

Why should you rent a car?

If you’re on a business trip out of town that includes traveling to multiple cities and destinations, renting a car as your transportation makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re traveling by air. There are plenty of other situations where renting a car makes sense, too.

Your car is out of commission

If your car is out of commission for an extended amount of time, whether due to an accident or for a needed repair, renting a car as your personal transportation in the interim can make a lot of sense. In the case of an accident, many automobile insurance companies offer policies that can cover some or all of the cost of a car rental while your car is being repaired. If your car is in the shop for a few days or more, renting a car can be a convenient way to get where you need to go until repairs are completed. Ask if your repair shop has a loaner vehicle program before making arrangements to rent, as loaner vehicles may be offered free or cost significantly less than renting a car.

Renting a car for trips or vacations

Planning an extended road trip? Consider renting a car rather than driving your own. If you drive a smaller car, a rental van or SUV may offer you and your passengers more comfort and cargo space. Although renting a car presents an added cost compared to driving the vehicle you already own, you can save money in the long term in the form of reduced mileage and wear-and-tear on your vehicle. For drivers who lease their vehicles, renting a car for a long trip can help avoid adding excessive mileage to the vehicle.

Large purchases, weekend projects or moving

Can you fit that new sectional sofa into your hatchback? You can try, but the most likely answer is "no." You can always ask a friend or family member who owns a truck to borrow their vehicle, but if you’d rather not, consider renting a truck, van or cargo truck to haul that load.

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Renting a pickup truck can help you accomplish a home improvement or landscaping project. (Photo courtesy of Steven Little)

Renting a pickup truck can also be convenient for weekend projects, such as larger home improvement renovations or landscaping. While traditional rental car agencies may carry a selection of trucks, vans or SUVs, you can often find daily truck rentals at big-box hardware retailers. Renting a moving van or box truck can be convenient for moving oversized items. These vehicles, as well as pickup trucks, are available at rental retailers such as U-Haul that specialize in utility vehicles.

Renting a car for special occasions

If you have a big date, a night out on the town with friends or an important meeting with business clients, renting a luxury car, a convertible or a larger SUV can make a better impression and a more memorable event than your daily driver.

Know your insurance options

Get to know these auto rental insurance terms

Your existing auto insurance policy or credit car may cover you in the event of loss or damage while renting a car, so read the fine print carefully before agreeing to purchase additional rental car insurance. A lack of knowledge about rental insurance and other rental product options can cost travelers as much as $42 extra per day — often more than twice the cost of the rental itself, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

rental car damage

Your personal vehicle's auto insurance policy or your credit card may already cover you for loss or damage to a rental car. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lyndan M.)

Here are the most common additional coverage products available at the rental counter and their average cost per day.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - Relieves renters of responsibility if the car is damaged or stolen. Also called loss damage waivers (LDW), in most cases, they pay for loss of a damaged car’s use while it’s being repaired. However, they may become void if the damage resulted from the driver’s gross negligence — drunken driving, for example. If you already carry comprehensive and collision insurance, you probably don’t need this protection.

Cost: $9 to $19

Supplemental Liability Protection (SLP) - Provides up to $1 million of protection. By law, rental companies must provide the state-required amount, but it’s generally too low. If you’re adequately covered on your car, consider forgoing this option.

Cost: $7 to $14

Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) - Covers you and your passengers for medical bills from crash-related injuries. With adequate health insurance or personal injury protection under your car’s policy, PAI may be unnecessary.

Cost: $1 to $5

Personal Effects Coverage (PEC) - Insures the value of personal items stolen from your car. However, these items might already be covered under your homeowners or renters insurance policy. People who frequently travel with expensive items such as jewelry or sports equipment might be better off purchasing a floater under their own policy.

10 tips for renting a car

If you're ready to rent a car for your next vacation or trip, read up on this cost-saving advice.

1. Book early
If you’re making plans to rent a car, book your vehicle as early as possible. Rentals can sell out of available cars, especially at busier locations like airports and during peak travel periods.

2. Get a discount
Check with your company to see if there’s a corporate discount available to employees. If you rent vehicles frequently, you’re probably already a member of a customer loyalty program. Many car rental agencies will also provide discounts or upgrades based on frequent flier miles.

3. Shop online
Along with almost everything else travel related, like plane tickets and hotel bookings, you can often find the best deals, discounts and freebies by performing plenty of researching and shopping online ahead of time.

4. Don’t forget to check out smaller rental car companies
Although the well known rental car brand-names like Enterprise, Hertz and Avis dominate commercial advertising and have the most established presence at major hubs and airports, one way of saving money is checking rental car rates at smaller firms. Smaller fleets, more flexibility and less overhead can make a smaller rental car company an appealing option.

5. Avoid the airport
Look for rental car locations that are located outside of airports. Airport locations often have higher prices due to the zoning and taxes associated with being located on airport grounds.

6. Opt for the compact
Unless your trip calls for something larger, only rent as much car as you need. Although compact and smaller rental cars are usually in higher demand by business travelers, you’ll save money on the rental itself and on the gas you’ll use during the rental period. If you’re offered an upgrade to a larger vehicle, be wary of gas guzzlers.

7. Rent longer
Daily rental rates are typically cheaper when you book multiple days over the weekend. Weekly rates can be an even greater value. Even if you book longer, you can still return the rental car early and avoid paying for days you don’t need.

8. Check extra thoroughly for damage upon inspection
Most rental car fleets are maintained meticulously, but damages like scratches or dents in the body or spills, stains or tears in the interior can go unnoticed. If you see any wear, damage or defect during the inspection, make sure you immediately make the company aware – or you might end up paying for it.

9. Return the rental car on time
Returning your rental car late can cost you money – as much as a full day’s rental, depending on the rental company. Make plans to allow for plenty of time to return your vehicle on time.

10. Top off the tank yourself
Although it’s a lot more convenient to have the rental company top off the tank for you rather than you doing it yourself, it’s an unnecessary expense that can be avoided with a quick trip to the gas station.

Other types of car rentals

Beyond rental cars, homeowners and consumers sometimes need a more utilitarian vehicle like a cargo van or box truck to help them move themselves and their belongings or accomplish a big weekend project.

Renting a moving truck or box truck

Renting a moving truck, cargo van or box truck like a U-haul can be a very convenient option if you prefer moving with the help of a few friends and family members over a long weekend. Even though you're investing more heavily in "sweat" equity, the DIY route offers you cost savings over hiring professional movers and great flexibility in choosing the time and dates you'll be moving.

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Renting a cargo truck can make moving or moving a large load much less daunting (Photo courtesy of Bob Blanchard)

Here are a few tips to help make renting a moving truck a less stressful experience:

Book well in advance

Rental reservations can fill quickly. If you know you're moving or that you'll need a moving truck, book as far in advance as possible. This is especially true if you're making plans to move during the height of the moving season, summer or a long holiday weekend.

Try to book during the week, not the weekend

Unlike regular car rentals, rates for moving trucks and cargo vehicles increase on the weekend due to higher demand. If you can accomplish your move or project during the week, you can save money on the truck rental fee.

Inspect the vehicle thoroughly for damage

Also unlike traditional car rentals, companies that rent moving trucks or larger vehicles tend to keep the vehicles in their fleets much longer. Couple a longer service life with inexperienced drivers behind the wheel of larger trucks and there's bound to be some damage in and around the vehicle. Note every dent and ding you can see before taking possession of the vehicle to avoid paying for damage caused by another driver.

Consider purchasing extra insurance

Particularly if you're transporting a household's worth of goods or expensive items that aren't easily replaced, consider purchasing extra insurance to protect you and your cargo. While an existing auto policy or credit car may cover you insurance-wise for a traditional car rental, the same rules do not apply to moving truck rental and insuring your cargo.

Ask away and get comfortable

Take someone that's used to driving a normal passenger vehicle and put them behind the wheel of a 26-foot moving truck and there's bound to be some discomfort. While most rental moving trucks are designed to be driver friendly, their oversized proportions can present a problem for some drivers.

Ask the rental agent as many questions about how to operate the vehicle safely as possible. Take some time getting used to the vehicle's handling in an empty parking lot or a road with light traffic. Be sure to always operate the vehicle safely and at the recommended speed limit. It's also a good idea to ask about the company's procedure if should a mechanical breakdown or accident occur.

Clean the cargo area out before returning the rental

Sweeping out the cargo area is a quick task that can save you big bucks. Some truck rental outfits charge high fees for cleaning out the cargo area of vehicles.

Make sure the vehicle is gassed up per the rental agreement

If the rental agreement you signed says the truck should be returned with a half tank of gas, fill the tank to half full. Not only are you meeting your end of the bargain, you'll also avoid costly refueling fees and fuel surcharges.

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