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 rental tips.


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 car rental makes sense, too.

MORE: Car, Truck and Van Rental

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 car 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.

Car rental 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.

Car rental for large purchases 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.

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.

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

Know your insurance options

Your existing auto insurance policy or credit card 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.

In an Angie's List poll, 22 percent of respondents say they did know know whether their credit card and/or auto insurance covered collision and/or liability for a car rental.

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 car rental tips

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.

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