Whether you’re renting a car for the first time or have rented in the past, it’s important that you understand your rental agreement. A simple mistake, such as returning the car a couple of hours late, could cost you a lot of money.
Take your time to ask questions at the rental counter so you know exactly what to expect out of your rental experience. Start with these five essential questions the next time you need to rent a car.
1. What’s the Total Cost of the Rental?
It’s easy to search online or call a car rental company to ask about rental prices. After finding a car that fits your needs and budget, it should be easy to book the rental and be on your way.
What you may not realize, however, is that many rental car quotes don’t include additional expenses like taxes or fees. Renting a car from a rental desk at the airport, for example, usually costs more than renting a car from a standalone rental office. The airport charges the rental company a fee to do business at the airport. That fee is passed on to you, but you may not realize you’re paying extra until you’ve already paid for the car.
Ask the rental agent for a rental car quote that includes upcharges, taxes and fees before you pay. This could help you more accurately compare the cost of different rental companies. It also helps you avoid unwanted surprise fees when you get your bill.
Other costs you may need to consider are their protection options, convenience options, and safety options. If you plan to protect the rental car by paying extra for a loss damage waiver, the price could vary from company to company. If you plan on bringing your baby on the road, a car seat would be needed, and those costs could vary with each car rental company as well. Before booking, ask the rental agent what they charge for these options or take some time to browse online.
2. Does the Car Have to be Returned with a Full Tank of Gas?
Almost every rental car company operates on a “full to full” basis. That means you’ll get your rental with a full tank, but you’re also expected to return the car with a full tank of gas. If you return the car with a tank that’s not full, the rental company fills the tank for you and adds the cost of fuel to your bill. Be aware, a rental company almost always charges a per-gallon price for fuel that’s much higher than the current going rates.
Ask the rental agent for the nearest gas station to your drop-off location and set a reminder for yourself to fill up the tank before returning the car. Some rental companies may offer you a pre-paid fuel option. This allows you to pre-purchase fuel at a set rate per gallon. The price-per-gallon is often lower than the current average price, so pre-purchasing fuel could be a good idea if you plan to use a full tank.
3. Is there a Daily Mileage Limit?
Cars rented for multiple days or at a weekly rate often come with unlimited mileage. This means you’re allowed to drive the car as much as you like while you’re renting it. Certain rental companies and daily rates may place limits on the number of miles the car can be driven. If you drive over the allotted amount, you’ll be charged an additional fee per mile.
Double-check with your rental agent whether your rental car has a mileage limit. If you do have a limit, be sure to pay close attention to your miles or ask if you can upgrade to an unlimited mileage option.
You may also want to ask about geographic restrictions when you ask about mileage. Although most rental cars can be driven almost anywhere, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re not breaking your rental agreement. If you’re near an international border, for example, you’re probably not allowed to drive your rental into a neighboring country, even if it’s within the mileage limits.
4. What is the Return Process?
Most rental cars follow the same basic procedure to return the car. If you’re returning it to a large facility, like an airport, you’ll probably drive the car to a drop-off lane. Usually, an attendant will come over and go over the car with you to make sure it’s ready to go. They’ll look at the fuel gauge to make sure you fill the tank and give the exterior a once-over to check for damage. If the car is in good shape, you’ll receive a receipt and can usually be on your way.
While the return process is usually simple, you should make sure there aren’t any extra steps to return your rental car. Smaller rental car facilities may require you to park the car in the parking lot and go inside the building to check out. Some return lots don’t have an attendant on duty. In this case, you’ll often need to drop the keys in a drop box somewhere on the lot.
Ask your rental agent if there’s anything you need to know to properly return the car so you can avoid extra fees. Be sure to verify the rental return time and ask about a grace period if you arrive late. Many rental car providers charge a late fee or an extra day rental fee if the car is returned late.
5. What Happens if the Car is in an Accident?
It’s common for car rental companies to encourage you to buy added rental car insurance. You probably don’t need this extra coverage, as most personal car insurance policies protect you while driving a rental car. While you’re likely covered by your insurance, you may still want to know what to do if you’re in an accident in a rental car.
In addition to contacting your insurance company, you’ll need to talk with the rental company as well. Make sure you get the emergency contact number or customer service line of the rental company and keep it in the glove box or center console while you have the car. This makes it easy to access the correct number if you’re in an accident or the car experiences mechanical issues when on the road.