Avoiding Costly Mistakes when Renting a Car

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Oh, those pesky add-ons

By Peggy Hattendorf – Travel Editor


Here are rental car mistakes that could cost you money:


Checking on rates and discounts

Car rental companies have gone through a radical period of mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations that have affected their fees.  Currently, Avis owns Budget and Zipcar; Hertz has Dollar and Thrifty; Enterprise acquired Alamo and National; and Advantage bought E-Z Rent-A-Car. This doesn’t mean you can’t shop around for the best rate. There are a handful of smaller companies, such as Europcar, Ace Rent- A-Car, Fox Rent-A-Car and Payless Car Rental, to consider with rates for particular destinations.

I recently checked rates and reserved a car for a 6-day rental with a pick-up at Washington Dulles and a drop at La Guardia in New York.  One major company priced a mid-size vehicle including taxes/fees at $1,108.00.  I checked another company with the same parameters and the rate with taxes/fees was $264.00 – and we received an upgrade to an SUV. The point is to use multiple sources to check rates and keep checking throughout the day(s) leading up to your trip because rates fluctuate.

The rate you are quoted on the telephone or view online is the base price before taxes and fees.  Apply any discounts offered to frequent renters, as well as member discounts through AAA or AARP. Remember, most of the major car companies are tied to an airline loyalty program.


Renting from neighborhood locations

Renting at the airport location is convenient because it’s open 24 hours, there are shuttles directly from the airport, and there are many other rental car companies to choose from should you have an issue. This convenience comes with a premium, though. The airport surcharges and extra fees can increase the rental car rate more than 12%. Getting a reservation from a local, off-airport site, can save both money and time spent in long lines.


Purchasing insurance add-ons

Optional add-ons, such as collision damage waiver, loss damage waiver, personal accident, and roadside and assistance protection, can significantly add to the rental cost. Understand your own car insurance policy and coverage before you purchase these add-ons.  Does your policy cover damage to the rental car? Does it matter if you are traveling on business or leisure? Does it cover towing charges? Does it cover loss-of-use? (Rental companies are now charging for “loss-of-use,” which is the time the rental vehicle is out for repair and out of the rental inventory.)

It should be noted, that even if you take the collision damage waiver or the loss damage waiver, neither policy covers injuries. In most cases, full/comprehensive personal car insurance will include coverage for rental cars. The credit card you use for the rental car transaction also provides secondary coverage in many instances. However, there are times the renter may be responsible for repair of certain mechanical problems, from transmissions to tires, if the issue happens while you are renting the vehicle and the cause is attributable to the driver.



Purchasing practical add-ons

Gasoline prepayment, car seats, and GPS devices all seem like practical add-ons, but are impractical, at best. Gasoline prepayment is a plus for the car company only. The refueling rates are normally higher than if you gas up yourself. Most all cellphones have GPS apps preloaded or can easily be downloaded, so there is usually no need to purchase a GPS device unless there are coverage issues with your phone carrier. Because car seats are required by law, you probably already own one. Use it.


Pay attention during the car inspection

Before driving the car off the lot, do a thorough visual inspection of the outside and inside of the vehicle. Note the condition of the tires as well as scratches/dings, loose handles and mirrors. Take pictures of the car, if possible.  Check for torn seats or fabric and note the functionality of all mechanical features – windows, heating/AC lights, window wipers, radio, turn signals, mirrors, dashboard lights, hazard lights etc. If something is discovered, bring these issues to the attention of the car company attendant before driving off the lot.


Read  the agreement

Don’t just stuff the rental agreement in the glove compartment. Read over the terms and conditions, especially the rates or fees for returning the car late.  Some companies offer a grace period while others charge a full-day’s rate for returning late. If you get stuck in unexpected traffic or something unexpected comes up to cause your delay, the best thing to do is call the company to determine your options. It’s better to know and be prepared at this stage of the rental than when you are traveling and encounter a problem.



Online editor for Hers magazine.

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