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How to rent a car

Renting a car is often a necessary part of traveling, and can be a real lifesaver for people who need to quickly get from one place to another without having access to a vehicle of their own. It can be a costly experience, though, and for many people the whole thing is a big hassle. There are ways to avoid some of that headache, and by entering the process armed with key information, you can get out without much stress at all.

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What kind of vehicle do you need?

Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

It’s tempting to go for the fastest or most luxurious vehicle available, but you’ll save a lot of money by looking for the rental that meets your specific needs. Most major rental companies offer everything from tiny hatchbacks to full-size pickup trucks and exotic sports cars, so you’ll have your pick of a variety of vehicles. If you’re planning for a road trip with the family, a minivan or full-size sedan may be the best pick, while renting to help a friend move might require a pickup truck. In many cases, people rent vehicles on business trips, which are quick and don’t require a fancy ride.

How to rent

While it’s possible to rent a car with no reservation or prior communication, you’ll have a much easier time (and get what you want) if you are able to either call ahead or reserve a car online. All major rental companies offer the ability to select a car, view rates, and pay online, so it’s easier to find a car now than ever before. If you find yourself needing a vehicle without much prior warning, pick up the phone and call before heading into the store. You’re much more likely to find a better rate and wider availability there.

Where to rent

London Gatwick Airport
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Airports are by far the most common place to find a rental company, but there are locations scattered across the country in various locations. Vehicle availability and pricing tend to be better at airport locations, so you may be better off renting from one of those spots even if you’re not getting off of a plane.

You don’t have to limit yourself to the major companies, either. If you need a pickup truck for a move or to haul dirt from Home Depot, a better bet might be heading to your local U-Haul store to rent instead of Enterprise or Budget rentals. You’re likely to find a better price with more favorable rental terms (half-day rentals, etc.) than at a major store, and it shouldn’t be as busy.

Things to know before renting

  • Age limits: There is a minimum age requirement to rent a car in most areas. The old school of thought is that you need to be 25 to rent a car, though most companies advertise a minimum age of 21. Be prepared to pay a “youth surcharge” if you’re on the low end of the age requirements, though.
  • Driver’s license: This may seem obvious, but you’ll need a valid driver’s license before being allowed to rent. This may include an active military ID or a passport/foreign driver’s license in some cases.
  • Payments: Rental companies typically require some form of card payment for their vehicles. Credit cards are the most common and easiest way to pay for a vehicle, though debit cards are accepted in certain locations. You may be required to pay a deposit or have a hold placed on your funds if you use a debit card. Cash is not a valid way to pay for a rental car.
  • Insurance: Rental companies offer a variety of insurance products for their vehicles, but you may not need to pay their extra fees for coverage. Your personal vehicle’s insurance policy may extend coverage to rental vehicles and your major credit card company may have a similar benefit. Be sure to check with both before renting to understand your coverage options.
  • Tolls: If you live in a state with toll roads, you may already have an EZ-Pass or other electronic payment method. It’s easy to forget that it’s not in your rental car, so be sure to have cash on hand to pay tolls and other road-use charges.
  • Extra rental items: Additional equipment may be offered in the rental agreement, but there are very few you actually need. If you own even the most basic smartphone, a GPS will not be of any real benefit to you, because you already have a mapping app. Other items, such as car seats for kids, may be much easier to rent with the vehicle than to tote with you as you travel.
  • One-way vs. round-trip: It’s typically much less expensive to rent a vehicle and return it to the same location, but if you have to rent for a one-way trip, be sure to understand the extra charges and possible restrictions that may go along with returning the vehicle to a different location.
Chris Teague
I cover automobiles and tech to find the stories and information that really matter. My background in technology consulting…
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