Tips and Suggestions for Renting a Car
Going on a road trip along Route 66 implies driving a car. For Americans and Canadians it is quite simple, they can drive their own car, but for international visitors it means only one thing: Renting a Car.
Of course, Americans too may choose to rent a car if they live far from the Mother Road (i.e. Vermont) and want to drive a distant segment of it (i.e. Los Angeles to Albuquerque). In that case they too will have to fly in and rent a car upon arrival.
Below we offer some tips on renting a car, understanding the insurance options and what sort of choices have to be made during the car rental process.
Tips on Renting a Car
- US cars have automatic transmissions. A stick-shift car may cost more.
- Your country's driving license is fine, no need for an International driver's license.
- If you are under 25 or over 71 years old you may not be able to rent a car. Check with the car rental company.
- Tourist destinations are more competitive and offer better prices (think Florida and California).
- Do not skimp on insurance you never know what may happen!
- Almost all cars are NON SMOKING, do not smoke in them, hefty cleaning fees apply.
Car Rental Companies
All major car rental companies offer good cars and service. None is actually better than the other. They are all very similar. You may choose one instead of another based on your previous rental experience, out of loyalty (do you have a frequent flier mileage program?) or just out of habit. But they are all very good.
Renting a Car
1. Where, When, What
Before renting, you have to define the following:
Tips for Car Rental A. Whittall
- Pick-up and Drop-off locations
- Pick-up and Drop-off Date and Time
- Car Size category and "extras"
Pick-Up and Drop-Off places
This depends on your itinerary, on your road trip plans. You surely know your starting and ending points. The places you will be arriving and departing from on your journey to and from Route 66.
These will be your basic pick-up and drop-off points. But consider that you can fly in and drive out or take a day to rest after your arrival. The same prior to departure... will you drive in and fly out or take a day to unwind before departing?
Downtown or Airport locations?
You will usually arrive at an airport located close to Route 66, maybe in a big city, so you will have the options of downtown or airport pick-up:
- Airport counters work longer hours and are easier to locate. But cost more. You may drive away directly from the Airport. It will not be stressful: highway signs are clear, and a GPS will help you get out of town and on to the road.
- Downtown pick-up will mean driving out of a congested city, but is cheaper as it avoids the airport surcharge tax.
Check if the car rental company has a shuttle bus to nearby hotels either at the airport or downtown. In case you want to stay at a hotel before taking to the road or flying back home.
One way or round trip?
If you drop-off your car at a different location to your pick-up point, it is a one-way rental. Car rental companies charge an extra fee for one-way trips. The advantage for you is that you avoid having to drive all the way back to your starting point.
When you book your car online you can check the extra costs involved in a one-way rental.
Ask the company what fees apply if you have to change your plans "en route" and return the car at a different location. They can add $100 to $300 to your total costs.
Dates and Times
Rental dates depend on your itinerary. You may want to take to the road immediately after arrival or spend the night at a hotel and pick your car up the following day.
When you reach your destination after a long flight (maybe you are flying in from Europe), will you go straight to the car rental counter and drive off? Perhaps you should spend the first day at a hotel in your arrival town and begin your trip the following day after a good night's sleep. Bonus: picking up your car downtown may be cheaper than an airport pick-up, as you will avoid the airport surcharges.
If you choose the first option, consider the delays in clearing migration, customs and any unforeseen delays in your flight. If you arrive at 10 AM, there is no point in setting a pick-up time of 10:30 AM, give yourself time and don't rush.
Try to avoid paying a full day for just a few hours: if you pick your car up at 1 PM and return it at 3 PM you will be charged for a full day rental for those two hours! Which you could avoid by returning your car at 12:50 PM. Plan your pick-up and return times. Check your flight arrival and departure times and adjust your rental to them.
The longer the rental period, the cheaper the per-day rate. It may be cheaper to rent for 7 days and use the car six days.
What type of car?
Size does matter. Your car has to fit you, your party and your luggage. Bigger cars offer more space for all, and leg space is important on a road trip. Bigger cars also use more fuel.
Car rental companies list their cars in size categories and bigger cars cost more: Subcompact, Compact, Intermediate, Standard, Full Size.
Check what cars are mentioned in each category and the information provided: capacity (passengers), luggage capacity, mileage, accessories (Air conditioning, etc.).
Remember that you are not guaranteed to get the exact car you signed up for, just a similar model; categories cover several makes and models and you may get any of them when you actually pick up your car.
Cars in the US are mostly automatic, stick shift costs more -if available, and only in bigger and more expensive cars.
Mileage can range from 26 to 10 mpg (miles per gallon), but gasoline is relatively cheap in the U.S.
Choice of car
Go online and check the different models offered by the car rental companies. Look them up on the internet. Smaller cars are cheaper to rent, and in general will cover your needs.
Make sure it can fit your luggage in the trunk and seat all passengers. Remember to pack smartly to avoid extra-big suitcases.
America is a big country, and the distances are great. While in Europe you would drive a small car, in America go for a bigger one. You will always have plenty of parking space and roads are wide. Gasoline is also quite cheap.
Having chosen the car, you can select extras: ski rack, child safety seat, GPS, satellite radio, etc. Choose what you need. Perhaps it is cheaper to buy a GPS or bring your own with you (at 15 USD⁄day you can recoup the costs of a GPS or a child seat in one week).
2. The Rental
Having defined dates, locations, car model and extras you can now book your car.
Some Cost Cutting Tips
Some companies offer discounts if you "pay now", when you make your booking. You can cancel later but there is a fee for cancellations. Nevertheless the savings are considerable. Consider paying in advance.
Membership in some frequent flier programs, credit card programs or some large organizations (i.e. AAA) may obtain discounts for your rentals. Check before booking.
Google "coupon code" followed by the name of a major car rental company and you may find a discount code to apply to your car rental and cut your costs by 5 to 20%.
You may already be part of a loyalty program and regularly rent your cars with the same company. If you are not, consider joining one, it grants some privileges: skip queues, get upgrades or discounts.
The "Real" costs
Some advertised prices lure you in to rent a car, only to find out that the other hidden costs will duplicate what you will end up paying.
Some extra costs are: additional driver charge, drop-off charges, gasoline top-up fee, airport surcharges, local and state taxes, insurance, GPS, baby-seat, etc.
When you book online, you will see the full detail of the costs and what you will actually end up paying. Check them before confirming your reservation.
Car rental insurance is not cheap, but it buys peace of mind. Do not risk driving without insurance. Remember - if the insurance doesn't cover your loss, you will remain personally responsible for any difference.
CDW (Collision Damage Waiver)
CDW is not actually an insurance but a waiver granted by the car rental company to the renter, absorbing some of the risks, in other words it is a waiver of their right to make the renter pay for damage to the car.
It covers the risks of collision or damage, towing the damaged vehicle and may also cover other events (theft, loss of use, liability).
You will be protected only if your comply with the law and contractual restrictions: no racing, no use of mobile phones, not DUI, the authorized driver was at the wheel, etc. Check the terms and conditions with your car rental company (they are usually found on their websites).
LDW (Loss Damage Waiver)
LDW is not insurance either, it is merely an option to relieve you of financial responsibility in case the car is damaged, vandalized or stolen during the rental. And not only the damages but also the loss of revenue suffered by the car rental company while the car is being repaired of missing due to theft (loss of use).
It may not be available in all states. Check with the company.
Your personal car insurance policy may also cover rental cars, but you may not be totally protected. Check with your insurance company.
If you decline LDW coverage you can be responsible for up to the full fair market value of the car if it is damaged, vandalized or stolen during. You will also have to cover the lost revenue for the period that the car is missing or being repaired.
Although some online travel packages claim to offer insurance covering car rentals, they may not be complete. Check the terms of coverage which may only be supplemental and have some restrictions.
SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance)
This is an "extra" insurance (beyond your own personal insurance) that protects you and other authorized drivers against third-party bodily injury and property-damage claims for which you are legally liable.
PAE (Personal Accident and Effects) or PEP (Personal Effects Protection)
This insurance covers you and your passengers against accident, injury, and loss to personal property. It includes some medical expenses coverage. Check its scope when renting your car.
Credit Card Insurance Coverage
Your personal insurance and some major credit cards cover some types of collision damage insurance, so you may not have to purchase the car rental company's insurance. Check this with your credit card issuer or your insurance company. And verify it with the car rental company.
The credit card coverage applies if you use the card to rent your car and pay for it with the same card. It may not be a complete coverage (i.e. it is supplemental) and may have restrictions meaning that it does not cover the whole loss leaving you personally responsible for any non-covered difference.
Reserve your Car
Now you have all you need to book your car and cover your risks. Now is the time to ask questions.
Make sure you understand the terms and conditions
Read the terms and conditions before confirming your online reservation. If you are on the phone, ask the agent all pertinent questions before closing the deal:
- Is there a penalty for no-shows?
- What about arriving late (your flight is delayed)? How long will they hold your car for you?
- Are there fees for extra drivers? What is the age limit? Do extra drivers have to appear in the rental contract?
- Is there any maximum mileage restriction?
- Can you drive your car into Mexico or Canada? Any interstate restrictions?
- What is the drop-off charges for one-way car rentals?
- What kind of Roadside Assistance is given?
Inform your flight details, car rental companies usually monitor flights and it will help to hold your reservation in the event of flight delays. Get a confirmation number for your booking.
Go ahead with your booking and print your confirmation, reservation, proof of payment and keep them with you. Also keep your return checklist for some months just in case you are billed something unexpected).
Picking up your rented car
Check the car before you drive away from the pickup location: make sure the lights work, that there are no nicks on the windshield and that there is no body damage. Check the mileage. If you notice any defects, report them at once. You may be charged for unreported damage, because it will be assumed that you caused it.
Before you drive away, check the location of the lights, windshield wiper controls, turn signal and see on which side of the car is the gas tank lid. Take a good look at your car, and make a mental note of its color, make and model (you will have to recognize it later in parking lots).
Returning your car
It is always a good idea to locate a gasoline station relatively close to the airport and top off the tank (don't use those right next to the return location, they have higher prices). The car rental companies charge much more than regular service stations do.
If you return your car early (the day before) you may actually have to pay more - an early return fee. But if you return the car late, you will face a penalty fee. Car rental companies offer a grace period of about half an hour, so return your car on time.
Make sure you do not forget any personal belongings in the car, glove compartment, back seat, pockets, trunk. Also, don't forget to return any extra sets of keys (they can cost up to $20 if not returned).
The check-in staff will go over the car and take note of any body damage. Before signing the papers, make sure you agree with the report.
Car Rental Agencies
We will be including an online booking link on this page but until it is operational we invite you to visit the leading U.S. automobile Rental Agencies listed below:
- Advantage: www.advantage.com
- Alamo: www.alamo.com
- Avis: www.avis.com
- Budget: www.budget.com
- Budget Truck Rentals: www.budgettruck.com
- Enterprise: www.enterprise.com
- E-Z Rent A Car: www.e-zrentacar.com
- Europcar US
- Fox Rent A Car: www.foxrentacar.com
- Hertz: www.hertz.com
- National: www.nationalcar.com
- Payless: www.paylesscarrental.com
- Rent a Wreck: www.rent-a-wreck.com
- Thrifty: www.thrifty.com
Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.