15 easy-to-use tips to avoid the most costly rental car problems.

Rental car problems cost travelers dearly.

Rental Car, Caen, Normandy, France: Copyright © 2009 NSL Photography, All Rights Reserved.It has been great to travel again this summer. For each of my trips, I’ve needed a rental car to efficiently get around at my destinations. Unfortunately, many of the rental car problems from before the pandemic remain and new ones have come into play.

I’ve got 15 easy-to-use tips to avoid the most costly car rental mistakes.

Join a rental car loyalty program:
Even if you only rent periodically, joining a loyalty program can provide you with benefits you’ll find useful. Some programs allow renters to skip going to the counter, which saves time picking up vehicles. Others offer discounts, though generally small, but any savings are welcome.

Credit card rental car insurance can save a bundle, but only when used right.

Irritated by hotel resort fees?Book and pay with credit cards that have car rental benefits:
Many credit cards offer car insurance benefits when you book and pay for your rental car. Don’t miss the benefit of booking with the right card, but using a different card when you pick up your car. If you do that, you’ll miss the insurance benefit, and if you have a claim, it will come out of your pocket.

Be sure of what your car insurance and your credit card insurance cover:
Different car insurance companies have different coverages for rental cars. Some exclude international rentals all together while some exclude only a few countries.

Don’t buy unnecessary insurance:
While it may be easier to pay your car rental company to insure your car, particularly if you own your car, you’re likely wasting a lot of money if you don’t use your insurance, at least in part. Only purchase coverage you don’t already have.

Make sure your insurance covers rental car “loss of use” fees when car damage prevents the company from renting to another customer.

“Loss of use” fees can break the bank in case of an accident:
Some personal and credit card auto insurance may not cover rental car companies’ “loss of use” charges. In case of accident repairs, for example, this is the rental car company daily charge to you while the car is being repaired because they can’t rent the vehicle to anyone else. Thankfully, my credit card auto insurances covers this fee and others typically included in the rental car company’s “collision damage waiver,” for a fraction of the rental car company’s fee. I use my regular car insurance to cover liability in the U.S., where I live.

Additional drivers can cost more:
While you may want to have a relief driver if traveling with another person, be aware that most every rental car company charges a daily rate for every additional driver added to your contract.

International car rentals are far more complicated than domestic rentals, especially regarding rules, laws, fees, and insurance.

Know the rental car rules for the country of rental:
Some countries have special regulations and mandatory fees for rental cars. Be sure you know the rules.

Beware of driving your rental car across a national border:
Picking up a rental car at one location and dropping it off at another always involves an extra fee. Internationally, there are often special rules and fees associated with driving a rental car across a national border that often may add an astronomical cost for the privilege. Be sure of all charges before booking a vehicle.

Beware of upgrades and choosing your car in the rental car lot:
I recently rented a specific class of car for my Atlanta trip. Arriving at the car rental lot, I was told to pick from any car there. I had to be careful to avoid a gas guzzler. Also beware of free upgrades. They might be very expensive if you’re driving a long distance and the cost of gas is high.

Know what fuel your rental uses:
This is mostly a problem outside the U.S., where many cars use diesel fuel. If you put the wrong fuel in the car, you are liable and insurance won’t cover the mistake. Repairs for this are generally very costly, typically more than $1,000.

Join UsIf your rental is an electric vehicle, know what charging stations you can use, how to open the charge connector area, how to plug in the charger, and if you need any adapter for some charging stations. If you need an adapter, make sure you have it. If you’re renting an electric vehicle, you’ll likely need at least one vehicle charging account to use charging stations on the road.

Before leaving the rental car lot, check your car to ensure everything works. Document all exterior and interior damage with video and still images. Take photos again when you return the vehicle. 

Check your car thoroughly before leaving the lot:
Ensure you have a full or “donut” spare tire and jack and tire iron with the right removal tool before you leave the rental company lot. Check your tires’ treads to ensure they’re sufficient, especially in winter.

Check your car’s air conditioning, heating, lights, windshield wipers, mirrors, controls, etc., to ensure you know how to work them and that they are working properly before accepting the car at the rental company.

Document exterior and interior car damage and possible dirty areas inside the car at pickup and dropoff:
Take your cellphone and make a date/time stamp video of the exterior and interior of the car, taking time to show any dings, dents and scratches. In the interior, make special note of cut upholstery, holes, cigarette burns, stained or damaged rugs, and upholstery, etc. Also, make still shots of all damage. Do so before you leave the rental car lot and when you return the car to keep the rental company damage assessment honest.

Consider not pairing your smartphone with the car:
Most renters aren’t prepared to delete their data from their rental car when dropping it off. Unless you’re prepared to do so, don’t pair it with the car unless you want the company and future renters to be able to see your contacts and personal information.

Tolls can be a big rental car problem:
Beware that rental car companies often charge hefty fees on top of the tolls to pay your road/bridge tolls when they are by the plate. They also charge a significant usage fee for their toll transceivers. I bring my transceiver from home if it can be used at my destination.

Document any rental car swap or late returns with a rental employee’s signature in case the rental car company claims you never returned the vehicle.

Document rental car swaps or car returns for extended rentals:
Recently at Hertz, but no doubt this occasionally happens at other rental companies, cars are being reported stolen and users arrested because of documentation failures by the rental company. Their paperwork is fouled up, so they report the car as missing/stolen. This happens mostly when you get a swapped-out vehicle due to car problems or an accident or return a car after extending your rental period. Get a company employee to sign your contract showing that they’ve taken possession of the car.

I’ve been in two accidents with rental cars and gotten a new car each time. One of those times, the rental company said I didn’t return their vehicle. I emailed the signed contract where their employee acknowledged receipt of the car, which was the problem’s end.

Most of the time renting a car for your trip is easy and without problems. Unfortunately, it only takes one mistake on your part or the rental company to kill your journey. Use these tips to prevent that.

(Image: Rental Car, Caen, Normandy, France: Copyright © 2009 NSL Photography, All Rights Reserved.)

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