My two favourite car rental sites are Priceline and vroomvroomvroom.com. With Priceline you bid for a price and when it is accepted you are “locked into that deal”. Only choose Priceline if your plans are certain and you have ascertained what the cheapest deal is already. The other disadvantage with Priceline, is that if prices drop, you are locked in.Having said that, I have used Priceline to get cars at almost half the price.
vroomvroomvroom.com compares all available deals from a location allowing you to choose the price, car type and company that you want. The fee structure is clear and consistent. While it does not calculate discounts (for example membership of a particular frequent flyer program), a quick call to the hiring company’s call centre usually gets the discount added.
When you see a great rate for a car, book it immediately. You can always change your mind unless the company has a cancellation or no show policy.
Airport rentals are always more expensive than downtown or suburban outlets. If you are planning on staying put for a day or two, consider using Public transport or a taxi to your hotel and then picking the car up later. I have seen the same car reduced in cost by $10 to $30 a day between an airport and suburban location. Over a week that can save you a lot of money.
Weekend rentals are usually more expensive than weekdays in holiday destinations. In business oriented destinations, the reverse will apply. In vacation periods, cars usually cost more.
When booking I enter different times to collect a car and compare prices. Different companies begin weekend rentals at different times. Using this method, I have saved myself a bundle. For example, I needed a car last month for most of Sunday. Picking the car up at 4pm Saturday and dropping it off 4pm Sunday would cost me $78. Picking the same car up from the same location at 8am Sunday and dropping it back by 8am Monday cost me $33. In fact I returned it at 4pm on the Sunday.
I have actually found on occssions that it cheaper to rent a car for a week than for a weekend.
One way rentals
Most companies charge a hefty fee for one way rentals or not allow you to do it. Always check the small print. Sometimes companies will almost pay you to take a car one way. Check out Autodriveway in the USA and Vroomvroomvroom in Australia. Timing is less flexible but it can save you lots of money.
Valid drivers license
Check where you are driving before travelling.
In most countries, provided your own licence can be read and understood by the local agent, it will be accepted. For Argentina, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Senegal and South Africa, you will need an International Driving Permit as well as your local licence. An International Driving Permit, written in ten languages, serves as the official translation of your local driving licence in over 150 United Nations juristictions. Generally, an IDP is available through your local motorist association (eg AAA in USA, NRMA or equivalent in Australia. CAA in Canada, AA in UK). Beware of scams where IDPs are sold through unauthorised dealers over the internet.
To rent a vehicle you must be over a certain age. In some countries that age is 21, in others it is 24 or 25. Being under that does not mean you cannot rent- you just face a hefty surcharge. In some location, you will encounter companies that market themselves to younger drivers. Be careful to go through reputable companies. When in doubt, I recommend talking to your nearest Hostelling International travel service.
It is rare that a company will allow you to rent using cash these days (back street operations in Bali and Phuket are exceptions!). Usually the card must be in the name of the driver and match what is on their licence. This often rules out arrangements where the passenger had intended to pay for the trip. I have seen husband and wife couples refused rental because the card is in the wife’s name and the intended driver is the husband.
When I was in El Salvador, Hertz demanded I produce two Credit Cards.
Companies will accept major debit cards but may take a substantial desposit off the card.
The deposit a car rental company will charge will vary from company to company, country to country. Usually, you will be charged the expected total rental. Some companies may add an additional $100 to $500 on top of that. So be ready. Arguing about it will not get you the car! While the funds will be returned, this process may take days or even weeks leaving the card holder without those funds. If you only have cash to pay, if the company allow you to rent, they will boost the deposit up to $500 to $5000.
The most confusing thing for consumers are the insurances the rental companies will add to the quoted cost of the car. These insurances can often exceed the original cost of rental. If you have an accident, without insurance, the rental company is entitled to clear up to $3000 from your bank account. There are four possible ways to cover this cost:
- Take the insurance at a cost of $10 to $40 a day offered by the car company
- I have an annual travel insurance policy which includes all of the liability costs. If I am in accident using a rental car, all I will be out of pocket for is a $50 excess.
- Consider a specific rental car policies available from main street insurance companies. Protect your Bubble USA and Essential Insurance in the UK).Check the small print but the cost of a week of this insurance is often less than the cost for one day from a car rental company.
- Some Credit Cards provide this cover but check the conditions carefully.
Extras such as Child Booster Seats and SatNav
Many car hire companies will offer to hire you a sat nav or child booster seat for your trip. be careful. The cost for a rental can often exceed the purchase price of one. Take your own. Ask the rental company for a paper map. That is usually free. On one occasion, we took the shuttle bus to the hotel where one parent stayed with the kids. The other parent and I then picked up the car and drove to Costco where we purchased a car booster seat. The cost of the seat was less than hiring it for one day with the company. At the end of the trip, we dropped it off to the local Goodwill store. Saving money and earning karma! My idea of a good deal!
Do not be tempted by these deals. For a locked in price, the rental car company will allow you to avoid filling up the car. The prices is always higher than the nearby pump price and they usually charge you for a full tank of fuel.
Five Questions at Pick up for the rental agent
- How do I get to my destination?
- Where exactly do I drop off on return, whats the best road to take and where is the nearest filling station?
- What is the number for emergency accident or breakdown assist?
- What marks or damage are already on the car?
- Are there any strange things I need to know about the car?
Photograph and damage you cause.
Speeding and Parking fines
You will need to pay for any fines in your name. Sometimes these fines will be deducted styraight from the card you gave the car rental company.
Returning the Car
The return of a rent a car can be very stressful for many reasons. Often people do not leave enough time and/or they leave stuff in the car. Calculate carefully, the time you will need. For example, you need to be at the airport at 5pm. Check if the drop off is a walk or a shuttle bus ride from the airport. If the shuttle bus takes 10 minutes and operates every ten minutes, add 20 minutes. Give yourself half an hour for drop off. That means you aim to be at the car rental location at 410pm.
Look for the nearest two petrol stations. On one nightmarish experience, three of the nearest petrol (gas) stations were closed when I was trying to return my car. Add in the time you need to get to the petrol station and give yourself ten minutes to fill up. Add 3 minutes for every child who will need a restroom stop!
Then add a spare half an hour to your trip.
If you are late, you could be charged up to an extra day’s rental. Some companies will give you a 60 minute grace period. This does not apply to all companies.
As you pack the car for your trip to the drop off location, have all your luggage ready. Avoid having ipods, telephones, passports lying loose around the car. Do not use gloveboxes to store things.
At the drop off location, designate someone who is not the driver (unless you are alone) to check right through the car for loose items.
Ensure that the company sign off the car out of your possession. Then any damages that occur subsequently are not in your name. keep the paperwork for 12 months and check you credit/debit card statement for the final charges.