Car Rentals – Don’t Get Taken in by These Extra Charges!

When deciding which rental company to use, most people call around and compare rates. However, the base rental rate isn’t the only factor that will determine how much you pay. Ask about extra fees which usually aren’t disclosed in rate quotes, and be especially aware of the following:

Added insurance fees – the common wisdom is “don’t buy it, it’s too expensive.” And that is usually true. Before you rent a vehicle, call your own auto insurer and check with them. Chances are if you have full coverage that your rental will also be covered. Be sure to ask about exactly what is covered and any exclusions though. For example, it may be that only certain drivers are covered. Your homeowner’s insurance may cover some losses as well, so you should give that agent a call. Another possible source of insurance coverage is your credit card company. Contact them in advance as well to see what kind of coverage comes with using their service, if any. (This could be a deciding factor of which card to use, if you have multiple cards.) Another consideration … if you have had at-fault accidents or other claims against your policy in the past few years, it might be better to bite the bullet and buy the policy offered by the car rental agency. That way you won’t have to turn in a report of any damages to your own insurer, which could drive your rates MUCH higher in a situation like this.

Mileage fees

Be very aware of this one. Some rentals include unlimited mileage, but others charge a fee for every mile over a base rate, which quickly adds up. If you’ll be using the car often or driving some distance, you probably want to opt for unlimited mileage

Extra cleaning charges

Rental companies vary in what they will accept. Most won’t charge you even if you leave paper trash in the floorboard and the exterior looks like you’ve spent your vacation traveling dirt roads, but a few are more particular and will charge for anything other than “the condition in which you received” the vehicle. The safest bet is to keep it reasonably clean and, if necessary, give the car a once-over before taking it back. After you turn it in you may be stuck with the fee and then it’s too late.

Drop charges

Some companies charge you to drop the car off at a place other than the exact location from which you rent it. These fees can vary quite a bit, so if you won’t be returning to the same location, ask in advance not only what the rental rate is, but how much it will cost to leave it at your destination. You may find the fee increases the price so much that it’s better to go with a company that charges a higher base rate.

Damage charges

Make sure you carefully inspect the vehicle before you drive away, and insist that any damage at all be noted on the rental form as prior damage. Since most cell phones function as a camera, consider taking photos of any prior damage. Again as you drop the car off, take your own photos to prove it wasn’t damaged when you returned it, and ask to have it inspected right away if possible.

Optional equipment rental

Often you pay a premium price for add-ons such as GPS or child safety seats. Sometimes these fees are high enough per day that you’d be better off buying a new one than paying rental charges for a week. If possible, bring your own instead. And if you truly need something, like a child safety seat, ask about guaranteed availability when you make the reservation. Often these cannot be reserved and may or may not be there when you arrive.

Fuel charges

This one has been causing quite a stir lately. Generally you are given the option of returning the car with a full tank, and not being charged for fuel. This is usually your best option, and you do want to be sure to fill up right before you drop off the vehicle. If you are short even a small amount, you can be charged more than twice going rates for fuel from the rental agency. Another item to hit travel news lately is a rental agency requiring receipts for fuel purchased IN ADDITION to the tank being full in order to avoid fuel fees. Be very careful of the fine print on this one.

I hope these tips will prove helpful with so many car rentals coming up over the next weeks, since so many people will be traveling to visit family. Be safe, be wise with your money, and have a good trip!