Renting a car can be a great transport option when you’re travelling in your own country or abroad, but it can be a bit daunting! Make sure you’re making the right choices and getting the best deal with these top ten tips for car hire while traveling!

To listen, hit play below or find episode 352 in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud:

1. Think about what you really need!

You may be able to get away with a smaller car than you expect. Do you need automatic transmission, or are you happy with manual? How many people are travelling, and how much luggage?

2. Shop around

Spend some time looking into the car-hire options in the location you’re heading to. Consolidation services like AutoSlash (our sponsor for this episode — see the box below) can be helpful here!

In the US, the car rental industry is controlled by three main players — Enterprise Holdings, Avis Budget Group, and Hertz.  Avis owns Budget, Payless and Zipcar. Enterprise owns National and Alamo. Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty. 

Money burning
Shop around to avoid wasting your money!

3. Book in advance

Book your rental as early as possible and check rates often or use an automated service to track the rate. Prices often drop as the pickup date approaches.

4. But don’t necessarily pay in advance

For that reason, it’s best to avoid pre-paid rentals. They may look cheaper but you can probably find a better deal later on — and you’ll wish you hadn’t paid up front.  

5. Always return your tank full

Pre-paying for a tank of gas, or letting the rental company re-fill the tank upon return may be convenient, but you’ll likely pay for the privilege.

Bringing the car back with less than a full tank and having the rental company re-fill it will incur hefty fees, perhaps two to three times what you might expect to pay at the petrol station.

While the option to pre-pay for a tank of gas can be a handy option, the reality is that you’d have to return the car almost completely empty in order for it to really pay off. It sounds simple, but it’s often tougher to do than you think. Plan ahead and leave yourself enough time to fill up on the way back to the rental office, as this is almost always the least expensive option. 

Refuel your hire car before you return it
Make sure to return your tank full.

6. Don’t discredit hiring from an airport

People often think that rental rates off-airport are always less expensive than renting at the airport. While this can often be true (as car hire companies have lower costs in non-airport locations) in some cases competition between companies can drive prices down to very low levels at the airport — even after taxes and other costs are factored in.

Sometimes a cab ride to an off-airport location makes sense, while other times the airport may actually be cheaper, so check both options to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.

7. Get insurance. Get extra insurance. Get excess insurance.

When you book your car, you’ll be offered insurance and this may be your best option. Then again, it may not. You may also have to purchase some kind of insurance through the car hire company, with more comprehensive cover costing more. Don’t just sign on the dotted line, or, worse, give in to the “hard sell” at the rental counter. Do some research about what kind of cover you need, what you’re already covered for on your personal auto insurance, credit card insurance, or travel insurance, and go from there.

We recently hired a car in New Zealand, and a basic level of insurance was included in the base price. However, the excess was $2000 — ouch. Rather than pay $100 per day extra to lower the excess, we took out a travel insurance policy for $50 for the whole four days, that covered the excess if anything happened to the vehicle.

Friends of ours found themselves uninsured in Iceland when volcanic ash ruined the paint on their hire car. They had to pay thousands of dollars in repair bills, even though they would have happily shelled out for specific insurance if they’d known that volcanic ash was an issue. Ash cover is more easily available now, but that doesn’t help our friends.

Do a quick google search for common insurance issues in the area you’ll be travelling to, and make sure you’re covered.

New Zealand road trip
Head out on the road!

8. Inspect your vehicle before hopping in

Inspect your vehicle carefully, and take photos or a video of any damage before leaving the rental lot. Insist that any damage be documented by the rental company, lest you be accused of causing damage that was already there. Many companies will provide you with a form to mark damage on, which should be checked by an employee before you leave — take a photo of that too!

Proving damage existed when you picked up the car can be your word against the rental company, so it’s worth an extra couple of minutes of your time to avoid problems and financial loss later.

9. Be wary about extras and aware of advantages

Additional charges can rack up quickly! Some of the common ones are:

Additional driver fees
These can be pricy, or non-existent. Check before you book, even if you plan for one person to do most of the driving. It’s best to have more than one named driver in case of emergencies, if that’s not going to be too expensive.

Membership of organisations like AAA, Costco, AARP and USAA may give you access to free additional drivers in North America.

Device hiring
Satnavs in rental cars can be topnotch or bottom of the barrel. We tend to use Waze and phone data these days.

If you’ll be driving in an area where tolls are charged, a hired toll transponder can be a convenient way to pay your fees. However, double check how much you’re being charged for this convenience — you may be charged the highest cash rate available plus a per-day “convenience fee”.

To avoid this, you could avoid toll roads, use a cash lane if available, or get your own toll transponder for the area you will be traveling in before the trip or when you arrive.

Toll booth in France
Make sure you’re familiar with the toll system in your destination.

Speaking of tolls, if you’re travelling internationally, make sure to research how tolls work in the countries you’re travelling to, and plan accordingly. Some countries require a special tax sticker in order to use any motorways, which are usually provided in-country and available from the rental desk in nearby countries.

Other countries are a bit complicated — in Portugal, tolls are all paid digitally, but you need to pre-purchase credits and load them on to an account attached to your licence plate number.

Advantages
You may have access to benefits through an organisation affiliation or credit card. For example, US renters who are AAA members get a free child seat rental when renting using the AAA discount code with Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty.

Deer in Scotland
Watch out for obstacles while driving, like this stag we saw from a hire car in Scotland.

10. Drive safe!

It goes without saying that it’s in your best interest to drive as safely as possible. Research any interesting road rules, keep your seatbelt on, drive to the speed limit and the conditions, and take regular breaks. And have a great trip!

This episode of the Indie Travel Podcast is sponsored by AutoSlash.

AutoSlash is the #1 site for getting a great deal on a car rental. They figure out the best coupons and discount codes to get you the lowest rate possible, and then track prices on your rental right until the day you pick up the car. If they find a lower rate, they email you so you can lock in the savings. It’s like price protection on your rental. They can even track the price of rentals made on other websites. 

AutoSlash has saved customers millions of dollars on car rentals. Give it a try on your next booking!

Thanks to our friends at AutoSlash for their assistance with putting together these notes!

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