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Important Things to Know Before Choosing a Rental Car Company

Kaitlyn Short
Kaitlyn Short | Senior Editor

Rental car companies are battling the rise of ridesharing by emphasizing the unique offerings of their industry. The results are competitive pricing, more positive customer service, and greater rental flexibility. Though some may find ridesharing better suited to their activities, a rental car is the best choice in a variety of circumstances. This guide will answer your questions about car rental and help identify the right choice for you.

Rental car companies are battling the rise of ridesharing by emphasizing the unique offerings of their industry. The results are competitive pricing, more positive customer service, and greater rental flexibility. Though some may find ridesharing better suited to their activities, a rental car is the best choice in a variety of circumstances. This guide will answer your questions about car rental and help identify the right choice for you.

Rental car basics

Renting a car from a rental company is ostensibly straightforward. Customers can book online, through an app, or in-person at a company’s location. However, to be eligible for booking, you will have to meet the company’s minimum age requirements and hold a valid driver’s license.

Rental car companies strategically place locations at airports and in regions with a high tourist volume, but bear in mind that renting on-site at these locations may cost more. Still, this is an attractive option for those seeking convenience.

How to choose a rental car company

Choosing the right company will depend on your personal circumstances. Read customer reviews to understand which companies provide the best customer service and resolve issues effectively. A company with low upfront fees and high customer dissatisfaction might warn a consumer that the company will not provide a positive experience. Good car rental companies will have happy customers and flexible options.

To find the most competitive rates, browse several companies’ websites and vary your selections in date, car category, and location. Rental car companies dynamically price their services, and so choosing less popular locations and less popular days of the week may provide you with the best deal.

Additionally, you may want to consider a company’s accessibility. Some companies have apps for quick booking and check-in. Check what companies will be available in your area or the area you’re travelling to, as some rental car companies are not available internationally.

Rental car companies may charge a fee for a second driver, drivers younger than 30, or older than 70. Research a company and read our Additional Car Rental Fees below to see what fees you may incur and whether they apply to you.

Types of rental cars

Companies typically price rentals in three tiers: high, middle, and low. While users will rarely encounter a rental car site that allows them to filter by these explicit pricing tiers, they can expect to find their quotes ranging within the following three brackets.

High — This tier includes performance and luxury cars. New, high performance vehicles will be priced highly on rental car sites. Drivers pay for the novelty or prestigious experience.

Middle — Buyers can expect intermediate vehicles that are moderately priced in this tier. SUVs and recreational vehicles may fall into this pricing bracket. Typically, larger cars with more seating will be in the middle tier, and so renters with many passengers might rent from this bracket.

Low — Economy and compact vehicles are most likely to be in the lowest pricing tier. These may include sedans and hatchbacks. If you are looking for the lowest rates, your selections will be in this tier.

Additional rental car fees

The most frequent complaints against rental car companies involve hidden fees and add-on services. Prepare to respond to these charges and offers when booking your car. The best car rental companies will be transparent about their charges and offer consumers opportunities to opt out of add-ons they don’t need or want. Here are a few of the most common additional fees:

Rental car insurance — Rental agencies typically offer to package rental car insurance with your purchase. For many customers with their own car insurance or insurance benefits through a credit card, this might not be necessary. If you are unsure whether rental cars are covered under your insurance plan or credit card, contact your providers. Your policies may have exceptions, such as using the rental car in another country or using the car for business travel.

Early fees and late fees — Deviating from your rental plans could cost you. You may be charged differently depending on the day you return a car, and you could be charged by the day rather than the week if you return a car early.

Toll transponder fees — If you plan on driving toll roads, you may incur additional fees for your rental car’s transponder. Many rental agencies outfit their cars with transponders, which are signalling devices that transmit radio signals to the toll station. The toll station then charges a driver automatically as they pass through. The rental company will charge the driver processing fees in addition to the toll itself. Transponders make driving through toll stations easier, but customers should ask whether their rental car company has a transponder and charges for its use. Price-conscious consumers should consider choosing GPS routes that filter out toll roads to avoid these charges.

Drop-off fees — Returning a car to another location might cost a renter. Companies have to distribute their cars through all locations and may therefore charge a drop-off fee when it’s returned at another site.

Additional driver fees — In many cases, only one driver is authorized to operate a rental car without add-ons. Check the state laws where you are renting and company memberships you hold (such as Costco and AAA memberships) to verify that you are being charged correctly if you plan to have an additional driver. Certain states may cap the additional driver fee at a certain rate, and company memberships might waive your additional driver fee.

Age fees — Drivers may run into young renter fees if they are under 30, or occasionally additional charges if they are a senior over 70. Verify age limitations with your chosen company.

Research specific companies to find out if any of these charges apply to their services. Not all fees will apply to all companies.

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Rental Cars Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between renting and ridesharing?

Ridesharing is a service in which drivers and passengers share the driver’s private vehicle to reach a destination. While carpooling and taxis may fall into this category, the term is more commonly associated with ridesharing platforms such as Lyft and Uber where customers use an app to “hail” a driver and his or her privately-owned vehicle. The driver picks the customer up and drives to the customer’s destination.

Conversely, when renting a car, the customer will be the driver for a vehicle owned by the rental company. The renter is responsible for the car during the rental period.

What is the difference between car renting and car sharing?

Rental agencies use car sharing to loan a car to a consumer for a short period of time. Car sharing charges an hourly rate; car renting charges a daily rate.

When should I rent a car?

Drivers who plan on long-term travel, business outings, or road trips should consider renting a car. Additionally, travelers who prefer the convenience of having a car easily accessible — rather than waiting for a ridesharing vehicle to pick them up — should consider renting.

Car rental can be more convenient than ridesharing, but it won’t be cost-effective unless you plan to use the car frequently during your rental period. Ridesharing or car sharing are cheaper for closing short distances. In destinations where public transit is robust, neither ridesharing nor car rental may be necessary.

How old do I have to be to rent a car?

In most of North America, you must be 21 or over to rent a car. A minority of states allow drivers 18 or over to rent a car. Government employees and military personnel might also be able to rent a car if they are 18 or over by providing appropriate documentation.

In addition to legal age restrictions, many rental car agencies have their own guidelines. Several companies restrict car classes from higher pricing tiers to drivers under 25. Young renter fees could be higher for drivers in states that allow rental car drivers under 21.

What do I need to rent a car?

Customers will need a valid driver’s license and credit card to rent a car. Though some companies accept debit or cash through internal guidelines, many will only rent through a credit card to provide both the customer and company protection.

When can I use a debit card to rent a car?

Rental car companies are becoming more open to debit cards, but debit users could need to undergo a credit check and provide proof of return before a company accepts their debit transaction. Debit card users might be able to bypass these requirements by booking in advance. Check with a company to see if debit is an option.

How can I prevent undeserved damage fees?

Some customers claim that rental car companies scam them out of money by charging damage fees the driver didn’t incur.

Drivers should check in and check out with a company employee and go over damages with personnel. Thoroughly inspect the vehicle and record and document any damages independently prior to checking the car out. Also have the employee note these damages on the rental check-out form. By documenting any prior damage thoroughly with timestamps and employee supervision, customers will have the ability to file claims against damage charges they believe are unfair.

How can I find the best rental car company for me?

Consumers who research their choices and read the fine print are more likely to be satisfied with their car rental. We rank and review car rental companies while also providing customer reviews to allow you to find the right rental car company for you.

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