¨Paul Ryan looks like the car rental salesman who bullies you into getting full coverage.¨
Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off at the Car Rental Counter
Is a Car Rental More Trouble than It is Worth?
I often wonder why so many people rent cars. There are times when renting a car is a great option. However, many Fifty Plus Nomads rent a car because it seems to be the thing to do without considering other options such as public transportation first.
Renting a car anywhere can be difficult and problematic for many Fifty Plus Nomads. Rental rates range from $40-$100 a day, and insurance costs $10 to-40 more. (Also, sometimes cars in Europe have a stick-shift transmission, and if you need an automatic, you will pay more if you can find them at all).
If you rely primarily on public transportation, you will see that most of the world is cheaper than the US. (Note: the US is usually the most affordable and convenient place to rent a car).
Also, you will have other advantages if you rely on public transportation, including:
- Meeting more local people. I have met some of the world’s kindest people on buses. One time, I even had a fellow passenger in Mexico offer to let me stay with him because I was sick on the bus.
- Seeing more of the countryside and relaxing on public transportation. On the bus or train, can read and look out the window rather than having pay attention to the road.
- Avoiding paying the high tolls that exist overseas. Tolls can easily add ten to twenty cents a mile to travel in many parts of Europe and even regions of Latin America, such as Mexico and Argentina. (For example, you can spend more money on tolls alone traveling between Texas and Central Mexico than an airline ticket would cost.)
- Spending alot for gas. In most countries (even in Third World Countries) gas costs as much or more per gallon than in the US, In most of Western Europe gas costs the equivalent of $8-11 a gallon. Even in a country where travel is cheap, like Thailand and Argentina, gas costs more than in the US.
- Avoiding paying for damage to rental cars. Several times in my seminars in the 2000s, I heard stories of people who rented a car in Western Europe or Australia and got in an accident in an area (like a traffic roundabout or a mountain pass) that was not covered by the car insurance. These students have had to endure a prolonged fight to get the issue resolved, and one student even had to pay the rental agency for the cost of a “totaled” car. I did not have a similar problem when I had a fender bender in a rental car in Calgary, Alberta in 2015. (I had credit card insurance with American Express)
- Difficulty finding parking overseas, particularly in large cities. It is not unusual to spend thirty minutes to an hour to locate any free spaces. And, in some cities, you can quickly pay $20-$50 a day to park your car. Besides, in many European cities, you will have to park outside of town and walk or bus your way into the central city.
- Finding your way around can be very frustrating. I met someone who spent six hours in a car just looking for a way to get out of Mexico City. I have also met several people who were so frustrated driving around Europe between the small roads, crazy drivers, and confusing road signs that they vowed never to return. My father even edited a video of all the mistakes we made in trying to find our way around France by car.
Best Reasons to Rent a Car
Despite these apparent disadvantages, sometimes renting a car can be worthwhile. I would advise you to consider renting when: you:
- Travel in rural and suburban areas. It can be hard to find buses, and when they do exist, they can be extremely infrequent. In addition, when you travel in rural and suburban areas with a car you can access inexpensive rural accommodations [car-oriented chain hotels (like Motel 6 in the US or Ibis or Formule One in Europe), hostels and campgrounds, and agrotourism (farm stays), and monastery rooms and restaurants (truck-stop diners and drive-through, fast-food restaurants) which help offset the car rental costs.
- Travel with your family. Even though costly, car rentals become competitive with public transportation when three or more people travel together.
- Carry a lot of luggage. Cars will save you a lot of lugging and storage charges. (In the US and Western Europe, it can be hard to find baggage storage facilities in bus and train stations. When you do see these facilities, they will be costly and may not allow you to keep baggage overnight).
- Visit the US and Canada unless you are going to (and/or between) major cities in a congested area (like Boston-Washington- New York, San Francisco, and Chicago). Public buses are rare in the US and, most importantly, rental cars can be unbelievably cheap.
Over the years, I have noted that there are several clues to getting inexpensive car rentals in the US and Canada:
How to Get the Best Car Rental in the US and Canada?
- The most reasonable car rentals are usually from locations that are off-the-beaten-tourist-path. It is rare that you will get a good deal at the airport. Sometimes the difference in rental fees between places in the same city can be so pronounced that it is worth the time and trouble to take a bus or shuttle to another area to pick up a car or to change your itinerary to a place where rental cars are available cheaply. Years ago, I saved almost $300. just by renting a car in downtown Los Angeles rather than at LAX.
- It often costs the same to rent a car for a week as for five days. Therefore, when possible, make rentals in week-long increments. (Note: This is true even for extended rentals. In other words, it will cost the same to rent a car for 26 days (7 days for three weeks plus five days) as for 28 days (7 days for four weeks).
- Look for rentals as part of packages. When you book a flight, many sites will ask you do you want to rent a car as well. I have found that usually booking both together will save 10-30%.
- While typically, you want to avoid returning a vehicle to a different office than you rented it from, sometimes it can work out. You may pay as much or less for a car rental when you return the car to an office located a long distance from where you rented it. I was surprised to discover that it cost me $50 less to rent a car for a week in Peoria, Illinois in 2006 and return it to Providence, Rhode Island than to rent a car to travel around Peoria for a week.
Typical Extra Car Rental Fees (Often a Rip-Off)
Watch out for car rental companies’ additional fees. Rental car companies are most likely to force you to pay unexpected fees for all travel businesses. Some of these fees include:
- Early and late return and pick up fees. Return or even pick up your car at the time that you indicated in advance to avoid fees. (I was once charged for dropping off a vehicle late because the staff was so overwhelmed at Chicago-O’Hare with car check-ins that they did not process the paperwork until three hours after I dropped the car off). The penalty for returning your vehicle earlier than indicated on the rental contract is sometimes called “rental change fee” and can be as high as $15-20. If you turn your car in late, you will pay a fee as well as an hourly or daily rate for the extra rental time. Expect to pay a full day’s charge for these optional items if you return the car late.
- Refueling fees: To avoid this fee, refuel the car within ten miles of your rental car office and bring the receipt with you when you return your vehicle.
- Additional authorized driver fees.
- Frequent traveler program fee: If you ask the rental car companies for credit on a frequent flier account, expect to pay a small daily fee- often more than the miles are worth for longer-term car rentals.
- Lost key: Since most keys are smart keys expect this fee to be several hundreds of dollars. You may pay this fee twice if you lose both keys on a two-key keyring.
- Cancellation fees: Usually car rental companies do not charge this fee for most rentals; however, there are two notable exceptions, if you: .
- rent a luxury or premium car.
- prepay for the car (which usually saves you some money) you will pay a fee if you cancel your rental less than 24 hours before your scheduled pickup time.
- Drop-off fees (sometimes substantial) if you do not pick-up the car at the same place you dropped it off.
- Fees (sometimes quite high) for GPS and baby seats.
- Airport concession fees: These fees can be quite high and sometimes are the main reason the cost of rentals in airport rental is higher than most other locations.
- Miscellaneous car-related fees such as vehicle licensing and tire recycling fees.
- Do not be surprised if car rental companies charge you an additional day if you do not return the car at the exact time you indicate on your reservation.
- Transponder Fee. I was charged $20 for the transponder rental in Florida. The transponder was necessary to pay tolls on Florida’s toll-roads. (The roads had no toll booths). Many rental companies charge this fee if you do not use toll roads. I have heard of companies charging this fee daily without any cap. For more information on this fee, see this Point Guy post.
- Insurance: In Canada and the USA, you can usually avoid paying insurance if you have a printed and signed letter from your insurance agent giving your insurance details and saying that your existing insurance includes rental cars. You could probably do the same if your credit card includes rental car insurance when you pay for the rental with the card. (American Express offers the best rental car insurance). Check to make sure that your insurance also includes damage to other cars (liability insurance) as well as to rental cars. Sadly, I have a bad history of fender benders (it is a bid reason I don’t own a car in Mexico). I have been in two fender benders in rental cars. The first was covered by my car insurance company (the damage was to the other car). The second accident in 2015 (the damage was to the rental car) and was covered by insurance through my American Express card. Even though both these accidents did not cost me anything, I prefer nowadays since I rent car rarely anyways to rent cars with the insurance provided by the car rental companies.
Renting a Car Outside of the US and Canada
I have never rented a car outside of the US or Canada. Here is a summary of a few essential tips and some reliable resources for additional information.
- Check out websites and guidebooks for advice about travelers renting a vehicle overseas. Rick Steves goes an excellent job of addressing some of the issues you will find in Europe.
- Also, find out about whether you need an international drivers’ license. The international drivers´ license is most valuable if you are going to a country without the Roman alphabet (usually Cyrillic, Arabic, etc.).
- Make sure that your insurance will cover you in another country. Credit card coverages are more likely to cover you than home country car insurances but do not be surprised if you need to buy insurance coverage overseas.
- Here are some additional tips from Smarter Travel, Thrilllist, and the New York Times.
Want More Advice on How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off at the Car Rental Counter?
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