Budget Tips AT the Rental Car Counter

You’re at the rental car counter…reservation in hand. What do you do now to insure you’re not taken advantage of?  Well, I’m assuming you read reviews and chose a company with high marks.  Everything should be fine.  However, it never hurts to be informed to better protect yourself.

What Do You Need To Know?

Insurance: Insurance is a requirement – but your regular auto insurance policy may cover rental cars. Check with them and if so, bring proof (insurance card or letter from company).

Some credit cards will insure the car when the transaction is processed on their card. Call your credit card company to inquire and of course, bring proof of that as well.  There’s no need to buy a policy from the rental car company if you’re already covered elsewhere (savings of $8-$15/day).  The rental company MAY pressure you (high pressure) to buy their policy….it’s a HUGE money maker for them.  But know that you CAN politely refuse with proper proof.

WORD OF CAUTION:  DON’T attempt to drive without insurance coverage…  The price/consequence for that is MUCH higher than just purchasing coverage from the rental company.

Re-Fueling Options:  

  • Return the car without refueling.  They refuel at THEIR price.  This is the worst option as their price is VERY high!!
  • Refuel before returning the car –   You may be required to present a receipt for gas purchase – especially if you drove the car less than 75 miles.  Confirm their policies when you pick up the car.
  • Many companies are now offering a 3rd option:  You PRE-PURCHASE a FULL tank of gas – at a less-than-market price. The catch? You are charged for the full tank regardless of the fuel level upon return. To get the best value, you need to return the car as close to “empty” as possible. That CAN be hard to gauge.  Now, the savings can be as much as .25/gal. On a recent rental we were offered this option….and told that if we didn’t drive the car to “E”, we could just  refuel it ourselves. The deal would then be ‘void’. When they put that in writing, I decided to give it a try.  We ended up refueling as our tank was only down to 1/3 on the last day.  If those policies become the ‘norm’ over time, it MIGHT be something to consider…

KNOW the Total Cost:  Before leaving the lot, make sure you’ve been given the TOTAL charges – upfront..  Some (less than reputable) companies may try to assess extra charges when you return the car. You’ll have no recourse then.

Online Horror Stories:  I’ve read horror stories of people returning a car only to have the employee walk around the vehicle and “find” every scratch, dent, & door ding and access charges for them.  I’ve never experienced that myself, however, when we first get a car, I ask the employee to walk around the car with me THEN  making notes on the form AND TAKING PICTURES of any major dents or scratches/dings.  I don’t get overly “picky” here, but do make note of things that are “moderately significant”. (including wheel rims and the interior.) and make sure the employee knows that I’ve gone over the car carefully MYSELF.


Photo Credit: Tom Magliery on Flickr CC Lic.

Maybe just doing this keeps them from being dishonest with me later… or maybe those horror stories aren’t true…. I do this nonetheless.

Extra Note: I have read quite a few online articles that advise taking pictures of EVERYTHING when renting in Hawaii.  I don’t know why they isolate Hawaii, but I found the sheer number of articles interesting. We rented cars on 3 islands and didn’t have any problems.  Of course, I followed the advice.

Rental Car Rates:  Rates are based on a 24 hour clock (not pro-rated) OR weekly rates. (cheaper than per day)  Returning a car early can cause your rate to go up if it drops you out of the category you’ve been priced with. In an emergency you have no other choice; just don’t be surprised if that happens.

  1. Unlimited mileage on rental cars is pretty standard these days, but confirm this if you plan to drive long distances.
  2. Out of State:  If your travel plans will take you out of the state where you rented the car, make sure this is within their policy.  In Alaska, we rented a car in Skagway to drive the Klondike Highway…Into Canada.  They DO allow renters to take the car ‘into another country’ AS LONG AS YOU TELL THEM.  Had I not read the fine print, then had any kind of problem/car trouble, accident, etc… we could have been in a LOT of hot water.  Again…and I’ve said this many many times  READ THE FINE PRINT!!

May be of interest:  Finding Bargains on Rental Cars


Finding Bargains on Rental Cars

Finding Bargains on Rental Cars

Rental cars are probably the area where my tenacious approach  🙂  to vacation planning has gotten us some of the best bargains.  It takes some time and effort, but you CAN save quite a bit if you’re  willing to make that time investment.


  1. Reserve early!!  There’s no way to predict when rates will go up or down, but you won’t go wrong by reserving early.  If they go up, you’re locked in at the cheaper rate…. but if they go down, you can rebook – which brings us to the next tip.
  2. Check back frequently for cheaper rates:  If the rates go down (and they often do),  cancel and re-book at the cheaper rate.  I check back every 4-5 days.  This takes time…but there have been vacations where I’ve saved as much as $100 from the initial booking to the day we leave for vacation. In the beginning of this process, I may see savings of $5-$10-$20 at a time.  The closer we get to the vacation, the less the savings  ($2-$4)  but I still  cancel/rebook anyway. Even those small savings add up over time. Tip:  Create a folder in your e-mail program to drop all the confirmations.  They’ll be easy to locate when you need to cancel the higher rate.  BUT…and THIS IS IMPORTANT:  Don’t make a reservation that requires pre-payment or that can’t be cancelled. Always read the fine print.


    Photo Credit: Tuddy at en.wikipedia CC Lic.

  3. Are you a member of a Warehouse Club?  We recently bought a Costco membership.  When I first went to check their Travel section, I fully assumed that they would NOT be able to beat the AAA quotes I had reserved for rental car.  What I found was that they beat the AAA price by $26!!!  I made a new reservation!!!
  4. Check Your Quote:  Confirm that your quote  covers the full charges (all taxes, fees, surcharges) so that you’re comparing TOTAL COSTS.
  5. Unlimited mileage on rental cars is pretty standard these days, but confirm this if you plan to drive long distances.
  6. Out of State:  If your travel plans will take you out of the state where you rented the car, make sure this is within the policy of that company.  (Policies vary)  Several years ago we flew into Providence R.I. and were headed to Cape Cod for our vacation (about 60 mi away).  We had to get special permission from management to cross the state line.  They “ok’ed” it without a problem, but wanted to see our return airline ticket.  If we had not let them know, then had any kind of car problems or accident, we could have been in a lot of hot water!!
  7. Extra Driver:  Some companies allow for a spouse as an extra driver without charge….other companies will charge.  Though I’ve never needed to drive a rental car on a vacation, (my husband does the driving) I’ve always worried just a bit about what would happen if there were some type of emergency and I NEEDED to drive. Would the company say we breached the contract and assess fines or penalties?  We try to only rent from companies that will allow a 2nd driver at no charge.  (they want a signature, driver’s lic. etc…from me too )  It gives me peace of mind.
  8. Get the right size car: Obviously, the smaller the car, the better the rate AND gas mileage will be.  The most important thing to consider when trying to downsize is ‘Will the luggage fit?”  If you have to make a upgrade to a larger car AT the COUNTER, you will pay the premium rate. That happened to us once.  I reserved a small car to save money and though my family fit, the luggage didn’t.  All my savings were gone!  We paid the same rate we would have paid if we had walked up to the counter to rent on the spot.  😦 



Photo Credit: Tom Magliery on Flickr CC Lic