Transportation is going to be one of the biggest expenses for any traveler, and making mistakes while renting a car can easily blow a budget traveler's budget. Read on to learn more about the most common mistakes travelers make when renting cars.
Renting a Car at the Airport
Perhaps the most common car rental mistake involves making arrangements in an airport.
It's the most convenient place for many travelers to arrange a car rental, and there are times when trying to rent elsewhere is more trouble than it's worth. But many travelers fail to realize that airport car rentals are usually more expensive than other places. Why is this so?
Let's start with taxes. Some airports charge up to 30 percent on your rental, whereas such taxes elsewhere will probably run about half that rate.
Renting and operating business space at airports is expensive, and that cost must be passed on to customers. That's why airport food appears overpriced, and why many airport buys are unwise.
It pays to check rates at nearby rental offices, or at a downtown location. Weigh the cost of ground transportation from the airport and your inconvenience before making a decision.
Failing to Work Pricing Structures
Car rental companies tend to reward longer keeps. Many have a weekly rate that works out to be cheaper on a per diem basis.
For example, a three-day rental could cost $56/day, but a weekly contract might be $28/day. Many companies define a week as at least five days. It sounds crazy, but a five-day rental might be the same price or even cheaper than the three-day keep.
Always check the available rates to determine the best rental period. Don't simply look at your need for a car and then book for that time frame.
Fuel costs go hand-in-hand with this approach. Some companies will give you a full tank, and expect the same upon return, but others will give you a car with a half-tank of gas and ask you to bring it back at the same level. Failing to do so could cost money. You'll either pay a steep refueling penalty or you'll donate gasoline to the company. And sometimes there's a plan that requires you to pay for gasoline in advance at a lower price.
Companies know the odds are in their favor with these plans. You'll rarely hit the estimates correctly, and they'll usually benefit financially from your miscalculation.
Make sure you understand the pricing options before you sign and initial the contract.
Buying Overpriced Insurance
Most budget travelers know they should check with their auto insurers to be certain they are covered when renting a car. Many times, basic coverage will be provided. Credit card companies sometimes provide coverage on car rentals, too. It pays to know the specifics.
But car rental clerks frequently warn that your insurance might not cover everything. They urge you to purchase the company's additional policies that will leave you without a worry. Those added insurance costs can double your expense, so be absolutely certain they are necessary before agreeing to make the purchase.
Once in a while, they do make sense. When renting overseas, for example, your auto policy might not cover an accident. Credit cards sometimes do, but frequently exempt certain countries. Basic travel insurance often covers damages but not liability or medical expenses.
Find out what is required and protect yourself, but don't simply buy whatever the rental company is offering without some homework.
Assuming Immediate Service at Small Offices
High volume rental locations usually have cars. You might be upgraded if they don't have the model you reserved, but chances are good you'll get into a vehicle quickly.
In a smaller city, the fleet size is limited. You might spend several hours waiting for the next return, which then has to be cleaned prior to delivery.
If you'll be flying into a smaller airport or renting in a small city, build some wait time into your itinerary.
Failing to Make Pre-Rental Inspection
If you don't notice scratches, cracks in light covers, mirrors or windshields, body dents, chipped paint, stains on the upholstery, and other seemingly minor problems of a car when you rent it, you might have to pay for it.
If possible, do a walk-around with the agent, making note of any such issues. The next-best option is to do the inspection alone and let the company know on the way off the property that you found some items for which you do not want to be charged upon return.
The same holds true for any mechanical problems. If the car is not in optimum working order, return it.
Reserving Large Rather Than Small
There are times when a larger car is about the same price as a compact. In those cases, many budget travelers see the extra money as well-spent. But when that pricing does not exist, it always pays to reserve a smaller car, especially during busy holiday travel periods.
The companies frequently run out of smaller cars, and if they don't have the small car you reserved at the time of arrival, you'll get a free upgrade. In the U.S. and Canada, this free upgrade happens more frequently than many might imagine, because the companies tend to stock larger cars.
So if you can live with getting a small car, go ahead and reserve it. If it happens, at least you'll save money on fuel costs.
Paying for Expensive Accessories
Frequently overheard at the rental counter: "Wouldn't you like a navigation system? Many of the roads here are hard to follow."
This is a common sales tactic, and it works less often now than it did a few years ago. Many budget travelers now carry smartphones equipped with navigation apps.
But there are plenty of other offers that will be made. The aforementioned insurance, fuel package purchases, and satellite radio upgrades all add up.
Are you comfortable with a manual transmission? If so, it will save money in many countries. Cars are stocked based on the population's preferences. Outside of North America, most drivers are comfortable with a manual shift.
Inaccurate Return Time Estimates
Some companies will give you an hour or so of grace time, but there are others with policies that hold you to the hour and minute you said you'd bring back the car. In a few extreme cases, you'll be charged for another day, even if that day was 20 minutes.
Be sure to ask the clerk about the company's policy. Better yet, try to give yourself a time cushion. Estimate a time an hour or so later than you actually expect to return.