If you are planning a trip and looking to cut costs, one of the best ways to do this is saving money on a rental car. While some cities like New York and Chicago don’t require a car at all, others are a little less forgiving in terms of walkability. That’s why I’ve put together these 6 rental car tips to ensure you have more money to spend on coffee, tacos and activities than getting around!
You may be wondering: why rent a car when there are apps like Uber and Lyft? Depending on where you’re going, who you’re going with (a group of friends vs. a solo trip), trip length, and the supply & demand of rides in the city, Uber and Lyft can sometimes cost exponentially more than renting a car.
In terms of traveling, I like to say I live my life a quarter mile at a time…or maybe that’s just a Fast & The Furious quote. Regardless, if you’re planning a trip and a rental car is a must, keep scrolling to read my 6 tips that every traveler should know before renting…
FYI – Renting a Car for Drivers Under 25 Years Old
- In MOST U.S. states, the legal age to rent a car is 20 years old. However, some companies will not rent to anybody under age 25 for liability reasons.
- Some companies, such as Hertz and Enterprise, have an “Under 25 Car Rental” program where you are able to rent cars provided you meet certain criteria.
- For drivers under 25, most companies (including Hertz and Enterprise) place restrictions on the types of cars you are allowed to rent, and they typically charge a daily “young renter fee.”
My Top 6 Tips for Renting a Car
1. Don’t Buy Car Insurance From the Rental Company
If you own a vehicle, chances are your insurance plan covers rental cars. But a lot of times, car rental companies make money off of people not knowing this.
What’s even worse? They will normally frame it in the form of a statement, not a question. Instead of asking you, “what type of insurance coverage would you like to add on your vehicle?” – they will say something like, “we’ll go ahead and give you basic coverage, unless you think you want to upgrade for more protection.”
Always check with your car insurance company to verify that you have rental car coverage. If you do, you can simply decline their insurance when picking up your vehicle.
- Pro Tip: It is a good idea to have a picture or screenshot of your auto insurance policy with you when you go to pick up a rental car. When I was in Los Angeles, Ace Rent-A-Car made me prove to them that I had insurance before they would allow me to decline insurance coverage.
2. Don’t Pre-Pay for Your Gas
This is another way that rental car companies get you to spend more money when you don’t necessarily have to. A lot of companies require you to bring your car back with a full tank of gas, unless you choose to pre-pay for a tank. When you pre-pay for gas, you are essentially purchasing an entire tank of gas because the rental car company is assuming you will bring the car back empty.
But what if you only drove a quarter tank’s worth of distance? Pre-paying for gas saves you time in terms of stopping and filling your gas tank up at the end of your trip, but who wants to spend $60+ on gas when you could only be spending $15?
- Pro Tip: If you choose to fill your car up yourself, a lot of car rental companies will say you have to get gas within a certain mile radius (ex. 10 miles) of where you are dropping the car off. Rest assured there will ALWAYS be a gas station close-by to the drop-off location, or else they would not be able to mandate this.
- Pro Tip: After filling your car up, keep your receipt with the cost and the address of the gas station on it in case there are any questions.
3. Take Advantage of Priceline’s “Supplier’s Choice” Option
Priceline has a “supplier’s choice” option where they essentially choose your rental car for you, along with the company that you are renting from. This is usually one of the cheapest options on their website if not THE cheapest, especially if you find yourself renting a car at the last minute (yes, I’m raising my hand).
Once you purchase this, you will get an email with the rental car company name and location. When you get there, the employee will then select your car for you. This will typically be in the class of a 4-door sedan, economy car, etc. (note: you can always upgrade if you decide you don’t like the car you get, but it may cost you more money).
When I rent a car, I rent it with the mindset that it is there to get me from A to B. That’s it. I don’t need to pull up like I’m in a Rick Ross music video (although, NGL, sometimes when you go to cities like LA it’s kinda tempting).
In other words, I don’t really care what car I get. But when I was in Sedona expecting to get a basic Ford Focus and instead got handed the keys to a convertible mustang, I can’t say I was mad about it. The takeaway: You CAN get a bomb ride out of this cheap deal!
4. Check Out the Turo App
Turo is essentially AirBNB except for cars, and the concept is essentially the same as it is for rental car companies. You rent someone’s car for an agreed-upon number of days, set the pickup and drop-off location, and are able to read and write reviews. Depending on the location and whether or not you are booking in advance, Turo is possibly cheaper than going through a rental company.
I explored using Turo when I went to Sedona and Los Angeles, but ultimately chose to go with Priceline’s supplier’s choice option as mentioned above. A few things worth noting when booking a car using Turo:
- A lot of the cars have a mileage cap -> Unlike rental car companies, which usually provide you with unlimited miles, a lot of the cars I saw on Turo had a limit to the number of miles you could drive. I would have gone over my mileage limit during my Los Angeles trip, which was ultimately the reason I did not choose Turo,
- It will only work if you are starting and ending your trip in the same city -> Since you are renting someone’s actual car, you will be required to drop it off at the same location that you picked it up. In other words, if you were starting your trip in Austin, Texas and ending it in Houston, Turo would not be an option for you.
- The pickup spot could be further than you think -> While exploring Turo before going to Los Angeles, I saw that some of the cheaper options were located pretty far from the airport. For example, the pickup location for one of the cars I wanted to rent was in Los Angeles, but located an hour from LAX! Sometimes, you are able to get cars dropped off at the airport if the owner is located further out, but there will usually be a fee.
5. Know What to Do If You Are Dropping Your Car Off After Hours
This one could have gotten ugly… **takes cleansing breath**
The backstory: When I went to LA, I chose to spend my final night sleeping in the airport. My flight left at 5am, which means I would have to wake up at 3am, which means I would have paid close to $200 (after taxes and fees) to spend 3 hours in a hotel room. Bye Felicia. Being high maintenance and selectively cheap is a fine line to walk, but I walk it well, my friends. 😉
ANYWAY – when renting my car, I selected my drop-off time to be 10:00pm. My plan was to return my car, take the shuttle to the airport, pull out my blanket, travel pillow, and ibuprofen, and go to sleep (if you’re asking why ibuprofen, you’ve never slept on airport chairs). The guy at the rental car station was cool with it. I was cool with it. “Dropping off at 10?” – “Yep!” – “Sounds good.”
Long story short: There was a gate blocking the entrance to get into the rental car lot at 10pm. After driving around for 30 minutes, I ended up leaving my car at the Enterprise After Hours Lot even though they were NOT who I rented my car from. I spent the rest of the night thinking my life was about to turn into Grand Theft Auto. It would have been nice to know that there was not an after-hours lot at my rental company’s dealership or at least receive SOME sort of instruction, but I was left to figure that out on my own. Now, I know to always ask.
- Pro Tip: Rental car companies have late fees if you drop your car off after hours. This is another reason to make sure you know what you are supposed to do with your car if there’s a chance the lot will be closed.
- The silver lining in all of this is had I spent an extra $200 and stayed at the hotel, I would have run into this same problem AND probably would have missed my flight. God is up there. 🙏🏼
6. The Rental Company Will (Likely) Try and Talk You Into Upgrading Your Vehicle
Remember how I said that renting a car was one of the easiest ways to save money on a trip? Yes – it would be cool to be driving around Key West in a convertible BMW, but you don’t HAVE to. How much time are you really going to spend in your car anyways? Think of how many spicy margaritas you can buy with the money you saved!
Rental car companies are usually great at trying to talk you into upgrading your car, but remember this usually comes with upgrading your price, too. Sometimes, I have had people say to me, “I can put you in a Jetta or something a little nicer,” to which I ask, “is the something nicer the same price?” It IS possible to get put in a convertible for super cheap, like I mentioned above with the Priceline deal, but before saying yes, always ask if it will cost you more.