8 tips for renting cars

After spending nearly five years in the rental car industry, I have picked up some knowledge of how to have a decent rental car experience.  Today I share my knowledge with you.  Some of you out there know a lot of this already.  However, I run into people all the time that don’t know these tips.

1) Absolutely, enroll in the company’s loyalty program

You might be thinking this is so that you get perks like free rental days or airline points, but it is not. The sole purpose of this is to keep from getting ripped off.  It’s a known fact, that rental car companies often employ some questionable people at their facilities.  I know a lot of people that have been swindled by agents at the counter.  It’s also a fact that, rental car agents get commission for suckering you into buying insurance.  They will lie and do whatever it takes to convince you to take that insurance, when you do NOT need it.  They will tell you that you are signing to decline insurance when you really are accepting it.  Just do a search on the Internet and car rental insurance and you will see what I mean.

So how do you keep from getting ripped off?  Never talk to a rental car agent.  The only way that can happen is if you enroll in the loyalty program.  Why does that help you from getting ripped off?  It’s because when you enroll in the loyalty program, you pre-select which insurance options you want to have on every rental you book.  Once you have declined everything in your profile and you book, your car will usually be ready for you when you get to the lot and you can skip the counter entirely.

Another benefit to signing up for the loyalty program is that you can skip the line at the main counter.  If you have ever shown up at a peak time to HOU or LAX, you know that standing in that line is an hour of your life you will never get back.  The line will be 30 people deep and each agent will take their sweet time hoping to sucker you into accepting insurance.  However, when you use the loyalty program, the person on the bus will tell you what slot your car is waiting for you in or your name will be on the board with a slot number.  Now sometimes, you arrive and they don’t have things quite ready and you have to talk to someone. However, that agent is different and they will just give you your car and not push insurance on you.

Of course being in the loyalty program can get you other perks as well.  Most have an option to get a free rental day after X amount of days booked.  However, it is hardly ever worth it.  Many, have partnerships with airline partners and you can typically get 500 bonus points to the airline of your choice.  I recommend going with the airline points because the free rental days are hardly ever worth it.

2) Decline all insurance

The first tip leads us right into the second, decline all insurance if you already have an auto insurance policy.  Check your policy to be sure, but most auto insurance policies will cover any vehicle you drive including rentals. Rental car companies often offer three or more insurances costing you more than $30 / day.  You probably don’t need it, but the counter agent will say whatever it takes to scare you into accepting the insurance.  I’ve even seen some lie and say “sign here to decline coverage” when you are actually accepting it.  Read everything the counter agent puts in front of you.

If you live in a city like New York or Boston and you don’t have a car, you may need to consider it though, but still there are probably better options.  Many credit cards also offer some supplemental insurance as well.  This can usually be combined with your own insurance too to eliminate your deductible.

3) Companies should enroll in a corporate renter program

No matter how large your company is, your company should enroll in a corporate rental program.  At the minimum, this locks in your rates on weekdays to something reasonable often in the $50+ per day range.  This is absolutely necessary as it caps your rates on weekdays. Otherwise the rates during the week will get as high as they can get away with because people will pay them.  I’ve met plenty of people who have paid $500+ for a three day rental when it should have only been $150.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask for another vehicle

It’s not uncommon that there is something wrong with the vehicle or you just don’t like it.  If they gave you a sports car or a giant SUV and you just don’t want it, tell them.  Don’t be afraid to ask what they gave you at the loyalty program counter.  If the car smells like smoke, ask for another car or tell the person at the gate if you don’t mind. You don’t want to get stuck with a fee because the person before you trashed the car.

Unless you are paying for a premium vehicle, rental cars are rarely anything spectacular.  In the lower rate tiers, I recommend choosing at least full-size as you often get upgraded to a better car or small SUV.  If you choose anything smaller, then you are likely to get something bad like a Mitsubishi Gallant.  Rental car companies love those cars because they are cheap.  Rest assure they have absolutely no in-car features and you are lucky to even get A/C and an AM radio.  Ok, it’s not quite bad, but pretty close.  Choose a slightly larger size and it usually pay off.  The price difference is usually negligible.

5) Inspect your car

Rental car companies used to be pretty proactive about handing you a sheet where you can indicate what damage has already been done to the car.  I’ve noticed many of them don’t do that as much lately.  If you get a sheet or not, walk around the car and look for any major scratches.  If you do get a sheet, mark it full of Xs whether there is damage there or not and hand it to the gate agent.  It protects you should they want to claim damage.

6) Some Companies have fewer shuttles

If you travel to a particular city a lot, pay attention to which car rental companies have the most shuttles coming through.  For example, when it comes to Texas, Dollar Thrifty tends to have fewer shuttles than everyone.  It’s not uncommon to see three Hertz shuttles for every one Dollar Thrifty shuttle.  If a car rental company is keeping you waiting a lot, try and change companies if you can.  The difference is you will probably pay half as much with Dollar Thrifty over Hertz.  This is ironic because Hertz owns Dollar Thrifty now.

7) Don’t rent the GPS

Renting a GPS has got to be the biggest rip-off I have ever seen.  Expect a unit that is at least three years old if you do rent one.  By the time you finish renting one for a week, you could have just bought one for yourself.  Instead do yourself a favor and pull out your phone and use one of it’s navigation apps.  Most platforms have something for free that can likely get you where you need to go.

It takes a lot of volume to turn a profit in the car rental industry.  For a typical company they have to have at least a billion in revenue to turn a profit of a handful of millions.  As a result, the industry is pretty cut throat and they have to do whatever it takes to boost revenue.  However, if you are smart you can come out ahead on your rentals.

8) Bring your car seat

If you are traveling with the family, bring your own car seat and check it with the airline.  This is a pain I know because it’s one more thing you have to travel with.  However, if you rent a car seat, it’s going to cost you at least $12 / day.  After a week’s rental, you could have bought a car seat or two.

And for one last bonus tip.  After you book the car, go back to the site (remember always book directly) and see if the rate has changed.  I find that it’s not uncommon at all for the rate to drop as the pickup time gets closer.   Unlike most of the airline industry, you can change your reservation at any time without penalty (assuming you haven’t prepaid).

I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you rent a car.  Do you have any other tips to share?  Do you have a story to share about being taken at the rental counter?  Leave it in a comment below.

Advertisements