As travel starts to return, renting a car can give you the freedom and flexibility many of us are craving. Unlike public transportation, having your own vehicle allows you to stay on a personal schedule and provides an additional layer of social distancing. That said, renting a car can come with some drawbacks including added stress of navigating a new place on your own, as well as some financial risks if something goes wrong. Car rental companies know about these risks and oftentimes try to sell you unnecessary upgrades or upcharges. This week we’re brushing off our top tips for how to rent a car without unneeded expenses, all while keeping you safe and financially protected.
Arriving at the counter. When you show up to retrieve your rental, the agent will usually try to convince you that the car you reserved is not a good fit. Do any of these lines sound familiar?
- “You look like you have a lot of luggage. I would recommend upgrading to a larger sized vehicle so it will all fit in the trunk.”
- “It is better to pre-pay for your gas. That way you won’t have to worry about filling up when you return the car. The gas stations near the airport can be so expensive.”
- “It is easy to get lost in this city. Would you like to add GPS navigation?”
The key in knowing how to respond is being informed about the company’s pricing and policies ahead of time. There is no need to feel pressured into upgrading. While the per-gallon price quoted on the gas might look reasonable, oftentimes they will charge you for the full tank regardless of where the needle really is on the gauge upon return. For all the other add-ons (GPS, luggage racks, satellite radio, etc.) know how quickly these charges add up – they are a major source of revenue for these companies. A polite and confident “no thank you” to these upsell attempts is all that is needed.
At your rental vehicle. It varies by company, but you’re oftentimes issued a receipt at the rental counter and then asked to proceed to an area to retrieve your specific vehicle. There you are met by another sales associate to review your car and to complete a walkaround. This is your chance to make sure any dings or dents are noted before you drive away. It’s also the chance for more upselling:
- “This red convertible just arrived and I can offer it to you for only $40 per day more. Are you sure you want to stay with this compact car?”
- “You need insurance. What’s your own insurance company’s deductible? It probably doesn’t cover everything that can happen anyway like if a rock hits your windshield, or if someone scratches the car in a parking lot, or if it starts to hail…”
The insurance question will come up every time. Before traveling, understand your own insurance coverage. Find out if your company covers rentals and all the little details. Some credit cards also offer rental coverage. There is nothing inherently wrong about buying insurance through the rental agency (there are stories of people who return the car completely wrecked and are able to simply walk away), but you will pay a lot of money if you’re already covered elsewhere.
A word about cashless tolls. Tolled highways are increasingly cashless across the U.S. In your personal vehicle, this means you either have that highway’s specific toll transponder which is linked to your bank account, or they snap a picture of your license plate and bill you later. Car companies are more than eager to charge you a daily usage fee for one of their transponders, but sometimes that fee is minor compared to them passing the license plate bill back to you. If you absolutely must travel on a toll road, know the rental company’s policies and read our article here that pertains specifically to the issue.
Other tips. Most rental car agents are friendly people but also have a job of upselling. Being friendly in return can sometimes get you added perks. When asked if you want to upgrade, it never hurts to see if they’d provide it without added charges. Sometimes when managing their inventory, they are happy to get a certain type of car off their lot, even if it’s at a discounted rate. Another tip is to sign up for the rental company’s points program and download the app. When arriving to the counter, the agent will assume you know the rules of the game and may not try as hard to upsell you.
There is no need to be intimidated when navigating the rental car upsells. Be confident, knowledgeable, and upfront. Answering politely and firmly is all that is needed to be on your way to a great vacation!