If you need to leave your car in the shop for repair, if you're traveling or if you seldom need to drive at all, you may want to rent a set of wheels. You can rent anything from rental heaps to luxury sedans. In most states, all that's required is:
* A valid driver's license and a good driving record.
* A minimum age of 25 years (21 in some states, 18 in a few others).
* A valid credit card in your own name. (Some places may allow you to pay cash, but you'll need to show a return airline ticket, post a deposit and offer a long list of identifying information so you can be tracked down if you don't return the vehicle.)
Car rental is easy. To help you reserve a car almost anywhere, rental companies have 800 numbers. You can also reserve a car through a travel agent. Agents can shop for the best car and rate for you. When you're ready to rent, have the following information available:
* Dates you'll need the car. If you're renting at an airport, be prepared to give your airline flight number and the time of arrival and departure.
* The model and size of car you want. You can rent one of several classes of cars. While rental companies don't share a common system for classification, you can usually rent them in categories such as economy (also known as subcompact), compact, midsize, luxury, premium and specialty (convertibles, vans and four-wheel-drive vehicles).
Rental companies may not be able to guarantee the model you want, but you can make a request or shop around for a rental company that offers the model you want.
When requesting a car, keep in mind how many people will be riding in the vehicle and how much luggage you'll have. You should also ask about the following:
* Safety features. Air bags, child safety seats and other safety features are available.
* Options that will make travel more comfortable, such as air conditioning, cruise control, four doors vs. two doors, car phones, ski racks and luggage racks. Naturally, these may cost extra. Letting the company know in advance what you need will speed the rental process when you pick up the car.
When you rent a car you'll pay a basic fee plus several standard additional charges for the car. These commonly include fuel and mileage, but you can also get slapped with surcharges. Ask about them before you rent.
* You can return the car with a full tank of fuel and pay only what it costs you to refill the tank at a local gas station.
* You can let the car rental company refuel your car when you drop it off. You'll be charged a rate that's higher than market value, but it may be more convenient.
* You can pay for a full tank of gas up front based on the local self-service price, but you'll get no rebate for unused gas when you turn in the car.
* With unlimited mileage you may have other restrictions such as the geographic area you travel in or limited dates for rental.
* The most common way to charge for mileage is the per-mile charge. An odometer reading is taken before and after rental, and the per-mile charge is added to the final bill.
* Some companies offer a certain number of free miles and then add a per-mile charge for extra miles or charge a flat fee when you exceed the allotted free mileage cap.
* Drop-off charge. Some rental agencies charge extra for dropping off a car at a location different from the one you rented it at.
* State and city surcharges. Rental companies may add their own city surcharge if you're renting in a large city such as New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C.
* Airport fees imposed as a tax on deplaning passengers for airport car rental if you use a non-airport shuttle bus to get to the rental car company. This is called an "airport tax."
* Late charges. Your rate may be calculated based on the day and time that you return the car. If you're late, you may incur a charge.
* Refundable deposit. This can be several hundred dollars and is held against your credit card. It won't be charged to your account unless the car comes back damaged or not to the specifications of your contract. You may be able to leave this deposit in cash, if you ask, so you don't have to limit the spending on your credit card.
* Additional driver fees. Some companies charge for additional authorized drivers and others do not.
may pay a surcharge if you're under age 25 because rental companies consider your age an
Insurance and Waivers
Treat a rental car as you would your own. All car rental companies hold the renter responsible for the safe return of the rented vehicle. It should be in the same condition as it was when rented, aside from normal wear and tear.
If you are in an accident, you are liable for repairs even if it wasn't your fault. The good news is that some auto insurance policies include rental cars. If you own a car and have paid your insurance, you're rental car could be covered, too. The car may also be automatically covered by your credit card company. Check before you pay out of pocket for repairs.
If you want a waiver you'll pay an additional cost of anywhere from $3 to $15 a day. Do
your homework in advance to be sure you need this before you buy it. Companies can't
require you to purchase it.
Personal Accident Insurance
Personal Effects Coverage
Report the Accident
Adapted with permission from Alamo Rent A Car, Inc.'s, "A Consumer's Guide to
Renting a Car." The guide was written in cooperation with the National Association of
Consumer Agency Administrators.
Next Chapter: "Get Square on Repairs"