Renting a car is very similar all around the world. Below are our best tips to avoid any unnecessary charges or surprises later into your trip whenever you get a rental car.
Picking up your car
Know your Insurance Options
Make sure you come prepared knowing what insurance is required in the country you are visiting and what options you have. Often you can choose between the insurance from the rental car company, credit card rental insurance, your own personal car insurance or your own travel insurance you might have purchased in advance. If you come prepared you can almost always save a considerable amount of money. One thing to keep in mind is that employees at the rental car counter often get commission for selling insurance and are usually encouraged by the rental agency to push their own insurance products. The cost of insurance can quickly double your original car rental quote. If you want to use your own personal car insurance make sure they provide coverage for rentals in the country you are visiting. Rental Car insurance provided by most credit cards can also be a very good options IF you are familiar with the fine print (e. g. some countries might be excluded, certain cars like SUVs, Trucks and Vans are often excluded, there is usually a clause invalidating your credit card insurance if you don’t decline insurance from the rental car company). Don’t expect employees at the rental car counter to give you advice on what options is best for you as their interest is in selling you their insurance and it would also be a legal liability to recommend you anything else they aren't familiar with. Call your Insurance or credit card company prior to your tip to get the correct information.
Don’t Prepay for Gas
Even though the convenience of paying for a full gas tank upfront and not having to worry about it when returning the car may sound tempting, you usually end up paying more for this option. Only if you manage to bring back the car with a gas tank almost empty you might have gotten a decent deal. That’s why our recommendation is not to prepay for a full tank of gas and to always get gas upon returning the car. Keep in mind that sometimes the car rental place may require you to pay for this option (usually if there is no gas station close by at the drop off location).
Pay in Local Currency
When you are traveling abroad you’ll often be asked if you would like to pay in your home currency (also referred to as Dynamic Currency Conversion). This might look like a nice gesture but unfortunately this is only a way for merchants to charge a higher exchange rate and you’ll end up paying more. Make sure you decline Dynamic Currency Conversion and pay in the local currency of the country you are visiting. Visa and MasterCard require merchants to ask if you prefer to pay in your currency but we have seen places where they try to get away with charging the card in your home currency, so make sure you check the receipt before you sign it.
Use the right Payment Method
If you plan on using your credit card rental insurance make sure you use the right card and DON’T split the charge onto multiple cards as this almost always invalidates any insurance coverage. If you have multiple credit cards it might be tempting to pick one card over the other in the spur of the moment to collect more rewards but keep an eye on which card provides the right coverage.
Be Wary of Rental Car Upgrades
There is a good chance you might be offered a rental car upgrade at the counter. Before you get overly excited you should stay calm to evaluate the upgrade offer. Often the upgrade isn’t actually free and it is just a way to up-sell a more expensive car to you. Other times the car you reserved is not available on the lot and they are just trying to have you pay for the bigger car. Sometimes an upgrade get’s you a more luxurious car but other times it might just get you a bigger car. So make sure you know what car they are trying to give you and keep in mind that driving and parking could be more challenging. Most likely you will also end up paying more for gasoline with a bigger car, especially in Europa. As mentioned earlier if you are relying on your credit card rental insurance keep in mind that certain cars are not covered.
Inspect the Car
Before you drive off make sure you inspect the car. Rental car returns can get very busy, so there is a chance of somebody having missed a chip in the windshield, scratches and dings. If you find something have somebody from the rental car place take a note on it. It’s best to take photos with a timestamp as well so you have some evidence in case there are problems at the return. Besides looking for damages you should also make sure everything else works (lights, signals, windshield wipers and sprayers, tire wear and pressure). You might think this is overkill but we have experienced all these things first hand. On one trip we even had the windshield wipers on the driver side fail (luckily we were able to safely pull over when the windshield wipers started to fail, but we had to wait for the rain to stop before continuing. The next rental car agency was a few hours away and no repair shop was open on Sunday fortunately it didn't rain anymore).
Get to know the Car
Familiarize yourself with the car before you drive off (hand break, lights, signal, windshield wipers…). It might be sunny when you are driving of the lot but you don’t want to struggle finding the windshield wipers if it suddenly starts raining or it gets dark. Knowing which side your gas cap is on might safe you some hassle at your first stop at the gas station. If you forgot to check, many cars actually have a small arrow at the fuel indicator pointing at the side the gas tank is on (see the two sample pictures).
Memorize your Car
After a long flight and waiting at the car rental desk what feels like an eternaty there is nothing more tempting than to jump into the car and drive of. Before you do so, make sure you memorize your car (color, type) and license plate or better take a photo of it. That way you’ll have less trouble finding your car in a busy parking lot later. Often rental car keys have the information on the key chain but don’t count on it.
Know Local Laws
Familiarize yourself with the local laws to avoid fines. Some countries require you to have your headlights on at all times. Requirements for booster and child seats vary widely. In Germany for example you also need to have winter tires in the winter season. if you are caught without you might get a ticket or worse if you get into an accident you might automatically be at fault. Even though winter tires might be mandatory don’t expect the rental car agency to provide them to you free of charge. Only a few add them during winter for free, others will be more than happy to charge you a hefty premium at the counter.
Ask about Toll roads
Many countries have toll roads. Ask if the car comes with a toll tag or if it has a valid sticker in the windshield (if you get caught driving on a toll road in Switzerland without the vignette you’ll have to pay a $200 fine + the cost for the toll sticker).
Dropping of your Car
Lookup Gas Stations in Advance
If you didn’t pay for a full gas tank when you picked up your car (and you shouldn't!) it’s a good idea to lookup a gas station before hand that’s open when you are planning to drop of your car. There are actually airports around the world were there is no public gas station close by or only gas stations that don’t open 24h. If you forget to fill up your gas tank, not just are you charged a premium for gas but you usually also have to pay a refueling fee. Fuel gauges are usually very forgiving so you don’t need to worry if the gas station is still a distance from the airport. Make sure to keep your gas receipt since some rental car agencies ask for it.
Be On Time
Most car rental agencies only offer very short grace periods for late returns. For example Budget specifies a grace period of 29 minutes. After that an hourly late fee will be charged or you might be paying for a full day if you return the car even later.
Don’t Return your Car Early
Even though it may sound counterintuitive, but returning your car early can actually cost you more. Some places charge an early return fee or your pricing might change altogether (if you rent the car paying a weekly rate, returning the car after six days might result in paying a more expensive rate). Most places will not allow you to just pay the full week even though you are only renting for a shorter time!
Check for your Personal Belongings
It may sound obvious but if you are already late to catch your flight you might be more likely to leave something in your car. Make sure to check all the compartments and the trunk so you don’t leave your cell phone, sunglasses or umbrella behind.
Inspect the Car
Back at the rental office you should inspect the car together with the attendant to make sure there are no issues with the car. If you are dropping off your car at an unstaffed station with a key drop box you might want to consider taking pictures to document the condition of the vehicle.
Ask for a Receipt
Try to get a receipt when you return your car. This will make it easier to dispute any unauthorized charges later.
Use the same/right Credit Card
If you are relying on your credit card rental insurance make sure you use the right credit card to pay any remaining balance.
We hope these tips have been useful! If you have any other tips please comment below or send us a message.