Saturday, January 26, 2008

Car Rental Tips

In our opinion, there’s no such thing as a “good” rental car company – there are just varying degrees of “less bad.” The Upgrade blog recently mentioned a Dollar “top-up” charge for returning a car with a full tank. Just last week, we were told by a Budget agent that if we drove too little (“less than 75 miles”) that they would fill up the gas at their price, whether we wanted it or not. Where do they find the lawyers to dream up and write this stuff?

When you rent a car today, you’ll be asked if you want to upgrade, if you want extra insurance, if you want a GPS system. Plus, we’ve heard far too many horror stories of “fake” car damage that the customer is charged for to not believe them. If you’re renting a car anywhere, it’s truly become Buyer Beware. So here are our tips.

1 – Reserve online, which should give you a price guarantee. Keep a copy for when you get to the rental counter.

2 – Decline everything. Upgrades, insurance, everything.

3 – Use a Visa or American Express card to pay for your rental. These cards seem to provide better supplemental rental insurance than does MasterCard.

4 – Offer the rental counter a “second” credit card for them to imprint when you pick up your rental. The car company may (as do some hotels) put a “block” on your card for an absurdly high amount (sometimes several thousand dollars), and if you have a lower credit limit on your card the block may effectively reduce or even cut off your credit line. Assuming you have more than one credit card (and we suggest you always travel with at least two cards), offer one when you rent the car (and the same card when you check into a hotel), but upon return of the car (or check-out from the hotel) pay the final bill with your “main” card if you prefer. (While this is a good option, many car rental companies now use a quick-return scanner that spits out a credit card slip for the card you rented with. If you want to change cards, you may have to return to the counter, and not use the quick-return option.)

5 – Carry a digital camera and take pictures (dated!) of the car from all angles, inside and out, when you pick it up and when you drop it off.

6 – Save your paperwork long after your travels, in case you need to dispute anything later.

7 – As we said, decline supplemental insurance, especially in the U.S. Assuming you have your own auto insurance, it should cover you adequately, especially with the additional coverage provided by your credit card. Do your homework before renting internationally. Several reports indicate that Visa may be the best card to use for overseas car rentals. We’ve also heard that there are a few foreign countries where you do need to (or have to) accept the supplemental coverage offered. We’ve heard that Mexico, Italy, Australia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, and New Zealand can be problematic – we haven’t rented in any of those countries recently, so don’t have up-to-date first-hand knowledge.

Pray that's not your rental car.