WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RENTING A CAR
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
SOUTHFIELD, Mich., November 1998 — Renting a car is something that many of us will do at one time or another; it may be for business, pleasure or while your own is in for repairs. Whatever the reason, to be certain that you're getting the best deal, there are a few things you need to know before you drive away.
Before you even begin calling to reserve a car, decide what size vehicle you'll need and how much you can spend. Size descriptions will vary and the terms compact, mid-size and luxury sometimes differ from company to company.
I recommend you call several rental companies for estimates. Your travel agent and the travel section of your local paper may also be helpful in finding discounted rates. If the rental is replacing your car while it's in the shop, check and see if your auto insurance policy will cover any of the costs. Ask the rental company about discounts for extended use, as with car repair substitutions. If you plan to rent while on vacation, keep your plans flexible; you'll be more likely to receive price breaks if you rent at off-peak times. Be cautious, however, and ask about any restrictions offered on special rates.
Are you affiliated with any motor clubs or organizations, such as AAA of Michigan? If so, you may be eligible for additional discounts. The same goes for credit card companies, many offer discounts with specific rental agencies, if you pay for the rental with their card.
If you have any tickets or accidents on your driving record, you may not be eligible to rent with some companies. If this is a concern, ask the company if they check driving records when you make your reservation. Don't wait until you pick up the car, as they are not required to honor even confirmed reservations if they disqualify you.
It's important that you understand all of the conditions, terms and charges that are applicable when renting a vehicle before you get to the counter. By asking in advance, you will save time, stress and money when it is time to pay the bill. The last time I used a rental car, the agent didn't mention that the rental was for precisely 24 hours. When I brought the car back 25 hours later I was charged $14 for the extra hour on top of the $45 charge for the first 24 hours. That's a steep extra charge!
Ask if there are any charges that could raise advertised base rates, such items as Collision Damage Waiver fees; airport surcharges and drop-off fees; fuel charges; mileage fees; taxes; additional-driver fees; underage-driver fees; out-of-state charges; and equipment-rental fees are all common in car rentals and typically cost extra.
While most of the fees listed above are self-explanatory, others aren't quite so straight-forward. For example, a Collision Damage Waivers, commonly called "collision damage" coverage, is offered in some states--Michigan being one of them--as a source of coverage on the car you are renting. Technically, it is not collision insurance; more accurately it is a guarantee that the rental company will pay for damages to your rented car and not charge you. It does not cover damage to your personal property and will not pay for any bodily injuries. It's an optional charge that costs around $9 - $13 a day. If you decline the coverage, you will be responsible for any collision damages. Before you purchase collision damage coverage, check with your auto insurance company. You may already be covered through your existing policy. If you're traveling on business, your employer may have insurance which covers you. Also keep in mind that some credit card companies and motor clubs give members free rental protection when you use their cards to pay for rentals.
Out-of-town travelers will often be charged airport surcharges and drop-off fees. Airport surcharges are imposed by some airports, not the car rental agencies, when you rent from an airport location. They can even be required if the rental company shuttles you to an off-site picked it up.
Be sure to ask about mileage fees. While most rentals allow you some free mileage, once you go beyond the allowed limit, charges will begin to accumulate. Your base rental fee will increase considerably if you're not careful. Estimate in advance how far you will travel and select a rental company that offers you the most favorable mileage package based on your itinerary.
Fuel charges and policies vary greatly between companies. Some companies will charge you $10 - $15 in advance and provide you with half a tank, allowing you to return the car empty. Others companies start you off with a full tank and charge nothing initially. In such instances, you can fill the tank yourself and return the car and be charged nothing. If you don't return the vehicle with a full tank, they will charge you the rental company's prices for refueling. Typically those prices will be higher than a local gas station.
The list of potential fees goes on and on. The thing to remember is to ask about each and be certain you clearly understand the conditions and terms of your rental policy. By evaluating your own needs and asking questions up front, you'll drive away with a smile.