What to do when renting a car
Young woman picking up a rental car

Whether you’re looking to take a road trip or travelling abroad, renting a car is often a good option. It provides you with immediate access to transportation and often costs less than taxis and rideshares. While there’s no doubt that renting a car is convenient, there are many things to consider before, picking up, and returning your car rental.

Price compare

When renting a car, which company or vehicle you decide to go with can have a major impact on your bottom line. Generally speaking, larger vehicles will cost more to rent than compact cars. Also, big-name car rental companies typically have higher prices, but will have more vehicles and locations compared to smaller brands.

Many major travel websites will allow you to search multiple car rental agencies at the same time, so finding the lowest price is often easy. That said, you’ll also want to pay attention to where the vehicles are located. Going with a company that has its location within the airport is often better than going with one that’s off-site. You may end up paying more, but the convenience may be worth it.

Consider the extras

Parents travelling with young children need to decide if they want to bring their own car seat. The obvious benefit is that you’ll be familiar with your car seat, and you’ll trust its safety standards. However, that’s one extra thing you need to pack, which may not be worth the trouble. Renting a car seat will cost you only a few dollars a day, but you need to make sure the location has seats available. 

If you’re travelling in an area with road tolls, many car insurance companies will allow you to use the quick lanes and bill you after. However, that will always be more expensive compared to paying in the cash lanes.

Make sure you have the right documents

You obviously won’t be able to rent a car without a valid driver’s licence, so don’t forget it when you’re travelling. Also, double-check that your licence hasn’t expired.

Where you’re renting a car can also make a difference. Some countries require you to have an international driver’s permit (IDP). Getting an IDP is simple since all you need to do is fill out a form and pay a fee, but it’s still something you need to do before you depart.

Inspect your vehicle 

Before you drive your vehicle off the lot, be sure to inspect your vehicle thoroughly. The first thing to look for is any signs of damage. That would be scratches and dents. Take pictures of this damage and have the car rental company note on your contract that the car was already damaged. You’ll also want to take pictures of the entire vehicle from multiple angles before you depart. This will just give you some extra evidence in case something comes up later.

Once you start up the car, check everything, such as the signals, lights, windows, air conditioning, etc. You want to ensure the vehicle is in good working order. If something looks off, report it. Alternatively, if you’re not happy with the condition of the car, ask for a different one. 

Returning the car 

The top priority when returning your rental car is to ensure it has a full tank of gas. If you don’t fill up before returning the car, the rental company will charge you the estimated difference. Note that before you depart, you do have the option to prepay for a tank of gas, so you don’t need to worry about filling up when you return the car. While this is a convenient option, they’ll charge you for a full tank, which will cost you more. 

Once you’ve returned the car, be sure to collect all your belongings. In addition, take some more photos or a video of the vehicle. By doing this, you’ll have a record of the condition of the car when you picked it up and when you returned it.

The bottom line

Renting a car is a straightforward process, but you need to know what to look out for so you’re not caught off-guard. By preparing yourself, you’ll save time and money.

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. As a completely self-taught, do-it-yourself investor with no formal training, he makes money easy to understand for all Canadians. His specialties include personal finance, budget travel, millennial money, credit cards, and trending destinations.

Barry Choi is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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