Planning a trip can be an exhilarating experience, filled with anticipation and excitement about the adventures that lie ahead. Whether you’re embarking on a cross-country road trip, exploring a new city or simply need a reliable mode of transportation at your destination, car rental can be a game-changer for your travel plans.
In today’s digital age, booking a rental car online has become more accessible and convenient than ever before. However, with countless options and various factors to consider, it can also be a challenging task.
My husband and I always rent a car when we travel to the United States (and we recently got back from visiting Green Bay and Chicago). This time around, we had the easiest experience booking online, but it’s not always been this way.
That’s why I want to share our best tips for car rental and navigating the world of online booking, ensuring a smooth and stress-free journey on your next adventure. Fasten your seatbelt — let’s go!
9 Considerations and Tips for Car Rental Online
There are some things you need to keep in mind when renting a car online. Completely overwhelmed? That’s okay — I’ll break them down for you one by one.
First things first, have a number in mind for the amount you’re willing to spend on a car for your trip based on the number of days you need one. Remember, your total spend won’t just include car rental. There will be insurance and fuel costs, as well as other potential expenses like tolls, car seats, GPS, etc.
Note: if you are travelling with children, check if the car rental company even offers car seats or whether you’ll need to bring your own.
2. Comparison Sites
Using a comparison site will help you to get the best deal as opposed to booking directly with the car rental company. Prices will vary widely depending on the car rental company even for the same vehicle make/model.
You could even consult multiple comparison sites in case the price for the kind of car you need is cheaper elsewhere.
Nathan (my husband) and I used DiscoverCars.com for our most recent US trip and we couldn’t recommend them more. They provided affordable options with reputable companies and the whole process was super smooth from start to finish.
All you have to do is visit the website and enter your pick-up location and return location (if different), along with your pick-up and drop-off dates. And, voilà, the results show the best matches for your search.
Note: you will find the rates to be cheaper when you drop the car off at the same location as you pick it up.
Inundated with choices? Not to worry. You can apply certain filters to get more tailored results, such as car specifications, number of seats and optional extras.
Once you’ve made your decision, simply follow the prompts to book online and get instant confirmation. It’s as easy and as quick as that!
One of the most important tips for car rental online involves doing your research on what and if any insurance is included in a particular agreement. Some companies may provide full coverage, some may provide liability only and some may provide none at all.
Make sure you opt for the right insurance type for you so that you’re covered in case the worst happens.
Note: some auto, banking or credit card companies already provide car rental insurance so check your existing policies.
4. Driver’s License Requirements
Are you renting a vehicle in a foreign country? Check to see if your license is valid to use. Frustratingly, some countries require you to have an International Driver’s Permit, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and United Arab Emirates.
Most European countries only require an IDP if your stay is longer than three to six months. Each country has different requirements though so make sure you do your research for your specific destination.
Also, keep in mind you will likely need your driver’s license (and/or IDP) to show as ID when picking up your rental car.
5. Fuel Requirements
There are two options when it comes to paying for fuel, which we’ll discuss together now. Either way, it doesn’t matter how long you rent a car for and how far you travel in it, you will still be responsible for the fuel costs.
Most rental car companies offer a full-to-full agreement. This means the fuel tank will be full when you pick up your vehicle and you have to make sure it’s full when you drop it back off.
Before dropping off the rental vehicle you’ll need to find a station that is close by. That said, be warned — if you’re dropping off near the airport the petrol stations tend to have much higher costs for fuel.
Note: try to find a station with the cheapest price to top up at before starting the journey back to the rental depot.
You can also agree with the rental company when picking up the vehicle that they will be responsible for filling up the car at the end of the rental agreement. In this case, they’ll provide you with a set price per gallon/litre.
The benefit of passing over this responsibility is that you don’t have to worry about filling up the car with petrol yourself before dropping it off. However, the price that the rental companies set for pre-agreement is usually above the average cost of petrol so we wouldn’t recommend going with this option.
6. Mileage Allowance
Let’s be honest, mileage allowance isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. In fact, hubby and I can’t remember the last time we saw this condition on a comparison site.
Most rental companies will now include unlimited miles as part of the agreement. Even so, it’s always best to check that your rental agreement includes enough miles for you to use for the duration of your trip.
7. Driving Rules
This is one of those self-explanatory tips for car rental but it’s still worth talking about! If you’re driving in a foreign country, make sure you know the road and traffic laws, namely:
- Familiarity with the signs
- What side of the road they drive on
- Whether they use miles per hour (MPH) or kilometres per hour (KPH)
Even if you’re only going to an adjacent country the rules can be quite different and it’s not worth getting confused and/or caught out when you’re trying to enjoy your time away.
This may not apply to you depending on where you’re travelling to and driving around. If your destination has tolls, you need to know how to pay these off so you don’t incur hefty fines at a later date.
There tend to be three options if you’re in the US (but these may vary in other countries):
- Pay tolls on your own, which you can do online or via mail using the license plate number of your rental car
- Pay tolls automatically with the rental company, as some will charge the tolls to your linked payment card at the end of your rental agreement (but there may be a fee for this so make sure you check!)
- Pay for an unlimited toll pass with the rental company, which our American car rental company told us would be US$75 for being able to pass through as many tolls as we wanted in the Chicago area during our rental agreement
Oftentimes, the most cost-effective way to pay tolls is on your own, especially if you’re only going to pass through a couple.
9. Vehicle Inspection
Lastly, this is one of those tips for car rental that commonly gets overlooked. But, it’s kind of important!
Check over the state of your rental vehicle before driving away so you can flag any defects that aren’t already laid out in the pre-vehicle check. Think noticeable dents, scratches, chips, etc. (You don’t want to be blamed for any original faults when you return the car!)
In fact, it’s a good idea to take photos or videos on your phone for evidentiary purposes. The date and time will show in your camera roll and you can refer to it if and when called upon.
Note: again this is quite self-explanatory but check you’ve taken everything out of the car before you return it to your drop-off location. It’s too easy to stash possessions in the glove or side compartments and then forget about them! (Been there, done that.)
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Final Tips for Car Rental
As we wrap up our exploration of car rental and online booking, hopefully you’ll agree that this aspect of travel planning doesn’t have to be daunting. With these knowledge titbits and tips for car rental, you can confidently navigate the process, ensuring that your next trip is both enjoyable and hassle-free.
Before you embark on your journey, here are a couple of final tips to keep in mind:
- Review and Confirm: Always take a moment to review your reservation details before confirming your booking. Double-check dates, times and rental locations to avoid any last-minute surprises.
- Consider Insurance: While your personal auto insurance might cover rental cars, it’s essential to understand your coverage and consider additional insurance offered by the rental company for added peace of mind.
Remember, renting a car is not just about getting from point A to point B — it’s about enhancing your travel experience, making memories and exploring new horizons.
Do you have any more tips for car rental? Share in the comments!