Q: My family is planning a vacation in another state, and we are looking to rent a car while we are there. Does the BBB have any advice on renting vehicles?
A: Gasoline prices have dropped for several weeks in a row and are closing in on a national average of $3.50 a gallon, according to AAA. Locally, the price of gas is even less with some stations selling gas below $3 a gallon. This just may be the perfect time for a road trip.
In 2011, BBB received 3,773 complaints against the auto renting and leasing industry. Many of the complaints were a result of billing and contracting issues. When it comes to navigating the rental car process, there are many little details that oftentimes leave consumers confused as they eagerly wait to get on the road.
Even with the excitement to hit the road, be sure to take time to inspect the car and ask questions. Car rentals can make any trip easier, but make sure you know your options, such as additional add-ons, before signing on the dotted line.
BBB recommends the following tips to avoid overspending when looking to rent a car:
1) Shop around and lookout for hidden charges. There are several different budget travel websites that can give a good scope of what is available price wise. Make sure to follow-up with the rental car websites' directly to see if you can snag an even cheaper rate. Always remember, though, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do not fall for the low-ball offer and make sure to always clarify which taxes, surcharges and other fees you will be expected to pay. Many states have additional fees for drivers under age 25 or for multiple drivers.
2) Opt for a smaller car. If you are traveling solo, or do not need a lot of leg room or trunk space, go for the smaller car. Oftentimes, the salesperson will steer you in the direction of an upgrade for "only a few extra dollars" because the smaller economy cars are in high demand -- just say no, and stick to the smaller car (or smile politely and ask for a free upgrade).
3) Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you understand where the "unlimited mileage" rates apply. Some rental car companies have restrictions and only apply the mileage to certain states.
4) Gas up and be on time. Many times, car rental companies will ask if you want to prepay for gas -- it is not always necessary and it is rarely the best deal. Do not forget to refill the tank before returning the car, and make sure to return on time. Some rental car companies will charge an extra day for being late -- make sure to know their policy for early and late returns, and call if you get stuck in traffic.
5) Bring your own car seat and GPS. If you are going to be traveling with children or fear that you will get lost, make sure to bring your own car seat and GPS. No need to pay for the daily fee for these items if you have them at home.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.