Rental cars have been in high demand and short supply these days. If you're in need of a rental car for the upcoming holidays, now is the time to secure one.
There's several things to consider as you secure your vehicle, including rates, insurance, and extras that are offered. It can be difficult at times to decide what coverages to accept or decline.
Your Better Business Bureau offers the following suggestions to help you avoid issues as you finalize your plans and during the use of your rental:
- Shop around. Car rental rates can vary depending on the company or the amount of lead time, so it pays to shop around and compare prices. You may get a better rate through a motor club, credit card, or other membership organization. One of the most important factors to consider is mileage. Is the rate quoted for unlimited mileage, or for a certain number of miles a day? Although most rental rates do include mileage, some still charge for every mile you drive.
- Do your homework. Before finalizing your selection, check out BBB.org. Try to find the exact location, because while a BBB Business Profile on a headquarters may contain a great deal of information, complaints and customer reviews specific to a location and its management can be telling. Review complaints for similarities, such as controversial cleaning fees, or bills for damage received long after the rental occurred.
- Understand insurance. Before you leave home, check with your insurance agent or carrier to see if your existing policy covers damage to a rental vehicle or your liability as a driver. If so, you can skip buying insurance from the rental car company. If you are traveling for business, you may be covered by an employer's policy. You may also have coverage from a motor club or credit card used for the transaction.
- Consider location. Renting from an airport-based rental facility may be more expensive than an off-airport location. Also, many rentals have an extra drop-off fee if you are returning the vehicle to a different location than where you picked it up.
- Look for package deals and discounts. Senior citizens, members of an auto club, and certain credit card holders may be eligible for discounts. You may also find discounted prices for certain dates, weekends, or longer rental periods. Some airlines and travel sites offer discounts if you book your plane and rental car together, but don't assume those bundled rates are the best.
- Ask about late or early return fees. Some renters have been surprised at big late fees for returning a car late or even early! Double check on the hours of operation.
- Get the company's policy and fees on tolls. More and more cashless toll roads are popping up. Most companies charge a daily convenience fee for use of their electronic toll systems. Many charge a daily fee even if toll roads are not traveled.
- Choose a vehicle. Choose the vehicle that is right for your needs. Rental car terms such as "subcompact," "compact," and "sedan" may vary from one company to the next. If you are traveling solo for a short business trip, a subcompact may be plenty of room. If you are traveling with kids, car seats, luggage and lots of gear, a larger sedan or SUV might be preferable. If you are looking to "go green," ask about hybrids or other eco-friendly vehicles. Most rental vehicles come with automatic transmission, but some sports cars are manual. If you can't drive stick shift, be sure to ask.
- Think about extras. Many car rental companies let you pre-purchase a full tank of gas so you don't have to top it off right before you return the car. While this can be a convenience, it's rarely the best deal for the consumer. One fairly standard fee is for additional drivers (don't let anyone drive your rental car unless they are on the agreement). Additional "upsell" offers may include a GPS device, Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or "bumper-to-bumper" warranty, roadside assistance, a convertible or other luxury upgrade, etc. Decide before you get to the counter what you need and what you don't. Many car rental companies also charge an underage-driver fee for those between 21-24 years of age.
- Read the fine print. Before you initial and sign the contract, read it and make sure you understand the terms. Check that the final price reflects what you understood the fees to be based on the advertising or your reservation. Note any additional fees or charges that you can incur.
- Inspect the vehicle. Thoroughly inspect your rental car before you drive away. Note any damage such as scratches or dents in the body; stains or tears in the interior; cracks in the windshield or other windows, etc. If you see any damage or defect, make the company representative aware of it immediately so that it's noted on the car condition form. Take pictures of the damage or make a video and describe the damage as you record. Also check to see that the mileage is the same as what is recorded on your rental agreement.
- Returning the vehicle. Before leaving the vehicle, be sure that the check-in attendant inspects the car's body in your presence and that you agree about any damage. Get a final print-out of the charges that will be made on your credit card, and check your statement later to make sure there are no unexpected charges. Whenever possible, avoid dropping off your vehicle off-hours and leaving the keys in a drop-box. It's hard to dispute damage charges if you are not there when the vehicle is inspected.
- Keep receipts and watch your credit card bill. Look for unexpected charges, such as damage to the vehicle, third-party toll bills, cleaning charges alleging you smoked in the car, etc. If you opt to return your rental with a full tank of gas, keep your receipt and record the mileage at the time of the fill.
For more information, visit bbb.org or call your BBB at 423-266-6144.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga