How To Rent A Car

How To Rent A Car

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  1. I spent several years as a secretary, and one of my jobs was renting cars for my boss and the sales reps assigned to him.  Many people can find the process of renting a car to be intimidating, but with a little preparation and some leg work, you can find a car that perfectly suits your needs for a price you can afford.

    Know Your Requirements

    Before you even begin to rent a car, it’s best to have a clear idea in your head of what your needs are.  By answering a few easy questions beforehand, you will save yourself time and money in the long run.

    • Why am I renting a car?  Is it a business trip or a vacation?  Will the car spend most of the time parked in a garage while I’m in meetings, or will I spend thirteen hours driving to Orlando in it?  Would it be more time and cost effective simply to fly and rent a taxi?
    • Who is traveling?  Will I be driving alone, with a companion, or with several people?  Will I be driving with children who get bored or uncomfortable easily?  Do I need space for lots of luggage or equipment?
    • What are my comfort requirements?  Most rental cars now come standard with air conditioning, radio, and power steering.  But will I need a GPS system as I navigate an unknown area?  Will I need a sunroof to make sure my California Dream vacation lives up to my expectations?
    • How long will I need the car?  Are there any weekend or weekly rates that could save me money?  Would I qualify for a deal or special if I kept the car a day longer or returned it a day earlier?
    • What is my budget?  Do I have preferred memberships with any rental companies?  Do I qualify for any discounts (through AAA, AARP, or other organizations)?  Do I qualify for a military or government rate?

    Getting Started

    Once you have a clear idea of what you want, how you will use it, and what you’re willing to pay for it, you could just call your travel agent, give all this information to them and let them do the leg work for you.  Always ask for a choice of three or so different quotes.  Your agent should do this anyway, but ask just in case.

    If, on the other hand, you prefer to make your own travel arrangements, the best place to start is the Internet.

    My advise for anyone renting a car is this–use the Net for research, but speak to a person when actually renting the car.  The reason is simple–doing your homework online will protect you from upselling and that sort of thing.  But a real live agent has access to real-time information that may not be updated online.  A real live agent also has reasoning ability a computer program does not possess, and may be able to suggest alternatives you hadn’t even considered.

    Navigating the Net

    There are several "one-stop" travel sites on line: Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, all offer different perks when renting a car.  If you are in a hurry and just want a decent deal, these sites are alright.  But if you have a little more time, you may find you can get better rates by visiting the company sites (Avis, Hertz, Budget) directly.

    My Fictional Trip to New Orleans

    I’ve decided to take a trip home to visit my family.  Since I’m feeling logical, I’ll start with the A’s and go to the Avis site.  The first thing you should do is select your travel dates and where you intend to pick up your car.  I’m spending a week in Louisiana but I’m flying in, so I will pick up my car at the airport in New Orleans and bring it back to the same place.  I’m a resident of the USA, so I’ll leave that checked.  Unfortunately, I let my membership in the Avis Worldwide Discount Club expire, or I’d add my number in and any coupons I had at this point.  Then, I hit continue.

    The next stop on my journey is choosing a car.  It’s a good idea to become familiar the classes of cars offered by agencies before you even begin.  The site will usually start you off at a standard size car, which seats five adults and usually gets 18-26 mpg.  But you might be able to drive comfortably (and get better gas mileage) with a compact car, which seats 4 adults and gets 22-32 mpg.  I’m fairly tall, so I rarely even bother with subcompact, but if you are small enough and would be comfortable, why pay more for a larger car?

    Now, if I were taking all my nieces and nephews to the Aquarium, I might want to spring for a passenger fan.  But unfortunately, they are sold out, so my sisters and brother are going to have to cart their own kids around for this trip.  Since it’s just me cruising, I settle on a nice compact car.

    Ooh, there’s a 20% off coupon if I use my credit card!  I plan on using my card, so let’s click "Get this deal" to see what happens!

    Wow, just clicking that link saved me $60 overall.  I’m good with that, so let’s move on.

    Once you’ve selected your model, it’s time to select the extras.  Remember, most extras come at additional cost, and you should keep in mind that these costs are per day, so they could add up quickly.

    On my fictional trip to New Orleans, I know my way around so I don’t think I’ll need GPS ($13.95/day).  What’s this Fuel Service Option (FSO)?  I buy a full tank of gas in advance so I can return the car empty.  Sounds like a good idea, but–wait, there’s no price tag on this?  Without knowing how much a tank of gas is costing in Louisiana, or how many gallons the car will hold, there’s no way to fix this in my budget.  And what if I return the car with the tank half full?  Do I still pay for an entire tank of gas?  No, I think I’ll leave this off and return the car full. That way, I can make sure I get the best gas price possible.

    I considered getting a booster seat in case I wanted to bring some of the younger nieces and nephews along with me while I was down there, but they have their own seats and why spend a fortune at $13.00/day per week?  No, lose that.

    Now we come to the hard part. 

    Protection and Coverage

    The biggest money maker seems to be the insurance plans the rental companies like to sell you at the end of the game.  The bottom line is it’s never a good idea to drive a rental car if you don’t have collision (covers damages to the car you’re driving) and liability (covers your financial liability if you hit someone else) insurance.

    Before agreeing to any rental insurance, first contact your personal insurance company to see if they cover rental cars.  If they do, you’re golden.  Move on to the next step.  If not, check with your credit card company.  If you have a Gold or Platinum card, they might provide collision insurance at no additional cost.

    But let’s look at our example: Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) at $26.99/day.  A little research online tells me that this translates to collision insurance.  Okay, already have that, so no problem.  Personal Accident Insurance, what’s that?  Another quick Google check–oh, it’s Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance.  That’s also on my personal coverage, so I’ll pass.  I’m travelling light, so I don’t think I’ll need Personal Effects Protection, and my regular insurance can cover Liability saving me $14.81/day. At this point, my estimated total is $406.38 for the week.

    I guess I’m ready to move on.

    Here is where I have to make a decision.  In order to lock in the discount, I will have to hold the reservation with my credit card.  Hmmm, what if I find a better deal?  The small print says "A 54.45 USD non-cancellation fee is charged if you do not cancel your reservation before your scheduled pick-up time and if you fail to rent the car."  Hmm…  I don’t think I’m ready to book this particular car, but I will definitely use it while doing my research.

    The Bottom Line

    Renting a car online is not complicated if you do a bit of research before hand.  Most car websites are pretty similar, and if you get confused, there’s always a toll-free number you can call to get any questions answered.  The most important things to remember before you rent are:

    • Know what you need.
    • Know when you need it.
    • Know what you’re willing to pay.

    After that, it’s all just clicking buttons!

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