How to Save on Rental Cars

by David Ning · 6 comments

Sooner or later, just about everyone ends up needing to rent a car. Whether it is because they are on vacation and need a set of wheels, or their own car is in the shop and a rental becomes a necessity.

If you have looked at prices lately you know that getting a car, even for a short period, can be expensive. Advertisements may imply that you can rent something for $19 a day, but once you tack on extras, the price skyrockets.

The Not-So-Complete Daily Rate

When you go online, which is the best place to compare rates, you find that cars are advertised by the daily rate. That rate includes nothing but the car and in some cases, mileage. It doesn’t cover gas, insurances or the surcharges that are common for renters under the age of 25.

Want to pick up the car at one location and return it at another? Cha-ching, you pay a surcharge. Didn’t have time to fill the tank before turning in the car? No problem; as long as you pay double the going rate on fuel. Cars rented from the airport often have an additional surcharge. By the time you finish adding it all up the total is much higher than you expected.

Decline Additional Coverage, Fill the Tank and Save Money

Before you rent a car, call your insurance provider and credit card company. Many insurance companies will provide coverage in a rental car, meaning you don’t have to take the overpriced version for the rental. If your insurance company doesn’t cover it, the credit card company might. Either way, you save money.

Fill the car before you return it to the rental office. The price charged by most rental companies is at least double the going rate, so it just isn’t worth while forgetting. You can frequently find gas stations near the rental location and as long as you drive less than 10 miles you should be fine.

Some companies started offering gas at a very similar, or sometimes even a slightly lower than outside rate. The catch? You have to pay for one full tank of gas. Never ever get gas from the rental car company if cost is at all your concern.

Economy Cars Cost Less to Rent

Pick the smallest car you can get away with. The larger the car the more you pay. Also avoid “specialty” cars like convertibles and SUVs. They just cost and you still have to wait for the red light. If you find when you arrive that you just can’t get comfortable in the car you picked most companies are happy to upgrade you to a better fit.

The other way smaller cars save you money is from gas. The smaller the car, the better gas mileage it usually gets. Stick to economy cars, unless you like to spend for no reason.

Shop Around and Use Promotions

Don’t just go to one of the wholesale websites when searching for a car rental. Using the company website can save you money if you hit a sale that isn’t shared elsewhere. Also consider checking with your insurance carrier, the credit card company and even your automotive club if they offer coupons to use with car rental agency. You may be able to get a day free on a longer rental, or upgrade at no charge. In either case, you save money.

Car rental can be a bit of a hassle, but when you need to rent a vehicle there is no reason to pay top dollar.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rex May 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Credit Cards are usually liability only, instead of full coverage. So if your primary insurance is also liability only you will have to add on some additional insurance. Call your credit card company as they usually have additional plans. American Express has a collision insurance for $17 per rental. If you are renting a car for more than a day that is a sweet deal as the rental company usually charges around $12 a day for collision insurance.

-Rex

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Stephan May 17, 2010 at 7:52 am

Great tips, any more information on that 25 and under rule? is it just more expensive or are there other restrictions?

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Jenna May 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

Another great way to save money on a rental car is to use Zip Car (if they are in your area). They have great discounts when you first sign up and pass their information along to co-workers, employers and friends. I would also suggestion following car rental companies on Twitter, most of them offer discounts or upgrades there.

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James May 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

i just rented a car for a week on the east coast and paid $175- i went online and found a coupon code and got 15% off, which was a nice bonus.

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Cd Phi May 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Another thing I like to do is check out company discounts. My company offers discounts on rental cars and many other kinds of things as well so it’s a good idea to check out what they may have to offer you.

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Paula February 9, 2011 at 7:15 am

You can also try signing up for various car rental company frequent renter programs. Benefits often include discounts and sometimes the opportunity to earn free day rewards with multiple rentals.

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