How To: Car Rentals

For those of us who fly, a rental car is usually a needed expense to include in the trip planning. There are a number of things to consider and ways to look for the best deals. Renting overseas also requires consideration of several other factors. Since my daughter Lisa worked for Enterprise Car for several years, we heard lots of stories about how the business is handled.


Once you know your trip location and duration, obtaining a rental car is the next step. Rental car availability at most airports is usually high. If you are opting for an economy, standard or midsize car, you most likely will have no problem even if you do not make a reservation, although it is strongly advised. However, if you want a convertible, hybrid, van, or truck, a reservation is definitely needed. Not all locations have those vehicles, but sometimes can make one available to you with enough advance notice.


Car rental companies will tell you that they require a credit card, but this is not completely true. You can rent with a debit card, but will need to be patient as they will run a credit check. Typically, they will put a hold of several hundred dollars on your debit card and that money will not be available to you to use while you are on your trip. The point is, if you do not have a credit card, let them know and ask them if any documentation is needed. If you pre-pay your rental, the rental company still usually takes a credit card imprint at time of pick-up, so this issue still needs to be addressed.


Selecting the right size car is important. Almost every car rental website, whether it is company specific or a general search like hotwire or kayak, will show icons of large and small people and large and small suitcases to indicate passenger capacity and luggage space. If you are taking a driving vacation with 4 other people, make sure to plan LARGER than what you might think you need. We rented a 5 passenger Subaru Outback for a weeklong trip with the family and wished we had opted for a mini-van. The next trip that is what we rented and everyone was more comfortable


Looking for the best deal is not difficult. Using a search engine like Kayak, Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia or Travelcity will provide comparisons between several rental companies at your location. In addition, search for coupons and be ready to apply them. Finally, once it seems that your search has narrowed down to a particular provider, go to that company’s website and see if there are any specials offered there that may not be available through the search engine website. Typically, I have found that Kayak provides the best information and it is worth the time to then go to the directed website for the reservation process.


My dad always told me that I did not need to buy the insurance offered by the rental company; that our regular car insurance will cover any mishap. That is typically true. However, my daughter convinced me otherwise. By taking the total insurance package offered at the car rental company, you are completely off the hook no matter what could happen. On our trip with the mini-van, for example, we came back to the car after shopping to find a significant dent in the rear. While my daughter was not pleased, as this would be the responsibility of the Enterprise store where she worked, we were not liable for ANY payment to repair this damage. This peace of mind is definitely worth the few dollars additional it costs per day.


Renting a car overseas is also not difficult. You do not need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) for Europe or other countries where the native language is English, but an International Driver’s Permit is advisable. Essentially, an IDP is proof that you hold a valid driver’s license in your own country and it provides a translation into almost a dozen languages, mainly so that police and other authorities in other countries can read your license in their own language. It may not be absolutely necessary to have it, since many countries recognize each other’s licenses, but traveling with an IDP has many advantages. To be sure, check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit. There are a number of agencies that will provide IDPs, but some are rip-offs. The US State Department has approved the Automobile Association of America (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. AAA charges $15 and the application can be processed in a local office or online. Two passport type photos are needed and it can take 4-6 weeks for processing.


Car rental companies overseas usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, strongly consider purchasing additional insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to what you carry at home. In general, your U.S. auto insurance does NOT cover you abroad; however, your policy may apply when you drive to countries neighboring the United States. Remember, you are driving in a strange area where driving styles may be significantly different from what you are used to. An accident may be more likely in a situation like this. Purchasing additional coverage is smart. It is important to note that adding insurance could effectively double the price of the rental. On our trip last summer to Great Britain the concept of buying insurance was a no brainer….after all, we would be driving on the left side of the road and that meant our perception of things would be different from our typical experience. I am happy to say, we made it through the week with the car intact

So, have fun…think about this as a chance to rent that convertible you always wanted to drive. Or a jeep. Or a hybrid. Whatever you rent, remember to return it with the tank full!!

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