You may need to rent a car if yours is in the repair shop. Or maybe you’re going on a long road trip and need a larger vehicle for the journey. You might be on vacation and need a set of wheels to get around. Or maybe you’re just the type who rarely needs a car and prefers using a rental when you do. No matter the circumstances, knowing how to rent a car is handy information to keep in your back pocket.
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Renting a car can be confusing. It’s not something you do every day, and many of the little things we take for granted with our own cars such as paying for gas, insurance and being familiar with the controls are different in a rental car. Plus there are extra services and features, and it’s hard to know what you should pay for versus what you should leave alone.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to rent a car.
Step 1: Before renting a car
Ask yourself what kind of car you need. Do you need a sport-utility vehicle or a midsize vehicle? Do you need a lot of storage space? Check the rental car company’s website to make a reservation beforehand. You’ll be able to pick from a list of cars with details such as how many passengers a car can hold, available features and average mpg, as well as the daily rental rates.
Will you need additional items with your rental, such as a GPS, ski rack or a car seat? Those will cost extra, so you might want to provide your own. Another thing to keep in mind is fees. Typically, car rental companies charge extra for drivers under the age of 25, cars being picked up from the airport, additional drivers or if you’re driving to another state.
A final big question is insurance. Will your insurance cover you if the rental car is damaged in a collision? What if the rental car is stolen? Call your insurance agent and ask before you get behind the wheel.
You can also purchase rental car insurance from the rental agency itself. However, we advise checking your existing insurance. You might have coverage on your current policy or through the credit card you use to book the car. There are a few exceptions, though. For example, you may not be covered if you’re renting a car for business purposes, or driving in another country.
Rental agencies offer a loss damage waiver or collision damage waiver as another form of insurance. This means a rental company won’t hold you responsible for lost profits for every day a rental car is in the shop. Some insurers will cover this cost.
Again, check your current policy before you purchase rental insurance. A quick phone call to your insurer now can save you a lot of money later.
Step 2: Picking up a rental car
Do you need transportation to the rental company? Some places will pick you up and bring you to the car lot. Hertz provides this service for free at all non-airport locations.
You will receive a rental contract, which will have your information, prices and other important details. Before you sign the contract, read it over and ask any questions you might have.
Present your driver’s license and pay with a credit or debit card in your name. We advise using a credit card because companies usually offer insurance benefits to customers who use a credit card to rent a car. Ask your credit card company about rental car insurance coverage.
Inspect the inside and outside of the vehicle before you drive away. If there are dents, scratches or other problems, take a picture and notify the rental company so you’re not charged for the damage.
Familiarize yourself with the lights, turning signals, emergency lights, heat, audio and other controls before you drive away. This way you won’t get distracted on the road later.
And now it’s time to drive! Have fun and enjoy your rental car.
Step 3: Returning a rental car
Before you return the car and bring back the keys, clean the inside and pick up any trash. Look over the seats, glovebox and trunk for any belongings. This is a good rule in all life situations, but it goes extra when you’re returning a car. You don’t want to walk away and then realize you forgot your wallet.
If you didn’t prepay for fuel, fill the gas tank before you return the car. (Confession time: I didn’t know this when I returned a rental car in college. I had to drive back around and go to the nearest gas station, which was extra expensive.)
Return the car on time so you don’t pay late fees. Don’t return it too early either, because some companies charge early fees. If you can’t return the car on time, call the rental company and let them know.
Hertz offers exclusive deals and discounts for AAA members. Hertz will waive the fee for drivers between the ages of 20 and 24, provide a free infant car seat and no additional driver charge for qualified AAA members. AAA members also receive Hertz Gold Plus Rewards for even more savings, quick pick up and free rentals.
What advice would you give someone renting a car for the first time? Tell us in the comments below!
For more information on how to rent a car and the many discounts available for AAA members, visit AAA.com/Hertz