Renting a car gives you great control over your trip, whether its business or pleasure or both. And it’s just fun! Before renting, though, it’s important to know the qualifications and the finer print.
What You Need to Know
Although additional rules and regulations apply under certain circumstances, and depending on the kind of car you rent, and whether you’re renting domestically or overseas, there are some basics.
Obviously, you need one. And it has to be valid for the entire duration of your rental.
You must meet the minimum age requirement of your rental location. Car rental age rules are determined by state governments in the US, and vary from state to state, so check. They can be as late as your mid twenties (in other words, just because your home state saya you can drive, it doesn’t mean a rental comoany will let you drive one of their cars…) This minimum age requirement, which has been relaxed somewhat in the last several years, originally was tied to the science that said young people’s brains don’t mature until the mid to late twenties!
In most of the US and Canada, the minimum age is 21 years old. In Michigan and New York, it is a giddy, devil may care 18 years old.
Renters under 25 years of age will pay a “young renter’s fee” on the order of about $20 per day depending on which state the vehicle is being rented in. In Michigan and New York, this fee is higher for under 21.
But if you’re hoping to rent a car that the company considers “luxury” or “exotic,” the minimum age is often 25.
This can vary depending on where you are renting, and what. A credit card is the most widely accepted and preferred form of payment. Partly because rental companies generally charge a security deposit, refunded when you return the car in good condition.
Debit cards are also often accepted, but not always. Debit cards can be a pain in the ass, even if when using one you have enough money in your account at the time of the rental to cover the cost and the security deposit. In some cases, cash can be used, but not as much as you’d expect. And typically, the security deposit is still required. Check all this before you show up at the counter. Especially when traveling outside the country. Sounds stupid maybe to say that, but someone on this staff has, ahem, found out the hard way.
The agency may also have additional requirements for cash payments, such as pay stubs, utility bills, personal references, etc.
What else should I be thinking about, you ask sensibly? Well there’s…
Rental car companies frequently offer various options to insure the vehicles they provide. However, many personal car insurance policies and credit card companies offer automatic rental car insurance. But, you”re almost always better off taking the rental company’s insurance. It’s more effective, especially overseas. Most credit card companies don’t actually offer the same protection and you have to pay the damages in the interim and hope you will get reimbursed months down the road. The conventional wisdom is that it isn’t necessary to pick up the additional insurance because their credit card offers coverage, but you better read the finest of the fine print to make sure you really are covered in the way you want.
So check the details of your car insurance or credit card policies to see what they cover. If you’re not sure whether you should still consider one of the coverage options offered by the rental company, check out this guide.
Most airport rental agencies have highly accommodating opening hours, but many others close at typical business times. You’ll want to verify that the drop-off location is open late enough for your plans, or that they have an after-hours drop box. Also, if you rent in town, make sure you can drop off the car at the airport, or in another city or state, because usually you wither can’t, or it’ll cost you more (surprise, surprise, right?)
Some car rental companies have different mileage options. some agencies offer unlimited mileage, others charge you by the mile. That can be a big deal. Even if you apy extra for unlimited, it’s probably the better way to go financially.
Renting a vehicle can be very convenient, but depending on your situation, other forms of transportation might be more sensible. Consider total cost (including gas and tolls) and how much you actually need a personal vehicle. (Of course, fun trumps alternatives. But sometimes you may not have the freedom to have fun on trip, so if you’re only going from point A to point B, or have a large group, or other particular transport needs, consider charter buses.
International Driving Permits
If you’re renting in an English-speaking country, or nowadays even most of Europe, you’ll generally be fine with your US or Canadian driver’s license. If not, an international driving permit (IDP) can be helpful. Check with your travel agent, or the hotel where you’ll be staying if you’re not sure.
An IDP is simply a document that translates the information on your driver’s license into 10 different languages. These permits are recognized by over 100 different countries.
You can only obtain an IDP at the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance in the US or the Canadian Automobile Association in Canada. They must be obtained in your home country. They cost a small fee and require a passport-sized photo.
Manual vs. Automatic
In many countries outside North America, the default car transmission type is manual, or stick shift. All major rental agencies also offer automatics, but in most countries manual is the more common of transmission. If you’ve never driven a manual car, you’ll want to make sure that you confirm that you’re renting an automatic when you book.