Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue October 11 2016

The 31 Worst Decisions You Can Make When Renting a Car

Car Rental & Rail | Melinda Crow | October 11, 2016

The 31 Worst Decisions You Can Make When Renting a Car

Photo by Gary Crow

Renting a car is one of the easiest travel tasks there is. Apps, agents, and websites easily find you the best rates in any destination. All you have to do is fill in the form and stand in line at the rental counter, right? Maybe it's not as simple as you thought.

Here are 31 things not to do when renting a car.

Reserve the car class you want. If you choose the car you actually want, you eliminate your options for potentially cheap upgrades at the counter. Go one category lower than you really want when you book. The exception is when there is a distinct need for an option like four-wheel drive that could be sold out when you arrive.

Use the kiosks. Unless you are a time-crunched business traveler, skip the self-serve kiosks. They are an electronic interloper between you and all possibility of a lower-priced upgrade.

Forget to ask for an upgrade. No matter what you reserved, always, always, always ask for something better. Smile sweetly and say, "What kind of price can you get me on something a tiny bit bigger?"

Don't join the frequent rental program. Even if you only plan to use this rental company one time ever, you should join their club. It just looks better. It's a toss-up whether to join in advance or to use that as leverage for your upgrade ask. 

Don’t use your frequent flier programs. If you are a frequent flier for any airline, be sure to get your points for their rental car partner. In fact, check that airline's rates first.

Leave your insurance card at home. In some states, this is a costly mistake. Recently in Florida, I was charged a mandatory liability insurance fee simply because I did not have my own auto insurance card with me.

Let someone else drive. This would seem like a no-brainer, but in case you need a reminder. Don't. Do it. Ever.

Think that a debit card will get you a car. You can certainly use a debit card for payment, but in most cases, you will need a full-fledged credit card to secure a rental car.

Think that roadside assistance always costs extra. Most rental agencies, large and small, have some form of roadside assistance, even if it's just helping you get towed.

Repair the rental car. Anything from a flat tire to mechanical troubles should be returned to the rental agency. Ask them for another vehicle and be on your way. Unless it’s obvious that you were responsible for the damage, they will usually be happy that all you want is a replacement.

Not tell anyone at home what you are driving. It’s so easy to snap a picture of the back of the car. Send it to your emergency contact and they will have the model, color, and plate number of your rental car. Just in case.

Ignore the fuel pre-pay option. If you are unfamiliar with the area surrounding the return location, you may be better off allowing the car rental company to charge you upfront rather than hope you can find gas nearby at a reasonable price. This is especially true if your flight leaves at an odd time when stations might not even be open.

Go too small to save money. When I said go a category lower than you want, I don't mean get the tiniest car on the lot. Use the online calculators to judge the appropriate size for the number of people and pieces of luggage.

Go swimming with the key in your pocket. Unless you are renting from a rent-a-wreck, car keys are no longer waterproof. If your plans include swimming, snorkeling, surfing, or scuba diving, tell the agent at the counter you will need either a water-proof valet key or the key code if there is a digital key pad. The alternative is to get a small dry box or bag for the key.

Return the car late. Sometimes rental companies ding you for an additional day if you go over your scheduled time of return. If you encounter a delay, call the rental agency and let them know. In most cases, this will keep extra days from automatically being applied.

Don't plan for taxes and fees in your budget. When you are comparing prices for cars, be sure to get "all in" quotes that include destination taxes, mandatory insurance, and fees. This is especially true in foreign countries.

Think you must have a car for your entire resort stay. If your resort is large enough, it may have onsite rentals plus airport transportation. If that's the case, you may be able to save money by only renting for the days you plan to explore beyond the resort. Even at small hotels and resorts, you may find that everything you need is within walking distance, making a car unnecessary for the full stay.

READ MORE: New Report Assesses Car Rental Websites

Forget about hotel parking fees. When you are pricing your car rental, be sure to include parking fees that the hotel will charge you for having the car onsite. Fees can be as high as $25 per day.

Put important things in the seatback pockets. The alternative to this is to remember to check those seat-back pockets when you return the car, but who really remembers to do this at the end of the trip? Better to let the backseat be messy than to tuck things out of sight.

Put wet beach gear in the trunk every day. This one I learned from personal experience. Seawater is full of microscopic creatures that die in automobile trunks. Put your beach gear on trunk carpet repeatedly for a few days and the odor is overwhelming.

Skip the walk around. Again, this one is especially important in foreign countries. Make notes of all scratches, dings, and dents. Better yet, take pictures.

Skip any advice the prep guy offers. There is a reason he is telling you that the emergency lights flash if the rear window of the SUV is rolled down while the car is in motion. Sometimes cars operate differently than yours at home.

Rent for five days without checking the weekly rate. This is one of the biggest money savers there is for car rentals. Don’t assume that the website or app is going to check for you. Add two or three extra days and check those rates before you book.

Ignore local laws. There are cameras everywhere these days. Don’t assume that you won’t be sent a bill by mail for speeding or illegally parking.

Assume that the rental company will pay for your tolls. They won't. Your choice is to pay for a toll package up front or pay the bills when they beat you back home.

Forget to verify the return location. There are a few rare instances where you drop off rentals at a completely different location than where you rented. Sometimes it's what you planned, other times it's just the way the company operates. Either way, trust but verify.

Rent a convertible without checking the weather. There's an app for that, you know.

Cheap out on features that would greatly enhance your trip. If you think you will want to go dirt-road driving, then pay for four-wheel drive. There are even places where AC is optional. Do you really think that's a good idea in the Caribbean?

Pay extra for GPS. Use your phone. Even if you have to pay a little extra for data roaming, in most cases it is cheaper than the GPS charge on a rental car.

Assume that your phone will connect to the car. Not only is there a possibility that your phone won’t connect for hands-free calling, but it may be a bad idea. Do you really want your contacts being viewed by the next renter? If you need to talk while driving a rental, bring along your own hands-free device.

Leave expensive things in the car. This is a no-no at all times during your trip. Local bad guys can usually identify a rental car, making it a prime target for theft. In fact, it may be better to leave the car unlocked than to face window replacement when thieves break in to check for your valuables. 


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car: Treating Customers Special

Car Rental & Rail