Here are some inside secrets to help you make a more informed decision the next time you rent a car.
The first thing you need to understand, is that agency employees aren’t in the customer service business. They’re salespeople. They will try to sell you on the damage waiver — that’s the most popular — liability insurance, personal accident and effects coverage, and the pre-pay fuel option. How does this affect you?
Here are six tips:
1. Prepay to save upwards of 20 percent. If you're checking out your options online, you'll notice that most car rental companies offer two different rates: one for prepaying customers, and a higher one for customers who wish to pay when they pick up the car. When looking at rental cars on Hertz, prepaying is definitely our best option. We could get a Ford Focus for $28/day if we prepay, but if we wait to pay in person, we'll be spending $34/day. For a three-day rental, prepaying will save us $20, and these savings get bigger the better the car you rent.
2. Off-airport locations are often cheaper than at the airport. The vehicles at airport locations typically cost more because of airport fees, which cover the car rental agency’s rental and transportation costs. The cost difference can be great. You may want to reserve a car at a location nearby the airport. You should investigate the difference in price.
3. Fuel Purchase Options and Insurance. You may purchase a tank of gas from the rental company at time of rental and return the vehicle with as little gas as you prefer. Be aware that they are unable to issue a refund for unused fuel. However, this method eliminates the need for you to refuel the tank prior to returning. This can be pricey if you are not traveling far, but it is a convenience especially if you plan to use the whole tank of gas. The best bet is to fuel up yourself and check the prices online before you make a decision.
We've all experienced the insurance pitch at the rental car counter. The agents enthusiastically encourage you to purchase car rental insurance, or what's commonly referred to as a collision damage waiver (CDW). This damage waiver is regularly endorsed by rental car agents, who often receive incentives to push this oversold product. The good news is—you don't need it. That's assuming you have full coverage on your own car, which commonly includes collision and comprehensive. So, in most cases the coverage is unnecessary and declining it will save you some money. If you don’t have car insurance, then it’s necessary to purchase this or you could get sued personally.
Always check the state insurance regulations online or call your insurance company before you book. Many credit card companies offer rental car insurance protection as long as the entire rental car transaction is charged to that specific card. Make sure to check with your credit card company or personal auto insurance company before denying CDW coverage. Each state has their own rules so contact your insurance company and ask about your coverage and the states you will be traveling in or through.
4. Negotiate your upgrade. Upgrade rates don’t exist, they’re made up by salespeople. If you have a mid-size reservation and are looking for something more fuel-efficient, they can charge you an upgrade. The “fee” is entirely at the salesperson’s discretion, and is entirely negotiable.
5. Timing is everything. The largest expense incurred by a car rental company is depreciation. Basically, these companies are leasing all the cars in their fleet. They’re charged different rates for different types of cars. It is very important for car rental companies to have as many cars on the road as possible, as any cars that are sitting are not making money, and are actually costing the company money in depreciation fees. A customer who shows up after a busy holiday weekend can more or less name the price for a rental car. They should be begging for you to take cars off their lot. Save money by king your rental as soon as possible.
6. Watch out for (and avoid) sneaky fees and ways to save money.
Check the amount of gas you have in your tank before you drive off, because if it's not at or above that level when you bring it back, you're going to be charged an arm and a leg. You should also take care to inspect your car for any small dings or dents before you pull out of the lot, and make sure the inside is clean and free of stains or damage of any sort. I like to take a few pictures of both the outside and inside of my car in case they try to charge me upon return for damage that was present when I got the car. This is where CDW can protect you from these small issues.
Bonus Tip to Save Money:
Book with online sites like CarRentals.com, Priceline and Kayak.com give you the opportunity to compare prices from many different rental car companies at once, which is always something you should do before booking a car. Don't overlook off-brand rental agencies like Fox Rent A Car, which may not be available in every area, but tend to offer anywhere from a 10 to 50 percent discount off what you would pay with a more well-known rental car agency. Join a rental car loyalty rewards program. You can earn free rentals, discounts, free upgrades, and if you secure elite status you can earn better rates too.
Lauren Fix, The Car Coach® is a nationally recognized automotive expert, media guest, journalist, author, keynote speaker and television host. Post your comments on Twitter: @LaurenFix or on her Facebook Page.
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