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Car Rental Tips 101

Don Nadeau, a New York Times and USA Today-featured Priceline bidding expert is the founder of Don has managed a travel agency specializing in Third World corporate travel and worked for an inbound travel and tour company that was the second leading seller of Amtrak rail tickets in the world. Don definitely knows his travel. That's why we asked him to explain the do's and don'ts of car rentals in North America. This is what he had to say...

I hope these tips will give JourneyWomen the basic information that every rental car customer should know. You will not find the companies that give the best deals here, but you will learn how to save money and to avoid car rental disasters. Skim if you are an experienced renter, but read carefully if you’re not.

If you are driving away from your rental city, go with a nation-wide company like Avis, Hertz or National, one with lots of rental locations and a reputation for providing newer cars, even if you have to pay a little more. On this type of trip, you need a good car and quick help if something does break down.

Taxes and fees vary widely by location. If you have a choice of pick up locations, compare total prices. For example, if you rent a car at DFW Airport near Dallas, you’ll pay an amazing amount in fees and taxes. You won’t pay such high fees at a location in Dallas itself.

On the other hand, not all airports have high fees. And, rental charges, excluding taxes and fees, may be much more competitive at some airports than in town.

Your credit card or home auto insurance policy may cover insurance for your rental car, but be absolutely sure that you are covered before you decline damage insurance offered by the rental company. This is especially true if you pay a third party like Hotwire in advance. Will your credit card company cover when you don’t pay directly?

Otherwise, you could become responsible for the full value of the carvalue as determined by the rental company—as well as the rental income lost while the car is being repaired or replaced.

If you are depending on your home auto insurance, bring a copy of the policy. Especially smaller and less well-known companies may refuse to let you decline their often-expensive insurance without it.

For your protection, all drivers must sign the rental agreement. If drivers do not sign, that could void your insurance if one gets in an accident. However, additional drivers may mean extra charges.

If under 25, be sure to check age requirements with the rental location before traveling. Some companies will not rent to you at all; others may charge more.

On the other hand, if you are traveling on business, your company may have a negotiated agreement that covers you without penalty. Check with your travel department.

All renters dealing with a new company should read “rental policies” on its website. This discusses credit card requirements, debit card restrictions, gas policies, where you cannot take the car (e.g., on dirt roads), etc.

For example, driving on dirt roads may void your insurance and debit cards may not be accepted leaving you stranded at the rental counter even if you have prepaid the basic rental cost.

Speaking of gas policies, you are better off saying that you will return the car with a full tank. Full, by the way, means full. Otherwise, you may find an ugly charge on your credit card bill even if the tank was nearly full.

Never show up without a copy of your reservation that shows dates, rental costs, etc.

Otherwise, it is your word against theirs and—hey—they hold the keys!

As with hotels, car rental companies may get a temporary authorization on your credit card for much more than the projected cost. This may cause some renters with limited credit available to have problems using their cards elsewhere until several days after returning their cars.

Your driving record may be checked before you are given a car. If this concerns you, call about your situation before showing up at the rental counter.

Ask your rental car company for a map of its location. Particularly some airport locations can be frustrating to find when you are in a rush to return your car before your flight.

Number 13, but not unlucky at all. Meticulously examine your car before driving away from the rental company. Have any damages, regardless of how small, listed in writing. This is important! You don’t want to be changed for damage done by someone else.

What is a car?

For women ...
A car is just a moving, giant handbag!
You never have actually to carry groceries,
or dry cleaning,
or anything.
You can have five pairs of shoes with you at all times!
(Cynthia Heimeel, 1993)

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