Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 17, 2022

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Renting a car is a terrific convenience for any and all travelers who need four wheels to get around. But even as routine as renting a car is for some people, many travelers don’t know or question the car rental companies’ policies.

While there are some things you just can’t change, such as the allowed driver age or damage policies, you can always argue unnecessary charges or just take your business to another car rental company. Here are eight important things to know before renting a car.

1. Do you have to pay more on your insurance policy for extra drivers?

Additional drivers cost more: Just because your car is full of people over the age of 25 doesn’t mean each one needs to be registered to drive the rental. In fact, some car rental companies charge drivers a fee for each additional driver added to the policy. While it’s not a bad idea to register at least two drivers to share the rental agreement, you may want to consider keeping it to one person if the driving distance or trip is short to avoid unnecessary fees on top of what you are already paying for rental prices.

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2. Did you inspect your rental vehicle?

Inspect your rental beforehand: Before you hop into your rental vehicle and drive off in the wind, you should inspect the rental for scratches, dents, and other signs of damage first. Be sure to also take a look inside for any stains, tears, or marks on the interior. The rental office should already have these damages filed, but it’s always smart to take the extra time and double-check to make sure they have these dings noted. Otherwise, you could be charged for that rental damage on their return inspection. When you return the rental, don’t just hand over the keys and take off. Make sure someone inspects the car and you verify existing damages to avoid an accidental charge.

3. What types of roads will you be traveling on?

Stay on the paved roads: unless you’ve planned an off-road trip. If you’ve planned to go off-road, work with a rental agency that sends out those types of cars. When in doubt, stay on the paved roads. This information may or may not have been brought to your attention at the car rental facility, but it’s a common company policy that drivers tend to forget about. Driving on gravel and uneven surfaces can damage the car tires and vehicle. So be sure to avoid unpaved roads at all costs. In some cases, even when you buy collision damage protection or rental car insurance, companies can and will still charge you for damage caused by unpaved surfaces.

4. What are the policies for your credit card?

Know your credit card’s policies on rentals: Before you hand over your credit or debit card and go on your merry way to your next location in a rental car, be sure to verify what exactly is covered by your credit card policy. Know what rental car damages, fees, and extras are covered on the credit card beforehand and you’ll avoid any surprising costs when the bill comes. Credit card companies don’t always take care of misunderstandings as easily as you might think.

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5. Did you fill up your gas tank before returning the vehicle to the rental car location?

Pump gas elsewhere: One of the standard rules is to fill up the tank before you return the car. A common mistake so many drivers make is returning the car without a full tank of gas and letting the rental car company add the difference. Most rental car companies will overcharge drivers who didn’t return a fully gassed-up vehicle. Their rates are significantly higher than what you’d pay if you just filled up the car yourself. Go to a nearby gas station and you’ll save a little money.

6. Are you renting from airport locations?

Airport car rental counters charge a fee: Airport car rental desks are notorious for tagging on an airport fee when you rent a car from their counter. Unfortunately, car rental companies are required by law to collect these surcharges for the airport and they can’t do much about it. If you want to avoid this fee, consider taking a shuttle or taxi to a car rental company outside of the airport where you won’t get dinged with this extra cost.

7. Do you need to add extras?

Bring your own extras: When renting a car, little things like child-safety seats, GPS systems, and DVD players can add up quickly on your bill. Save yourself some money by bringing these travel extras yourself. If you get a rental car with unnecessary extras, ask to have them removed, or get a new vehicle so that you don’t get stuck with a higher bill.

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The Bottom Line for Those Interested in Rental Insurance

Generally, your standard auto insurance will cover you during your rental period. You will want to double-check this, though. Also, know the terms. What’s covered and when? What’s not covered? If you buy rental car insurance from the company, they don’t report any accidents to your insurance, meaning your rates won’t go up. You also won’t be responsible for any deductible. Especially on longer trips, though, the daily cost can add up quickly.

If you’re renting a car, always make sure you’re informed. The rules change in a foreign country. Just as you would with your regular auto insurance, it’s important to know how much you are responsible for in the event of an accident or if your regular auto insurance covers rental accidents. There are many more rental tips available. To review car insurance options, enter your ZIP code and run quotes today.