If you ask any frequent traveler about fees when renting a car, most can tell you a horror story of some sort. Miscellaneous charges which added hundreds of dollars to the cost, deposits not returned, barely roadworthy cars and the list goes on. Well in this article, we look at how to avoid surprise fees when renting a car, ways to cover yourself, where to find reputable rentals and some alternatives to renting a car. Hopefully by the time you finish reading, we can save you some money, help you avoid surprise fees, and you can enjoy your trip.
This is the latest installment in our Plan your Dream Trip Series. You may want to check previous parts as well:
Extra Charges and Fees when Renting a Car
This is where they slug you! When you book a rental car, it is not until you arrive at the rental car counter, that the true cost of the rental is revealed. So how can you avoid surprise fees when renting a car?
One way is to know the most common fees when renting a car, the ones that result in surprise at the counter. If you use an online booking site, even for one of the large international brands, i.e. Hertz, Avis, etc. the total price of the rental is rarely the price you are quoted by the site. Why they seem unable to get this right, I don’t know!
The same basic fees when renting a car seem to never be included or disclosed, even if you read the fine print. So here are some of the most common ones to look out for, to avoid surprises. Unfortunately, terms and conditions vary from company to company and country to country so there is no way to make this a comprehensive list of fees when renting a car.
Second or Additional Driver Fees
The additional driver fee is all too common and is one I am always on the lookout for, especially if you are renting a car for a few weeks.
In some places your spouse or family member can drive at no additional cost. In other places, there is a per day cost for each additional driver. (Sometimes this is capped for the rental, but not often.) So if you have a month long car rental, ideally you would have at least two drivers, well in most places this will cost you, so check what the fee is ahead of time. You also will need to add the additional driver and their details to the agreement at the time you rent the car. If you fail to do this, insurance will most likely not cover you if you have an accident and the driver is not on the agreement.
Hint: In Europe there is usually additional driver fees when renting a car.
Under 25, drivers will usually be slugged more. Check the cost if you are under 25.
Insurance Fees When Renting a Car
In some places insurance is mandatory and it is an additional cost. Yes, the rental car companies all know this in advance and yes they could quote it in the cost as you cannot waive it, but they don’t. Most search engines and companies will leave it out of the quote, which makes it look quite affordable, then when you arrive to pick up the car, the actual price is double the quoted rate. (This is my pet peeve- can you tell!!)
If the search engine you are using is returning a wide disparity in prices, this may be the reason; some companies might be doing the right thing and disclosing insurance costs, while others are leaving it out of the quote. Read the fine print, it will often say mandatory insurance is not included in the price. I try to avoid these car rentals as you really have no way of knowing what the cost of the car rental will be when you arrive.
While we are on insurance, buying full loss and damage waiver insurance which will usually reduce your excess to zero should you have an accident, can be expensive, especially if they are charging you a per day rate from the rental car company.
Alternatives to consider include rental car insurance covered on your credit card, optional car rental coverage through an automobile club, or rental car insurance included in your travel insurance. Some rental car booking sites will also pre-sell you insurance at a reduced rate. You just need to make sure you know what is included if you take this option. Also if you cancel the rental car reservation from the site, the additional insurance is not usually refunded. (You might wait to purchase it right before your rental begins, but you must do it online in advance for the discounted rate.) As with any insurance read what is covered and know in advance. Too often you find out it’s not covered because you need it. ALWAYS read the terms and conditions.
Damage and Excess
And while you are checking the insurance fees, you might as well check what the damage and excess amount is on the rental car should you have an accident. You can often pay an additional fee when renting a car to reduce this amount to zero.
Border Fees (Additional Countries)
Often taking the rental car into another country will not be permitted or if it is, the fees will be very expensive (making it cost prohibitive.) This is definitely one fee you need to check in advance if you plan to cross a border as insurance will often not cover you in another country. If you can’t prove car insurance coverage at the border, you can also be denied entry.
Excess Mileage Fees
Always check and see how much mileage is included in the rental. Ideally you want unlimited mileage. However all too common there is a per day or per rental limit on mileage. Once you reach the limit you can be charged for each additional mile (or kilometer) you travel. Excess mileage fees when renting a car can add up quickly and result in a huge bill. This is especially important if you plan on driving a lot. 100 miles or kilometers a day can go quickly.
Often a rather large security deposit will be taken on your credit card at the start of the rental. This takes up some of your available credit limit while you are traveling so make sure you can cover the deposit and still pay for your expenses. Also check how long before the security deposit amount is cleared or returned to you. Some will say 30 days or longer (to cover tolls or parking fines).
Check how you cover tolls. Some countries have gone to electronic systems where there is no way to pay in cash if you use a toll road or bridge. Make sure you are only being charged for the tolls you incur (and probably a small admin fee) not a per day charge.
Renting a Car Online
I like to organize my major travel expenditures ahead of time. If we are renting a car, I usually do try and organize it ahead of time. Researching online means I can usually find and read (or request) the small print, (in English) something I can’t do on the spot at a rental counter.
Also these days, there are usually ratings from other renters to help you to determine if the company is reputable and what level of service (or issues) you might expect. If you have booked accommodation you might ask them for a recommendation for a rental car company as well. You can then investigate it further when you are searching online.
So having said all that, I have tried a lot of online sites, including the sites of some of the major international rental car companies, Hertz, Avis, etc. and the one I like and use regularly is Holiday Autos.
What I like about Holiday Autos:
- The price you are quoted for renting a car is the price. No surprises fees when renting a car.
- It tells you the terms and conditions of the car rental ahead of time, if insurance is included, the mileage, drivers, etc. so you know what you are paying for and what will be extra.
- You cancel the reservation with no charge, up to 48 hours before the rental.
- It includes local car rental companies which can often be much cheaper than the big international rent a car brands.
- It has user ratings, so you can see the experiences and issues of other customers with the rental car company.
We have used Holiday Autos to rent a car in numerous countries all over the world and have not had an issue.
Do you need an International Driver’s License or Permit?
Do you need one an international driver’s license to rent a car overseas? Not usually if your driver’s license is in English and you are renting a car in a country that uses the Roman alphabet (same one we use in English). If your driver’s license is in another language, alphabet or the country you are going to rent the car in does not use the Roman alphabet, you may need one. You can usually check ahead of time and see if an international drivers license is required (just use a search engine or ask the rental car company).
If you need an international driver’s license it may be a requirement of the country, not the rental car company.
So what is an International Driver’s License and where do you obtain one? An international driver’s license is usually a paper booklet issued in your home country, which translates the standard driver’s license into a number of languages used around the world. When you receive one, someone enters your name and details into the cover and that is it. It lets someone who does not speak English read the fields and terms for your license, i.e. if you need to wear glasses to drive, where this information is indicated on your license. It does not translate the data in your license to all of these languages.
If your country runs an automobile club, this is usually where you can obtain one. In the USA, AAA or NAC both issue international driver’s licenses or permits. They are typically good for one year. If you are not sure if you will need one where you are going, better to just obtain one. You usually just need to take your driver’s license and appear in person to have one issued. We have traveled extensively and never needed one, but we do not always rent a car in some countries, so our experience is probably not indicative. When we are not sure if an international driver’s license is required, or unsure if we will be renting a car, we obtain one before we leave home.
Alternatives to Renting a Car
And just because you drive at home doesn’t mean renting a car and driving is always the best option when traveling. Language, traffic patterns (driving on the right or left), manual or automatic cars all may influence your decision.
It can be expensive to drive in some countries. It is not just the cost of renting a car, you must also factor in parking, tolls and the price of gasoline.
I know this article is about renting a car but I would be remiss if I did not cover some alternatives. We often do not rent a car as driving in some countries is, in my opinion, a good way to ruin a holiday (due to poor drivers, scams, road conditions, little or no law enforcement and total lack of traffic management) or too expensive compared to the alternatives.
So there are a couple of recommended alternatives including public transport, private transport and in Europe the option to lease a car rather than rent.
Public or Private Transport
As to public or private transport, options vary by country. We have never rented a car in Asia or South America, despite traveling extensively through these regions. In South America car rental is very expensive and public transport is very cheap. You can find more information in Patagonia Travel Tips and Planning Your Trip. In Patagonia we used the bus or flew. Private transfers were also very expensive and in some instances the prospect of 24 hours on a bus was too much and we took the option to fly.
In Peru, we used a combination of bus, flights and private transfers. Detailed information about traveling around Peru can be found in How to Make the Most of 2-3 Weeks in Peru.
In Asia, we don’t drive and don’t recommend it. We have rented a car in Malaysia to explore the countryside, but in Kuala Lumpur it is easy to move around with taxis and public transport. We have used planes, trains, taxis, buses and private transport throughout Asia. You can find tips traveling around Vietnam in How to Save Money on Your Trip To Vietnam.
Luckily, today there are a lot of websites written by some very well traveled people. Use a search engine and research before you go to help you decide if renting a car is a good decision for your trip. Often it comes down to much more than just the cost of the car rental. For other country specific travel information, check:
If you are traveling to Europe a better option may be to lease a car rather than rent one. You can find details about the short term lease program for non-European residents in How to Save Money Renting a Car in Europe.
If you are trying to figure out how to travel somewhere or what the options are to move from point A to B, a very helpful site is Rome2Rio. Just put in where you are starting and where you want to go and it will do the rest. The site will return all of the transport options between the two destinations including time and cost estimates. I use this site a lot to work out travel routes, times and distances.
Now it’s your turn- did we miss any surprise fees when renting a car? Do you have an experience you would like to share and help others to save some money and avoid fees when renting a car? If so, please leave a comment below (a URL is not required).