How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car

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How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car www.compassandfork.comIf 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:

What You Need to Know to Plan your Dream Trip Part 1:Flights

How to find the Perfect Accommodation

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?

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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.

Young Drivers

Under 25, drivers will usually be slugged more. Check the cost if you are under 25.

How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car www.compassandfork.comInsurance Fees When Renting a Car

Mandatory Insurance

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.

Optional Insurance

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.

How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car www.compassandfork.comBorder 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.

Security Deposit

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.


How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car www.compassandfork.comAlternatives 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:

Money Saving Tips for Traveling Around Turkey

What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Greek Islands

Traveling in Italy: What you Need to Know

The Rich History of the Ancients in Paphos Cyprus

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).

Learn How to Avoid Surprise Fees When Renting a Car Learn the most common rental cars extra fees, tips on what to watch out for when renting a car and where to find the best deals online.

40 Responses

  1. Serina aka Ms Frugal Ears
    | Reply

    So many things to consider! This is a good checklist I will use.

    • Editor

      Serina, Hopefully it will help you save some money!

  2. Loly
    | Reply

    I didn’t even think of a lot of these. thanks for the post its very useful.

    • Editor

      Loly, Glad you found it useful!

  3. Scott
    | Reply

    Route Perfect is, I think, even better than Rome2Rio for planning car trips. It seems to let you “customize” more. And the short term lease programs are fantastic in Europe, as long as you are going to be there more than 21 days. And it gets a little pricey to p/u or d/o outside France. But for slow travel, they can’t be beat.

    • Editor

      Scott, I will try Route Perfect, thanks for the tip! If you book early enough they often waive or discount the pickup/drop off fees on the short term lease. We picked up in France and dropped off outside France with 50% off the drop fee, much less than driving back to France!

  4. we always take the full insurance to reduce the excess to Zero because of our weak currency. Great tips here especially about the border crossing fees. Also, some car licenses don’t allow you to take the car into another country without paying a special fee. We use Europcar every time we travel as that makes it easier for booking purposes. Also, the international drivers license information is handy – in South Africa we have been conned for years for needing one when actually we never did. All the AA did was get money out of people!

    • Editor

      Tandy, Yes border crossings are a bit hidden. It is hard to find out what you can do. And in the USA some even limit the states you can drive to!

  5. Agnes
    | Reply

    Awesome article, very great tips! Will be traveling soon and this will come in handyAgnes

    • Editor

      Agnes, Gald it was useful. Hopefully it saves you some money!

  6. Krista Bjorn
    | Reply

    Such good tips. I remember we did a road trip through the Balkans once, and didn’t realize until we hit our first border crossing that the rental company had given us a COPY of the agreement, not the agreement. So not cool. Every. Single. Border crossing after that was a nightmare. But we made it. And learned our lesson. 🙂

    • Editor

      Krista, Yes I am sure you will always remember that now! Unfortunately that is the way a lot of people learn these things- a bad experience.

  7. Evelyne CulturEatz
    | Reply

    Such a great and thorough article! I usually avoid renting but sometimes no choice. I feel better informed now.

    • Editor

      Glad to be of service Evelyne. Nothing worse than being stung by unforeseen fees. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Kirsty
    | Reply

    A very informative article. I haven’t been in a position to need a car overseas, but this is great advice.

    • Editor

      Kirsty, glad you enjoyed the article.

  9. Nathan
    | Reply

    Good list! I don’t rent cars often but when I do this list could help save a lot of money!

    • Editor

      Thanks Nathan, the list is rather illuminating. Way too many surprises for my liking.

  10. Daniel
    | Reply

    The credit card insurance is a great one! Many travellers don’t even know their credit card already includes many insurances. Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Editor

      Hi Daniel. And we have used credit card insurance from time to time. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Carol Colborn
    | Reply

    Found out all these things…then my husband reached the age of 70 and we could not longer rent a car in some countries!

    • Editor

      Carol- Good Point! Thanks for sharing that fact as well.

  12. Ami
    | Reply

    Those are some really well-detailed tips and very useful ones. Very well written

    • Editor

      Thank you Ami. It is easy enough to get caught out if you don’t know in advance.

  13. Super helpful, thanks for sharing! Happy travels 🙂

    • Editor

      Our pleasure Lauren. Hope it helps.

  14. Holly
    | Reply

    Ugh. Hidden fees when renting a car is the worst. I usually stick with the same rental company in the States because of it. Thanks for all of the suggestions!

    • Editor

      Holly, Yes you can get to know them in your home country. but then you expect it to be the same overseas and it’s not!

  15. Jim B
    | Reply

    Love this article. There are so many things to look out for and a lot of western travelers don’t alway pay attention to the little details when it comes to renting cars but many get screwed. Thanks for the well written and well researched article.

    • Editor

      Jim, Thanks for your comment. Yes unfortunately you do usually become aware of the “hidden” fees the hard way!

  16. Angela
    | Reply

    Great post! We always forget to look into before we go or ask about tolls. We also have told so many friends and family about credit card insurance. There are only a few places like Israel and Ireland that it won’t work in, but for the most part we use it every time we rent a car. We actually had to utilize it once when we backed over a boulder in Hawaii… oops!

    • Editor

      Angela, Oops! Yes unfortunately too many people find out what is and isn’t covered the hard way. Thanks for letting us know about Ireland and Israel on the insurance.

  17. Maggie
    | Reply

    Those online quotes that aren’t really the true cost are a pet peeve of mine too! And the under-25 fee…I had some couchsurfing guests from Germany who rented a car to drive from Oregon to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (a pretty far drive!) and they didn’t know about the under 25 fee so they ended up paying quite a lot. In Portland we have a car-sharing service where people who leave their car at the airport while they travel can offer it as a ‘rental’ for someone to use while they’re gone. It’s must more cost effective and it’s nice for the traveler to pocket some cash, too.

    • Editor

      Maggie, I have heard of the airport rental from individuals. Hopefully they become more common!

  18. Kemkem
    | Reply

    My god! I could have used this months ago. It had been so long since l rented a car. Booked online and they price, thanks to a crap load of fees was double the original quote. Insane! The only thing that made me feel better was being upgraded to an SUV hybrid at the same price which helped a lot as we were clearing out our storage unit.. It still stung though 🙂 , an will never happen again.

    • Editor

      We have been upgraded a couple of times and it is not always a good thing. Sometimes the car is not fuel efficient (and you have a lot of driving) or it is too big to park (a large car in a big city). I agree with you, once you get stung once, you are always on the lookout.

  19. Kaylene Chadwell
    | Reply

    I’m under 25 so renting cars always seems more expensive. Luckily, I mostly travel with people over 25 so they book and drive the cars. But it’s inconvenient. There’s definitely research that needs to go into renting cars.

    • Editor

      Kaylene, Yes, unfortunately car renting is much more complex than finding great accommodation!

  20. Sarah
    | Reply

    Can’t wait until I’m over 25 and don’t have those fees anymore!


    • Editor

      Dreadful aren’t they Sarah. Thanks for your comment.

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