Check out these insider secrets to saving money on your next rental car.

By Maggie Seaver
August 19, 2019
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Next time you touch down in a new locale or feel a sudden urge to zip away for a long weekend, make sure that rental car (and all its associated expenses) doesn’t tip your bank account over the edge. A rental car can definitely be worth it to avoid crazy cab fares or the hassle of public transportation, but the process can be more confusing and expensive than anticipated if you haven’t done your research. Here are a few money-saving tricks most people don’t learn until they’ve been around the block (in a rental car) a few times. Study up before you grab the keys and sign on the dotted line. 

1. Do Some Digging

A little time spent on the front end comparing rental car rates online will pay off—sometimes up to $50 a day. Renting a car at the airport can really jack up the price thanks to airport taxes, fees, and surcharges. In some cities, it’s smart to skip the airport rental, and take a cab to a local rental site; but this isn’t the case in every destination (hence, why you need to do some digging). Check out travel aggregate booking sites like Kayak, Hotwire, Priceline, Autorentals.com, Costco, and AAA to compare prices so you know you're getting the most bang for your buck.

2. Don’t Pay for Extra Insurance if You Don't Need It

Rental car agents are kind of counting on you not to know the full extent of what your own insurance already covers—but don’t get roped into paying for extra coverage if you don’t need to.

You might not realize your current auto insurance (if you already have a car) will cover damage or theft to the vehicle, damage to others, personal injury, and so on. Your credit card might also include basic insurance coverage as a perk—as long as you use that card to pay for the rental. While most credit card coverage doesn’t apply to liability issues, it can go toward a collision damage waiver, which lets you off the hook financially if something happens to the car. Your best bet is to call your insurance company and/or credit card company for a clear understanding of how you’re covered before signing anything.

3. Avoid Extras

Do you really need to pay extra for a GPS if you can use your phone or search and download the directions before you go? Do you really need to upgrade to a newer model with additional cup holders? At the counter, rental agents will offer you things, and you should only pay for what’s necessary.

4. Designate One Driver

Adding more than one driver to your rental agreement—whether or not they’re over 25—could cost you a fee. Think about whether or not you really need to share the driver’s seat throughout the trip. It might be worth choosing one person to take the wheel in order to lower costs.

5. Skip the Prepaid Gas Option—and Always Refill the Tank  

Rental companies will offer a fuel service option that lets you prepay for gas upfront—a good idea in theory if you know exactly how much fuel you’re going to use. In short, prepaid plans are rarely a good deal. Before dropping off the rental car, fill the tank up to (or above) where it was when you picked it up, otherwise you’ll be charged big time. Use the genius app GasBuddy to find the cheapest stations in your area.

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