A recent article in Consumer Reports highlighted many of the extra costs of renting a car, many of which you can avoid. Agents are trained to sell as many extras as possible. Don't agree to any feature you don't want. If you refuse extras, you avoid unnecessary expenses.
A common "extra" is insurance. If you already have collision or comprehensive coverage through your individual auto insurance policy, you probably are covered. If you are not sure, call your insurance agent before you rent the vehicle. You might also be covered through your credit card. To make sure, call the toll-free number of your card issuer and ask to talk to a supervisor.
You should always use your credit card to pay for rentals. If you use a credit card, it will protect you if the rental company tries to charge you for anything you did not agree to, or for damage you did not cause.
When you call the rental agency, make sure you are not being charged for equipment you do not need. For example, it is customary to be charged extra for GPS, satellite radio and child safety seats. If you do not require these items, don't pay for them.
The rental cost at an airport will probably be higher than at a location close to the airport. If it is convenient for you, determine whether it is cost effective to rent off site.
If you plan to return the car at a different location from where you got it, determine any additional charges in advance. You should also determine whether there are any extra fees for either an early or late return of the vehicle.
If you were quoted a price for a specific type of model, do not agree to an upgrade at additional cost. However, you can ask for a free upgrade when you are picking the car up. You have nothing to lose.
When you pick up the car, do a thorough inspection. If there is any damage at all, make sure you document any damage in your initial paperwork. When you return the car, have the car inspected by a rental car agent, and have him document the condition. If you drop the car off after hours, take photos to document that there was no damage.
There may be an EZ pass transponder in the vehicle. Do not use it unless you are willing to pay an extra fee.
Before you return the car, fill the gas tank. Otherwise the price you pay for gas will be much higher. Be wary of an offer to "buy a full tank of gas at prevailing prices." If you do not need a full tank of gas, this will just be an added expense to you.
Ask in advance (after you obtain a quote) what discounts are available. Discounts are generally available for AAA, AARP, and some warehouse clubs and professional organizations.
According to a recent New York Times article, Autoslash.com is an excellent web site you can use to find the cheapest rental cars available. On the site, you specify criteria such as the size of the vehicle you want, the pick-up and drop-off date, your place of origination, and the companies you want to deal with (you can request "all companies"), you will receive price comparisons. According to an industry consultant the Times interviewed, who compiles an index of prices at 10 national airports, an individual requesting a compact car for a week could expect a range of quotes from $212.81 at Dollar to $299.37 at Hertz (not including taxes, fees and surcharges).
You can also use discount websites such as Travelocity.com and Expedia.com for current promotions. You can then contact the companies with the best rates at the locations you will be using and possibly negotiate even better rates.
Other web sites that can be useful to you are: Carrentalexpress.com, CarRentals.com and Hotwire.com. Happy driving!
(c) 2011 ELLIOT RAPHAELSON. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.