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Planning to rent a car for the first time? A bit nervous about doing everything correctly? Unsure what the process for renting is or what you should pay attention to? Then check out the tips below to make sure you avoid mistakes when renting your car and even save some money!
There’s a lot of options that vary by price, quality, and comfort depending on where you are in the world, but none of them have the practicality of a rental car. After all, a car is the only option that’ll give you the complete freedom to choose your own schedule and the chance to get to certain places that public transportation just won’t be able to.
That said, there’s quite a lot of things to consider when renting a car when compared to just buying a train or bus ticket, especially if it’s your first time renting.
So, I put together this list here of 9 tips for your first rental car to help.
To help you be fully prepared for your first rental car trip, I’ve separated today’s article into two parts. The first will talk about the parts of your trip that need to be considered before you rent a car. In the second part, I’ll give you a breakdown of exactly what you need to confirm with the rental car company when it comes time to rent your first car.
Note: this article here is more about tips to follow when it’s actually time to rent a car. If you want to save money on your rental cars, take a look at my article with the 5 best and cheapest websites for renting cars around the world.
What should I keep in mind before renting my first rental car?
Before you rent your car, there are a few specific, often-overlooked points that you want to think on. Once you’ve sorted through this part, it’ll be much easier to deal with the rental car company, something which I’ll get more into below.
But for now, here are the first 4 tips for your first rental car:
- Determine how far you’ll actually be driving
- Consider how many people you need to fit in your rental car
- Figure out how tolls work in the country you’ll be traveling to
- Plan out your itinerary to get an idea of how much you’ll spend on fuel
1. Determine how far you’ll actually be driving
The first thing that you’ll want to think about before renting a car is the distance that you plan to drive. Naturally, this will influence all aspects of your trip, from the organization of your itinerary stops to the overall trip costs.
So whether you’re going to cross the United States by car or have a roadtrip in the Brazilian countryside in the state of Minas Gerais, considering the distance you’ll travel is the essential first step.
Plus, this is important to determine before you rent because rental cars often have a limit on the distance you can drive each day that you can drive per day (and yes, they’ll know if you drive over this – they can see the odometer!). The maximum for this limit is generally 250 miles/400 kilometers (although it may be less), and you’ll have to pay a fee if you drive over this.
So, if you plan to drive long distances, then you may want to look for a rental car with unlimited mileage.
2. Consider how many people you need to fit in your rental car
Another item that has to be considered before you visit a rental car company is how many people will travel with you in the car. Obviously, this will affect what type of car you’ll choose since each car will have a passenger limit and an ideal number for when it is/isn’t comfortable.
With a normal driver’s license, you can rent cars for 2 passengers (smart cars) up to large, 9-person vans.
3. Figure out how tolls work in the country you’ll be traveling to
Most countries around the world have tolls. While some of these tolls are simple and easy to use (for example, you can simply pay cash at the toll booth), others have surprisingly complicated systems.
So, it’s very important to know how tolls work in the country where you’re going to be driving (or the countries you’ll be driving in, in case you happen to be doing a trip through several countries in Europe or South America, for example). You’ll probably also want to do some research into the cost of these tools so you’re fully prepared before you go.
If the tolls are electronic, many rental car companies will just include this price in the final rental car bill. However, be sure to double-check.
4. Plan out your itinerary to get an idea of how much you’ll spend on fuel
Calculating how much fuel you’ll use, on average, is another important thing to consider as it’ll influence which type of car you’ll rent (ex. Perhaps a car with good gas mileage if you’ll be traveling long distances) or the routes that you’ll want to take.
So, especially if it’s your first time renting a car, you’ll want to do a bit of research into the average price for gas in each country you plan to drive through. This way, you can have a better idea not only of how much you’ll spend to add it to your travel budget, but how it works in each country. Especially since gas prices can vary wildly (from $7 per gallon in a country like Norway to under $1 per gallon for certain countries in the middle east where oil is abundant) around the world.
Having a good understanding of the points above will set you up for a good start when it comes time to rent your first rental car.
However, there are still other things you need to know about. But since they are related to the rental car company at the actual time of your rental, I’ve separated them into another category below.
What should I check when it’s time to book my rental car?
Now, it’s time for some specific tips for you to follow when it actually comes time to rent your car.
Here they are:
- Make sure your driver’s license is valid to rent a car in the country you’re traveling to
- Learn about the insurance options for your rental car
- Determine your pick up & drop off locations
- Know the types of rental cars available to rent
- Find out how payment works at the rental car company you choose
5. Make sure your driver’s license is valid to rent a car in the country you’re traveling to
Before renting your first car, you need to know what type of driver’s license is needed for the travel destination (or even the type of vehicle) you plan to drive in. Many countries will require that you have an International Driver’s License to drive legally and pick up your rental car.
However, this will also depend on where you’re from, and these restrictions vary a lot from country to country. For example, when we went to the UAE, Nikki was allowed to rent a car with her American driver’s license, but I couldn’t rent one with my Brazilian license (the only way I could rent was if I had an international license). But then there are other countries, like South Korea or China, where you can only rent a car if you have a national driver’s license (they don’t accept the International Driver’s License).
Beyond that, there are places like Japan that accept an International Driver’s License from citizens from some countries, but don’t from places like Brazil. That said, there are many countries that generally accept driver’s licenses from other countries – like Argentina, United States, Canada, Portugal, England, Ireland, and France if you’re traveling just for tourism.
In other words, the regulations vary wildly from country to country! So, make sure you verify if your local driver’s license is accepted in the country you plan to drive in and what type of permission is needed to rent a car. Otherwise, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise if you land in the country only to find you can’t legally drive the car you rented.
To get an International Driver’s License, you’ll have to apply from within your home country since the process is a little different for each place. To find out how it works for your country, just Google “international driver’s license” + the name of your country. I’ve also included a few helpful links depending on where you’re from below.
If you’re from the UK: https://www.postoffice.co.uk/identity/international-driving-permit
If you’re from India: https://www.indiafilings.com/learn/international-driving-licence/
If you’re from the USA: https://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html
If you’re from Australia: https://www.aaa.asn.au/international-motoring/driving-overseas/
If you’re from New Zealand: https://www.aa.co.nz/drivers/driver-licences/driving-permits-for-driving-overseas/
6. Learn about the insurance options for your rental car
Another very important thing to check on before renting a car is insurance. Car rental agencies generally offer several different types of insurance with varying levels of coverage. The most common are:
Collision Damage Waiver Insurance (CDW): This type of insurance is considered the most basic and covers only the deductible established at the time of purchase. It normally protects you from the costs incurred by damage to the rental car in the case of accidents and theft. However, this simple type of insurance won’t cover third parties, so it’s usually the cheapest option for insurance.
Keep in mind that if you don’t have insurance like this at a minimum, if you hit another car and the issue is your fault, you’ll have to cover all the expenses yourself.
Third-Party Liability (TPLI) Insurance: This is a more comprehensive type of insurance that will also cover damage to third parties in all the cases listed above. However, it’s still important to check is it’ll just cover a certain amount (the deductible) listed in the contract.
“Super” or “Plus” Coverage: Many car rental agencies will also offer a “plus” coverage. This is the most expensive type of coverage, and usually the one they will try to sell you on. However, it does have a lot of nice perks like 24/7 assistance and complete coverage with no deductible.
But ultimately, it’ll be up to you and the group of people you’re traveling with to decide if this type of insurance is worth it or not. If you’re in a destination where the traffic is chaotic and you don’t know the area very well, having more comprehensive insurance can definitely help avoid some headaches.
On the other hand, if you’ll be traveling to a more easy-going and safe destination, getting a basic insurance is a good option to save some cash on your rental car.
Important note: often, if you pay for a rental car with a credit card, the credit card company will offer you complimentary insurance. Check to see if your company allows this, and see what level of coverage, because then you won’t have to worry about your insurance at all!
7. Determine your pick up & drop off locations
Many people might not know this, but the pick up & drop off location can influence the final price of the rental, especially if you select different locations (ex. pick up at the airport but drop off in another city) since the car rental company will charge you an extra fee for them to return the car back to where it was.
And these fees aren’t cheap. So make sure you have your itinerary planned out so you can compare the price for different pick up and drop off locations.
8. Know the types of rental cars available to rent
Of course, you also need to consider what type of rental cars are available from the car rental company. Normally, these companies have everything from economy and compact (or the cheapest) cars to pricey luxury rides. Sometimes, they’ll also have vans or even motorhomes/RVs available for rent.
With so many options, it can be difficult to decide what the best option for your trip is. So, my tip is to think about the following:
- How comfortable of a car you want to drive in
- The cost of the car itself (bigger cars normally cost more!)
- The number of people travelling with you (normally, you can get cars for 2 to 9 seats to rent)
- If you have the right license to drive a certain type of car (especially for vans and motorhomes, which might require a different license beyond your normal one)
- How much gas each car consumes (obviously, 4X4s, SUVs, and sports cars use more fuel and will cost more overall)
9. Find out how payment works at the rental car company you choose
My final tip here is to make sure you know exactly how the payment process works for the rental car company you’re looking at so you don’t have any surprises later on.
In general, the websites that I recommend for renting cars don’t make you pay when you make your reservation and don’t even ask for a credit card (in other words, you won’t pay until you actually arrive are the car rental booth to pick up your car!)
But one thing to know is that these companies will normally request a security deposit. They’ll take this deposit from the credit card you have on file to serve as a guarantee that the car returns in perfect condition. But since each rental car company has its own rules about this, it’s important to double-check before making your rental.
Renting a car allows you to have some unique freedoms during your trip that other forms of transportation just can’t give you. So, if this is your first time renting a car, hopefully the 9 tips I’ve given here are useful and helpful.
And, of course, if you have anything to add, any comment or question, simply leave it below and I’ll get back to you!
Planning your next trip?
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Already reserved your hotel or hostel? If not, we recommend Booking.com. They have a huge selection of hotels and hostels all over the world. Plus, in most cases, you can cancel your reservation without any costs up to a few days before the check-in date!
Still haven’t booked your plane ticket and want to save big? Take a look at Momondo and Kayak. They are flight aggregators that combine several other ticket search websites to make it easier for you to compare prices and make sure you are getting the best deal.
And finally, will you need to rent a car during your trip? Then check out Rentalcar.com to search and compare car rental companies from all over the world in a single website. Then, you can find the cheapest price for the best car!