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Car Hire USA: Tips for Low-Cost Car Rental

May 11, 2021 /
rental car usa low cost

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

If you have planned a road trip around the United States and you need to rent a car, you must have a lot of questions about how it works. In this article, we have decided to answer all the questions that might come to mind. What are the requirements to rent a car? What do I need to do? Do I need a credit card? What optional add-ons can I get? What is the best way to save money? These are just some of the most frequently asked questions. Here are our answers and advice.

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How old to rent a car?

In the United States, the minimum age to rent a car is 25 years of age, but this doesn’t mean that people under 25 are not able to rent a car. People who are 18 to 24 years old can rent a car, but they will have to pay an additional fee for insurance.

What Do you Need to Rent a Car?

What Do you Need to Rent a Car

To rent a car you must meet the minimum age requirement, you must have a valid driving license, insurance coverage and use a method of payment accepted by the rental agency (mainly credit card, but, as we will see, there are also other options).

Do you need insurance to rent a car?

The answer is yes, but if you already have active insurance coverage (your work insurance or family insurance or travel insurance), you will not need to buy the insurance policy offered by the agency. It’s also possible that you have car insurance included in your credit card offer. In any case, it is advisable to inquire about the type of insurance that is required for the rental, and whether such coverage is included in your policy.

Those who do not reside in the U.S. will have to purchase insurance when they rent a car. Usually, the contract includes basic coverage, but it is advisable is to purchase as many policies as you deem necessary for your safety.

Can you rent a car without a license?

You absolutely need a valid driver’s license to rent a car. You cannot rent a car if your license is expired, suspended or revoked. Photocopies of your license or learner’s permit will not be accepted. Obviously, each additional driver must have a valid license to be allowed to drive the rental car.

Can you rent a car with a temporary license?

If you have lost your license during the days leading up to the rental and you have been given a temporary driver’s license, you should contact the rental company in advance to find out if there will be any problems. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that your request will be granted.

Do you need a credit card to rent a car?

A credit card is not required to book a rental car, but is almost always required when you pick up the car, as a security deposit will be blocked on the card. Usually, the credit card must be of the main credit card processing networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express…). Remember that the credit card must be in the name of the person renting the car.

Can you rent a car without a credit card?

Some agencies may also accept a debit card, as long as it is in the name of the main driver. You should try to find out before making your reservation. Prepaid cards are never accepted.

How much is the rental car deposit?

In some cases you will only be asked to authorize the withdrawal of money from your credit card for expenses not covered by insurance, without any deduction. However, in most cases, the rental company may withhold $100-$300 from the credit card as a security deposit. However, the minimum amount that banks usually charge for credit cards is enough to cover the required deposit.

Can I rent a car with cash?

If you have decided to pay with cash, you can do so, but they will only allow you to pay for the rental of the car and not to use it as a guarantee. It is very rare that a rental agency will accept cash as a deposit for car rental. You will still need to present a credit card in the name of the main driver.

Other Tips

Is there a mileage limit for rental cars?

Some offers specify a maximum number of miles driven during the rental period. If you decide to rent a car with this feature, be careful. If you exceed the mileage limit, you’ll have to pay an extra fee per mile. If you are planning to travel long distances and you are not able to accurately calculate the number of miles, the best solution is to choose the offers with unlimited mileage.

How much is the additional driver fee when renting a car?

If you travel in a group and occasionally want to relieve the main driver, be aware that this has a cost. In the case of car rentals, the additional driver requires an extra daily rate. Some agencies don’t charge the fee if the additional driver is the spouse of the primary driver, but you need to be well-informed before renting the car, because the rules may vary from state to state.

If you drive and you are not one of the drivers in the contract, you are running a high risk, because in case of unforeseen events your insurance will not cover you.

How to Return a Rental Car

How to Return a Rental Car

Can you drop off a rental car after hours?

At the end of your trip, when it’s time to fly home, you may need to return the car at an inconvenient time, for example, late at night or very early in the morning. I can confirm that the car can be returned after the agency closes, without the need for staff to collect it. This is mainly the case in airport agencies, while smaller locations may not offer this service.

If you anticipate a delay in delivery, I always recommend that you call the agency to learn about their return policy. If it is possible to do so, you may be asked to leave the car keys directly in a box.

Can you return a car early?

Yes, it is possible to return the car before the agreed time. However, this does not mean that you will receive a refund for the time you have not used it.

What happens if I return my rental car late?

Well, it is very important that the car is returned within the time agreed when booking the car. A delay of a few hours in returning the car will cost you as much as an extra day’s rental.

Do you need to clean the rental car before returning?

It is not necessary to wash the car before returning it, but it is good practice to try to clean the interior a little. Sometimes it can happen that if the car is too dirty, you will be charged a cleaning fee.

Do you need to refuel before returning a rental car?

Unless you find an offer that includes a full tank of gas in the price, you will have to return the car with a full tank of gas. There is also the option of returning the car with an empty tank, but in this case you will be charged the price of a full tank of gas at the rental company’s (usually very high) rates.

The advice is therefore to fill up the tank outside the airport area immediately before the drop-off, at a gas station where fuel is a little cheaper.

Driving the Car

What do you need to rent a car?

Can you drive a rental car out of a state?

Generally, there are no restrictions of this kind, but my advice is to consult very carefully the rental car policies, because some agencies put restrictions on driving between states with the rental car. In any case, this happens very rarely.

Can you drop off the rental car in another state?

Yes, you can drop off the car in a state that is not the one where you picked it up, but keep in mind that this option (One-Way mode) generally has an additional cost (Drop-off fee). In some states – California and Nevada, for example, the drop-off fee is not applied, except during the summer months, when some agencies tend to add the fee to the rental price.

Can you take a rental car from USA to Canada?

Almost all of the most reliable rental agencies allow their clients to cross the border into Canada with their rental car. Since US insurance is also recognized in Canada, you will not need to purchase additional coverage. In addition to the insurance documentation, be sure to bring your rental agreement and proof of citizenship.

Can you take a rental car from USA to Mexico?

Again, the major rental agencies allow you to drive your rental car across the border into Mexico. The main difference, however, is the insurance, since Mexico does not recognize American insurance. For this reason, you will need to purchase a policy with a Mexican insurance company. Documentation must be presented to customs along with the rental contract and documentation proving citizenship and the reasons for the trip across the border.

Can you take a rental car off-road?

Generally, the contracts offered by major rental companies prohibit the use of the car on unpaved roads to protect themselves in case of major damage to the vehicle. So, by law, you cannot drive an intermediate or standard category car (in some cases not even 4×4 cars!) on unpaved roads. However, especially on Southwest road trips itineraries, it is not uncommon to see a large number of rental cars going on dirt roads (e.g. Valley Drive in Monument Valley).

Obviously, there will be no one there to monitor the roads you drive on, but the important thing is that you know that if you cause any damage while on a dirt road you may be asked to pay for it.

Extra

Do car rentals have winter tires?

Can you rent a car with a car seat?

Yes, you can rent a car with a car seat at the time of booking or at the time of collection by paying an extra daily rate. This is the most convenient solution if you don’t want to take your car seat with you on the plane and all other journeys. Based on age and weight, there are three types of child seats: infant, child and booster. Make sure you book the right one!

Do rental cars have GPS?

I once got a car that had a built-in GPS, however, it is not that common. In most cases, you will have to add the navigator as an extra service and pay a daily fee (up to $20 per day). If you don’t think you should pay the fee, my advice is to use the Google Maps navigator, downloading the maps offline in case your itinerary includes stops where there is no phone signal.

Do car rentals provide snow chains?

It may seem strange, but the vast majority of car rental companies do not offer snow chains as a standard feature, and rarely as an additional paid option. If it is important for you to have snow chains on board when you rent a car in the winter, inform yourself in advance! One alternative is to take them with you when you travel from home or to rent them from a snow chain supplier, taking into account that many companies prohibit the installation of snow chains on their cars.

Do car rentals have winter tires?

Almost all companies prohibit the use of snow chains, because, during the winter period, rental cars are almost always equipped with all-season tires, which should eliminate the problem. However, you should find out and make sure that the vehicle you have chosen is equipped with snow chains, because in some cases there may be a lack of availability and, in case of heavy snowfall, you may be left stranded without the possibility of mounting snow chains.

How to Find Cheap Rates for Car Rentals?

How much does it cost to rent a car?

Bookings are always handled by the companies’ head office, so it’s best to book a rental car online. However, rather than going directly to the companies’ websites, use the comparison sites on the web dedicated to car and motorcycle rental. Usually, you can get a much better price. Try it and see for yourself!

Below are links to online price comparison websites that include the most reliable companies (Hertz, Alamo, Avis, Dollar, Enterprise, Budget, National and many others). As anticipated, they allow free cancellation within 24-48 hours and do not provide any commission on your credit card. My advice is to try all of them because the offers are often different and when you compare the 3main companies, you may be able to save a lot of money.

Find cheap rates on Rental Cars

Find cheap rates on Expedia

How much does it cost to rent a car?

The price of renting a car changes depending on a large number of variables, such as the duration of the rental, the category of the vehicle, the dates and location of collection, the number and type of options included in the contract, the type of additional insurance coverage… Some examples? Picking up the car from airport agencies will generally cost less than picking it up from agencies in the city. A 20-day rental will have a lower daily rate than a few-day rental. Also, booking the car for the month of August will cost more than in the fall or spring months, when car availability is higher.

In addition, each individual comparison site may have activated special discounts on individual vehicle categories or temporary offers. For this reason, it is best to compare all prices on these sites, to get a broad overview of the prices.

When is the best time to book a rental car?

The first tip I will give you is to change your approach to renting a car. Waiting for last minute offers will NOT guarantee you to find a better rate. The right answer is that the best time to book is “as soon as possible”. From personal experience, unfortunately, there is no established time frame to find low rental prices, so it is difficult to determine when you could save something, also because there are many factors at play (period of the trip, type of car, high or low season, availability of cars).

My advice is to monitor the price comparison websites starting 6 months before the trip and no later than 2-3 months before departure. Keep in mind that generally these portals guarantee free cancellation up to 24-48 hours before pickup, so if you find better prices later you can always cancel your reservation and make another one. Some insiders suggest to book the car in the middle of the week, avoid booking during the weekend and wait until Monday or even Tuesday.

Find cheap rates on Rental Cars

Find cheap rates on Expedia


Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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