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Understanding Options and Coverage When Renting a Car

    4 minute read

    Renting a car is often an afterthought when booking travel. However, your ride can make a considerable difference in the overall comfort and enjoyment of your journey, whether for business or pleasure.

    If you don’t read the fine print, you could also incur unexpected charges or substantial liability should an accident occur. Furthermore, selecting the right vehicle for your riders, planned activities, and destinations affects your sense of security. Understanding your options and insurance coverage helps you make the right decision.

    1. Consider Your Rental Agreement

    There’s good news and bad news for car rental consumers. The good thing is that most jurisdictions require companies to spell out your total cost as part of the agreement, including the breakdown of additional fees. However, you might have to do some digging. For example, California does not require such disclosure in advertising but in the agreement itself — read the fine print.

    person renting car and getting keys

    Furthermore, investigate what it says about liability. Car rental companies must strike a delicate balance between leniency and rigidity when assigning liability. For example, one business may charge a $500 cleaning fee for suspected tobacco use, while another only $200. If you’re visiting your folks and know you can’t trust your aging father not to light up in a moment of accidental forgetfulness, you’ve nearly made your choice.

    Question anything that isn’t specifically covered in the agreement. For example, what’s the protocol if the vehicle is stolen or broken into while away? Who is liable for a window smash? You may need additional insurance coverage for the peace of mind that your trip won’t result in unexpected fees maxing out your credit card.

    The car rental business is booming, with an estimated 7% annual growth through 2026. So much more competition means it can be overwhelming trying to choose the right rental business for your needs. Make sure to research ahead of time, especially if you’re not used to renting, as it can make a big difference for you in the long run.

    2. Consider the Activity

    What do you plan to do with your rental car? Your planned activities influence your options and coverage. For example, you can rent an RV for that cross-country trip, and having everything you need with you while away on business beats running to the store for everything you forgot in an extended-stay hotel room.

    car rental at the beach

    However, renting certain classes of vehicles may require you to get a special license in some jurisdictions. While you won’t have to worry about standard passenger cars, anything beyond that warrants inquiry.

    Additionally, renting other types of vehicles may increase your liability insurance price. For example, those renting sports cars may pay more for coverage because of the risk you’ll want to test what that mean, lean, driving machine can do and cause an accident.

    Although it may not affect your price point, you should know that today’s connected cars can save a lot of your data. Even in-dash navigation systems can preserve the route directly to your front door. Leaving the Bluetooth connected to your phone shares your contact with the next renter, leaving your friends and colleagues open to scammers.

    When renting, try to select a car with Apple Car Play if you have an iPhone or Android Auto if that’s your platform. Both have stated they do not store information from your private device to the navigation system. Additionally, go into the vehicle’s Bluetooth settings and delete your phone, then do a reset on its infotainment system to ensure your data disappears.

    3. Consider Your Destination

    Where you plan to travel determines the coverage you need. For example, those planning to cross the southern border into Mexico in their rental car require special insurance coverage if their contract allows them to travel across international borders at all.

    Fortunately, U.S. insurance often covers drivers in Canada, as the countries share reciprocal laws — but you still must check. For example, our neighbor to the north has separate liability limits you must meet. 

    4. Consider the Driver and Riders

    young couple renting a car

    Consider the needs of your driver and riders when renting a car. For example, most car rental companies require the primary driver to be 25 or older, while those between the ages of 21 and 24 may have to pay an additional surcharge. It’s worth being honest — if the worst occurs, you could incur a hefty fee for letting an unauthorized driver operate the vehicle.

    Finally, while smaller rides are usually less expensive, they can be downright uncomfortable for the big and tall. To avoid feeling like a clown crammed into a circus car, opt for a ride that sits high enough from the ground and offers wider seats for everyone to enjoy the journey.

    What to Know When Renting a Car

    Although many people treat their rental car as a travel afterthought, choosing the right one can significantly impact your overall experience. Knowing your options and coverage protects you from unexpected fees and liabilities. It also helps you make the right selection for a getaway that makes memories.

    Author Bio

    Jack Shaw, the senior Cars editor of Modded, is an accomplished automotive writer with a flair for adventure and a passion for vehicular innovation. Having written for notable sites such as the National Motorists Association, Ford Muscle, Offroad Xtreme, and more, his articles are a testament to his knowledge and love for the automotive industry.

    The information in this article is obtained from various sources and offered for educational purposes only. Furthermore, it should not replace the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms, and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied. The opinions expressed by guest bloggers are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of AIS Management LLC, any subsidiary or affiliate of the same, or any employee thereof. We are not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest bloggers.