Having access to a car during a vacation completes the experience. However, most people are wary of renting a car abroad. During our travels we have rented dozens of cars in different countries on a variety of continents, without a single problem! On this page, you will find our best tips on renting a car, so you too can enjoy a carefree road trip.
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1. Check the car thoroughly upon pickup (checklist)
When you go to pick up your rental car, check it over with the rental company employee. Do this thoroughly and show the employee that you are looking at the car very closely. Employees of the rental companies often act indifferent or laugh about this, but don't let this distract you.
Every scratch captured with a photo.
Also pay close attention to the lights.
Film or photograph the car while checking it, especially the damages. Don’t hide that you are doing this, so the employee knows you have footage. Check the entire exterior, including the underside of the bumpers, rims and roof. Also check the interior of the car.
When picking up the car, also check how the car is idling and whether any lights are illuminated on the dashboard. If this is the case, report it to the rental company employee. If you don't get a replacement rental car, make sure the reports are noted on the rental car pickup receipt and take pictures.
There are a lot of points to check during an inspection like this. Picking up your car can be a busy time and you are probably tired from your trip. That's why we've created a very complete checklist that you can keep handy. Download the full checklist for picking up or dropping off a rental car via this link.
Always check the rental car thoroughly when you pick it up. A video is quick and can save you a lot of hassle afterwards.
2. Check the car together upon return
When you go to return the rental car, you are short on time and tired from your trip. You call it a day and you don't walk around the car with the employee. This is a beginner's mistake!
Always check the rental car with the employee and have them sign off on the return confirmation. Before this is done, don't lose sight of the car. It may sound suspicious, but it potentially saves a lot of hassle. Again, to be completely sure, take pictures of the interior and exterior of the car. Also take a picture of the fuel gauge.
Is the rental company closed when you try to return the rental car? Take a picture of the parked car and the fuel level. Send these photos with an email or app to the rental company with the message that the car was dropped off at that time.
With our handy checklist, you're less likely to overlook something while returning the car and could avoid facing unexpected costs. Download it through the link.
Check for a car
3. Credit card and insurance
Do you have a credit card with car rental insurance? Check with the credit card company and ask if there are any specific conditions in the country where you want to rent a car. If your credit card provider automatically insures the rental car all-risk, you only need to pay the rental company the minimum rental cost.
Be extra vigilant when picking up the car. Because you are not taking insurance options from them, they are making less money. The employees of the rental company may try to talk you into buying additional options. The same trick is sometimes tried if you have already booked all-risk with an intermediary.
4. Spending limit credit/debit card
Before departure, check the spending limit of your credit card and the deposit required for your rental car. When picking up the car, the rental company will block this amount on the card and only release it after the return. So, you can't spend the reserved space during your vacation or road trip.
If your limit is not high enough to meet the security deposit, you may be in trouble. The rental company may then require you to purchase an additional insurance option, which will reduce the amount of the security deposit. This will increase the total rent.
The rental company requires that the primary driver also be the owner of the credit card. Changing the primary driver at the last minute can incur costs. Especially if that means you need an additional driver in the contract.
5. Don't forget the car charger and music
A fun road trip abroad should include good music. Most rental cars have an AUX or USB connection. So, bring an AUX cable for your phone and USB stick with your music.
You probably don't know your way around a foreign country, so it's annoying if you use your phone for navigation and it runs out of power along the way. Bring a car charger and phone holder so you can charge your phone and read the navigation easily while on the road. Small gadgets, but very valuable!
6. Traveling with a group? Check the space
Are you traveling with 3 people or more? Then check the space of the car you want to reserve. Look up the car on the internet or visit your local dealer. Know approximately how much luggage you are taking. Backpacks often fit more easily in the car than hard cases.
We rented a car in Mexico once with 5 people and thought a large SUV would suffice. We were lucky to get a free upgrade to a minivan, otherwise not all the luggage would have fit.
An SUV may not be as spacious as expected.
Space critical? Check the car size before you book.
7. Save money, don't pick up the car at the airport
Usually, rental companies only have a counter at the airport, but the office with the cars is several kilometers away or in the city itself. As a result, there are sometimes extra charges for picking up the car at the airport.
Check this in advance by checking the prices of the various pick-up locations online. A cab ride to the cheapest pickup location is usually much less expensive than the more costly airport locations.
8. Print your reservation and don't get blindsided
Car rental companies make money from all the extras in the contract, such as a GPS or better insurance. At the time you pick up the car, the employees sometimes try to sell you extra things. Typical examples are:
- An extra insurance that is supposedly required by law. Sometimes it is said that your deposit is a high amount (higher than your credit card limit) and that you can lower it by taking out the extra insurance;
- An upgrade to a more expensive class, but you don't get it for free. It also happens that the employee tries to "force" that upgrade, because they don't have a rental car of the class you booked available anymore;
- You rented through Sunny Cars with all-inclusive insurance, but at pick up the rental company requires you to pay for additional insurance options;
- You have reserved a rental car with a specific maximum mileage or age, but you get a car with a higher mileage or a rental car that is too old.
In the above cases, don't let yourself be talked into anything you don’t want. Read up on the applicable rules in advance, print your reservation and stick to what you rented. You are within your rights and often the rental company will try to make you pay for a problem they themselves have caused (such as no available cars in the reserved class).
9. Pay attention to fuel regulation.
There are various fuel arrangements that rental companies operate. Make sure you adhere to the arrangement, so you don't face any nasty after-tax charges.
Common fuel arrangements of car rental companies:
- Full-full fuel. With the full-full arrangement, you get the car with a full tank and you must return it full as well. Take a picture of the fuel gauge as proof when you return the car to the rental company;
- Prepaid Tank. Under this arrangement, you pay for a full tank of fuel when you pick up the rental car and it doesn't matter how full the tank is when you return it. Sometimes you get money back when you return the car with a tank that is not empty. This is stated in the terms and conditions;
- Same level. With this arrangement, you return the rental car with the same amount of fuel as you picked it up with. Bonus tip: try not to be too frugal and fill up just enough to get to the same level. With some cars, the fuel gauge rises more slowly, so the gauge is not right when you return the car.
10. Watch out for infamous scams at the pump
There are countries where you do not have to fill up the tank yourself, but this is done for you by a pump attendant. This happens for example in Costa Rica and Mexico. There are tricks that gas station attendants sometimes use to cheat unsuspecting tourists.
Make sure the pump is reset to zero when refueling is started. Sometimes the employee doesn't reset the pump, which means you pay more.
In another trick, the employee quickly changes a bill while paying. In Mexico, for example, a 200-peso bill can be swapped for a 20-peso bill. This happens incredibly quickly and if you are not alert, you will think you have paid too little.
You can avoid this trick by not taking your eyes off the money until you receive your change. If you did, but are sure of the amount you gave, it sometimes helps to get angry immediately and demand the correct amount of change. This is still a risk, so it is better to just be on your guard while filling up.
11. Check the contract before you sign it
Don't just sign the rental contract without checking. We have never experienced a strange or different contract suddenly being presented when picking up the car but double-checking never hurts.
Sometimes it is required by law that the contract be signed in the local language. If this is the case, you can ask for an English version of the contract for verification.
12. Don't be put off by bad reviews
Rental companies have a bad reputation and sometimes this is well-founded. The internet is full of bad reviews about every rental company. Often bad reviews are posted by people who could have prevented an unpleasant experience, if they had been better prepared. For example, returning the car with an empty tank when it should have been full.
If you read and follow our tips in this article, the chance of you having a bad experience when renting a car is minimal. We have already rented many cars this way without any problems!
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13. Book online
Book your rental car online well in advance. If you arrive at your destination and you haven't reserved a car, you're at the mercy of the rental companies. This means high prices, little choice of models and unclear insurance.
At Roadtripcar.com we have researched rental companies for various countries and locations. We have made lists of rental companies with information on price, conditions, ages and more. Navigate to your destination using this easy to use tool and find the best rental company.
14. Illegitimate costs charged
If you follow all our tips, it will be unlikely that the rental company will charge illegitimate fees. However, if this happens and you suspect the rental company is trying to cheat you, then you can take the following actions:
- Write an email complaining about the incident. Mention in the email that you will leave a bad review or hire a lawyer if they do not resolve the problem. Remember to put a deadline in the email for the rental company to fix the problem.
- If there is no response within the stated time frame, file an official complaint through the local consumer organization. Make sure the company’s office receives this complaint as well. Threaten again with a bad review and that you will press charges and hire a lawyer if the problem is not resolved. If the rental company is located in Europe, you can contact the European Consumer Agency through this link. Is the rental company located in the U.S., Canada or Mexico you can contact the Better Business Bureau.
- Contact your bank or credit card provider within a month of unauthorized charges being made. Let them know that the debits are fraudulent. In the case of a credit card, you will be given extra protection by the issuer.
15. Dashboard light comes on or there is a malfunction
If a dashboard light comes on or a malfunction occurs, it is wise to contact the rental company immediately. Of course, first pull the car over. When you call the rental company, write down the name of the employee and what was agreed upon.
Never just have repairs done without contacting the rental company first! The car remains their property, so defects and repairs are their responsibilities. If you act on your own, without agreeing with the rental company, you could get into nasty trouble with the rental company.
16. What to do in case of damage
It can happen your rental care might get damaged during your trip. For example, we unfortunately had a collision with an animal. The most important things to remember when damage occurs:
- Make sure that everyone is safe. Take care of the health of those involved first;
- If necessary, call the emergency number;
- Next, contact the rental company’s emergency dispatch center and explain the situation. Make a note of the employee's name and ask if a police report of the accident should be made. This can make recovering the damages easier. The emergency center will help you arrange a replacement vehicle to continue your trip and tell you what steps to take;
- Record the details of the opposing party, if an opposing party is involved;
- Take pictures of the situation and the vehicles. This often comes in handy as evidence. Do this even if you have all-risk insurance for the car.
Rental car before the collision.
Rental car after the collision.
In case of damage, always fill out a claim form.