5 ways to save big money when you rent a car

December 1, 2014

It's exciting to rent a car, isn't it? Especially if it's for vacation. It's also easy to get caught up and not check the fine print before you sign a rental agreement. So that you don’t get hosed, here are five tips to help you save money the next time you rent some wheels.

5 ways to save big money when you rent a car

[Image Credit: iStock.com/Jay_Zynism]

The good news is you’re renting a car. That means travel is on the horizon. The bad news is a cheap rate can quickly balloon into big money if you’re not careful. Here's a list of tips (beyond bringing your own GPS and car seats) so you can keep your wallet safe before you even hit the road.

1. Beware of hidden fees

Oh yes, there are all sorts of hidden fees. Most expensive? When the rental car company has to refill the gas tank.

  • They charge much more per litre than if you were to do it yourself. They'll slap on other things like taxes, vehicle license and something called an “arena fee”.

It's best to look at the fine print on the company’s reservation page, or else refill the tank yourself before returning the vehicle.

2. Don’t rent at the airport

Convenient? Yes. Expensive? Even more so. Rental companies generally charge you for the privilege of renting so close to the baggage claim.

  • If you can, rent a car from your hotel. Some hotels even offer shuttles from the airport so you can save on cab fare.

3. Decline the insurance

Chances are you probably don’t need the rental company’s extra insurance – even if they make you feel like you do. The best advice? Check your existing auto and home insurance.

  • You’ll also want to call your credit card provider. Quite often, using the card to pay for your rental provides collision coverage.
  • If you're renting a car outside of your home country, you may not be covered by your credit card provider. Make sure you ask them before you leave.

4. Reserve the smallest car possible

If you're travelling within North America, here’s an insider tip: If your destination is a smaller facility or non-hub airport, chances are that the rental company doesn't have many compacts on the lot. On some days, they might not have any!

  • Even if you reserved a smaller car and none are available, the rental company is obligated to give you a free upgrade. Sometimes, you'll move up two categories for no additional charge.

It’s risky if you don’t like small cars because this plan isn't guaranteed to work. Of course, you can always upgrade for a small fee if you’re stuck.

5. Day of the week matters

File this under “What?” But reserving a car for a week (even if it sits in a driveway or parking lot) is usually cheaper than a daily rate on a shorter rental. Seriously.

  • When you’re reserving online, try a number of combinations when selecting your pick-up and drop-off days. It might be cheaper to pick up the car on Thursday, even if you don't really need it until Friday. The Friday rental might come with a weekend rate that's more expensive. And who needs that?
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