It seems a car rental is no longer just a simple process of booking the car, picking it up, driving and dropping it off. Consumers need to protect themselves so that they aren’t charged for damages months down the road. Here are some tips to remember when renting a car.

– Check pricing on comparison sites, then book directly with the car rental company. Prices are usually the same and you don’t have a middle-man to deal with if there is a problem.

– Make sure that the car rental office is open during the times you will be picking up and dropping off the car. Returning the car to a closed office and leaving the keys in a lock box doesn’t allow you to be present when the car is inspected for damages.

– When picking up the car, take pictures or video of the entire car, including the license plate number. Point out every ding to a rental employee and ask to have them marked on your paperwork. Do the same when you drop it off, including a picture of the odometer at drop off and the fuel gauge. You’ll have picture proof that the car was in the same condition you picked it up in if you receive an email three months later saying your credit card is being charged for damages.

– NEVER book a non-refundable, pre-paid car rate. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you are stuck with that pre-paid car and in most cases won’t get a refund.

– Check the terms of your car rental carefully online before you book. We once needed a car to travel from our home in New York to a conference in Boston. When we arrived to pick up the car, which we booked with unlimited miles, we learned that if the car were taken out of the bordering states, the mileage wasn’t unlimited- we were given 150 free miles a day and would be charged for anything over that. Had we clicked the “See details” line, we would have seen that and booked with a different company without restrictions.

– Do not let the rental clerk rush you to sign and initial forms without reading them. You may say you don’t want insurance but there are unscrupulous rental clerks (especially in some foreign countries) who may get you to initial add ons you don’t want. Read everything you are signing or initialing so there are no surprises later.

– When you are renting a car in the U.S., check with your own car insurance company to see if it covers rental cars. If it does, bring a copy of your insurance card. It may not be necessary to purchase the expensive insurance the rental companies charge. Some credit cards offer coverage as well, but it may not include liability insurance and the rental office will often try to sell you that at their higher premiums.

– When renting a car abroad you will need to determine insurance requirements in each country. Some travel insurance companies and travel agents have policies available to cover in other countries. Some countries, such as Ireland, require you to buy their insurance when you pick up the car. Do your research so you know what your options are or you may have a large deposit held on your credit card for potential damages that may cause declinations at hotels or when shopping. Some companies will not rent at all without having proof of insurance.
– Contact the credit card company you are booking your car with and ask if they offer rental insurance. They may have requirements to cover you in the event of an accident, such as ensuring you decline insurance offered by the car rental company. Check before you leave so you’ll know your rights when you get to the counter.
– Never use a debit card when renting. As with hotels, the rental companies may put a hold on your card that may not drop off by the time you return the car. In addition, if you do not opt for insurance, many companies put a very large hold, some up to $5,000 on your card for possible damages.

– If you notice something isn’t right with the car when you begin driving, or notice there are scratches or dings on the car, turn around and go back to the desk. Once you drive off property, you will be held responsible for those issues and may be charged for damage you never made.j

– If you can pick up a car somewhere other than the airport, you’ll save money. There are many airport taxes that are added on to your rental price that aren’t applicable to off premises rentals.

– If you fill the tank before dropping it back off, get a receipt for the gas and save it. If you get a claim later on that you didn’t fill the tank, you have proof of how much gas you put in the tank.

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