Never rent a car without doing it first, experts say

Flights are certainly optimal for long-haul travel, but renting a car gives you freedom and flexibility when traveling. With a rental, you don’t have to rely on taxis, public transit, or ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft — and who doesn’t love the convenience of door-to-door transportation? Renting a car is pretty straightforward if you have a valid license and meet the age requirements, but some drivers make a critical mistake in the process. Read on to find out what the experts say you need to do before driving your rental off the lot.

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Renting a car has become a little more difficult following the COVID-19 pandemic, when a shortage of semiconductor chips delayed car manufacturing, according to The Washington Post. Rental companies found themselves with fewer cars, but increased travel demand. The situation has become so serious that it has been dubbed the “rental car apocalypse”.

As happens with supply and demand, prices skyrocketed and were still high during the 2022 summer travel season, according to Bloomberg. If you’re lucky enough to find a rental car at a price that won’t break the bank, however, you’ll need to take a few extra minutes before heading to your final destination.

man looking for scratches on a car
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Renting a car is already expensive right now, and you don’t want to be saddled with extra costs. This is why you should inspect your vehicle for any defects before leaving the rental company‘s lot.

“We recommend that you inspect the vehicle carefully before you start driving it as any unnoticed or unspotted damage, or even a slight scratch, may be undocumented and left behind by the previous customer.” Matas Buzelis, communications manager and automotive expert at carVertical, explains. “If the company has not documented the damage [from the previous renter]they might approach you with a notice of further damage or scratches, which will inevitably be billed to you.”

Mike Clancyofficial of the non-profit Car Donation Center, adds that without papers, it will also be difficult to defend oneself in the event of a fine.

“When asked [by the rental company], how can you prove that the scratches or dents were not your fault? The result is a [long-winded] argument, which often ends up paying you for said damages,” he says Better life. “It’s always good practice to record any visual damage before setting off at sunset.”

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Woman adjusting air conditioning rental car
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Bringing a magnifying glass to the body of your rental car is a great way to protect yourself, but you also need to make sure everything else on the vehicle is up to scratch.

Marguerite Stine, automotive expert for 4WheelOnline, recommends checking tires and rims, looking under the car for any leaks, and documenting any stains or damage to the interior. Clancy stresses the importance of a “performance check,” just to make sure the radio, air conditioning, lights, seats, mirrors, and fuel gauge are working, as well as any navigation systems or technology whose the vehicle is equipped.

Finally, check the vehicle’s fluids. “Before you leave, check that all fluids in the car are at the correct level.” Joe Girandadirector of sales and marketing for CFR Classic, an international car transport and relocation company, tells Better life. “This includes engine oil, coolant/antifreeze, brake fluid and windshield washer fluid.”

signing the car rental contract
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No matter how many precautionary measures you take, accidents and damages happen. As such, you’ll want to have adequate coverage in place. If you have auto insurance, your provider may cover you even if you’re driving a rental car, but take a minute to double-check your policy.

“You’ll also want to make sure you have rental car insurance, whether that means being covered by your personal auto insurance policy, buying coverage from the rental company itself, or being covered by your credit card. “, Kathleen Ahmedco-founder of USCarJunker, explains.

Finally, to make sure no box is left unchecked, read the rental agreement carefully and stop at the gas station before dropping off the car. “Always return the vehicle with a full tank of gas. Otherwise, you risk being charged for a full tank, with most car rental companies often charging significantly more than typical service station rates,” says Ahmmed.

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