11 Car Rental Tips You Need to Know for 2020

Did you know you shouldn't cross borders with your rental car? Read on for more insider car rental info...Read More

A car can give you tremendous freedom when traveling abroad, but it's important to know the ins and outs of car rental before you reserve one. (Source: iStock / Tramino)

Depending on where you’re headed on your next vaca, a car rental might make more sense than taxi rides or Uber. But before you go willy-nilly booking that Ford Fiesta, we recommend keeping a few tips in mind; they will help you save money and ensure you don’t get caught up in a legal or bureaucratic mess.

Here are our tip car rental tips for 2020:

Car Rental Tip #1: Find out if you need an international driver’s license.

Some countries, like Italy, require foreign drivers to have an international driver’s permit. Others, like Germany, don’t require you to have one; you can use your U.S. license. But don’t make assumptions — check with your country’s embassy to see what’s required for international drivers. (You can also check out this Department of State page for more information.)

Car Rental Tip #2: Check insurance options.

Salespeople will undoubtedly try to sell you gobs of insurance to cover you while you’re wheeling around during treks abroad. Don’t let them scare you; chances are, you already have coverage. Many credit cards include car rental insurance when they’re used to book the car (check with your credit card company to confirm this), while umbrella policies cover other drivers. In short, determine whether or not you actually need supplemental insurance before reserving your vehicle. (And for more information, we recommend reading this article from NerdWallet.)

Car Rental Tip #3: If you can’t drive a stick, be sure to reserve an automatic.

Don’t assume that the rental agency at the airport will have equal numbers of automatic and manual transmission vehicles available. If you can’t drive a manual, reserve an automatic several weeks in advance. This is especially important in countries like Ireland, which requires a different license for driving manual transmission vehicles and doesn’t always have both “in stock.”

Car Rental Tip #4: Check included mileage to see if it fits with your budget and travel plans.

You may be pressured to sign your rental car contract quickly at the agency counter, but don’t succumb; read the fine print carefully. Especially, confirm the daily mileage cap for your car and rental rate. Car rental companies like Enterprise often cap daily mileage at 150, and while that’s likely fine for most travelers, road-trippers might face steep fees when they go beyond it. The per-mile cost above the mileage cap ranged from about $.10/mile to $.25+/mile.

Car Rental Tip #5: Keep an eye out for surcharges for drivers under 25.

If you know that one of your drivers — or the only driver — will be under 25, be prepared to pay a surcharge of between $25-50. That may not seem like much, but it will catch you by surprise if you haven’t planned for it. To avoid that, just make sure your designated (and insured) driver is 25+.

Car rental no-no: crossing borders. (Source: iStock / oksanaphoto)
Car rental no-no: crossing borders. (Source: iStock / oksanaphoto)

Car Rental Tip #6: If at all possible, don’t cross borders.

Every country has very specific traffic and car use laws, which is why most car rental agencies don’t want you crossing borders with your rental vehicle. If this is your plan, check with your rental agency to see how you can hit all the stops on your trip without getting into legal trouble. You may have to rent more than one car to make it through your journey.

Car Rental Tip #7: Consider renting a car at a non-airport location.

If you’re renting a car at an out-of-the-way destination, chances are your rental rates will be good. But if you’re getting a car in a popular destination, you’ll be paying top dollar — even for an economy car. To help cut down on costs, consider renting your car away from an airport. The convenience of airport pickup and drop-off is nice, but often adds cost to your daily rates. Consider taking a taxi or bus to an in-town rental agency instead.

Car Rental Tip #8: Don’t get GPS.

Don’t laugh, but some car rental companies still try to upsell GPS when you’re selecting your car. If you plan ahead and download the maps you need on your phone, GPS will be extraneous. Just make sure you have your navigation needs covered in advance and waive the GPS upgrade.

Car Rental Tip #9: Don’t pre-pay for gas.

We get it; travel is often complicated and logistically problematic, so you want to make each step of the process as simple as possible. Unless you plan on going through a full tank of gas or more, however, don’t pre-pay to re-fill the tank. You can save yourself a few bucks (at least) if you just fill up whatever was used.

Don't pre-pay for gas — unless you plan on using the whole tank. (Source: iStock / VasukiRao)
Don’t pre-pay for gas — unless you plan on using the whole tank. (Source: iStock / VasukiRao)

Car Rental Tip #10: Inspect your car thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.

This may seem like a given, but it’s another one those due diligence steps that gets lost in the shuffle of transit. Whatever car you’ve chosen, be sure you do a thorough interior and exterior inspection prior to committing to the rental. If there are any dents, scratches, or blemishes, take pictures of them and report them to the desk agent right away. Chances are, they’ll get you a new car. If they don’t, ask them to make note of the car’s damages so you aren’t charged for them when you return the vehicle.

Car Rental Tip #11: Confirm storage capacity.

We’re terrible at judging size, which is why we always overestimate how much room we’ll need for luggage. This is actually a good rule of thumb; if you know you’ll be luggage-heavy, don’t pick a tiny economy car that can barely fit two people, let alone large suitcases. Pick a mid-sized sedan or SUV instead. For more concrete guidance, check out this handy guide from DriveAway. Alternatively, scope out conversations on travel forums to get travelers’ real-world advice.