How to rent a car

Rentals are great, but watch out for fees

By Jens Nielsen

Sometimes you need to rent a vehicle. Here are some good tips to help you save some time and money.

Travel sites like Expedia are a good way to find out what car rental companies are available in the area you are travelling to and how they compare. Using these sites or booking with a travel agent may be more convenient, but you will likely have a better chance of getting a deal if you contact the local rental company directly. Checking them out with the Better Business Bureau can save you a lot of potential heartache.

Car rental rates are essentially determined using some type of algorithm much like airline tickets are. The more cars there are available, the lower the cost. The less availability, the higher the cost. So book as early as possible. If you see a better deal later, always verify it and re-book before cancelling your other reservation. Assuming you can do so without penalty or at least with a penalty less than your savings. Be sure to clarify the final cost with surcharges, fees, and taxes.

Renting a vehicle at the airport always costs more than renting in town because the airport charges the rental companies a fee. Sometimes a rental agent in town will ask you if you flew in. It’s none of their business. The only reason they would ask is to add the airport surcharge to your rental. Keep in mind though that rental agents are just human and you will get further dealing politely and with a positive attitude.

Always pick up your rental on time. Being late may cancel your reservation. Even if there is another vehicle available, it may not be at the same cost.

You will need a valid driver’s license and credit card to rent a vehicle. Debit cards, debit/credit, or pre-paid cards will not work. The rental agency needs to be able to preapprove the charges.

You will be offered insurance coverage on your rental car at an additional cost. Check ahead of time to see if your own car insurance already covers you. If it doesn’t and you rent cars a lot you could look at adding that coverage. Your credit card may cover you as well assuming it is current and you pay for the rental with that card. Make sure any and all drivers are listed on the rental contract or you will not have insurance coverage and would be liable for all damages.

When picking up your rental, always walk around the vehicle with the agent and fill out the condition report. Make sure any and all existing damage is noted. Take a picture with your phone of any damage. Make sure it is full of fuel. Make sure it is running smoothly.

Ask what exclusions there are with your rental. There may be areas or roads that are not allowed with your rental. For example, rental agencies in Whitehorse generally don’t allow customers to drive their cars the Dempster Highway. Clarify or make prior arrangements if you will be on toll roads or bridges. Also clarify what to do if you get in an accident, have a flat tire, or car trouble. Add any phone numbers you would need to your phone, or write them down.

Take time before driving to get comfortable with the vehicle controls, GPS, and other functions. They will likely be different than on your vehicle. Using the hands-free phone function in the rental is a good idea for safety but may add all your contacts to the vehicle. You will want to delete them before returning the vehicle.

Sometimes adding a GPS comes with a daily fee. Compare the cost of renting one to the cost of just buying one. Your phone or tablet may also have this function.

Make arrangements ahead of time for where you will be returning the vehicle. There may be a surcharge if you want to return it to a different location than you picked it up.

Always return the vehicle on time. Even being just a little late can add another day’s rental fee, sometimes at a higher rate than your contract. Be sure to fill it up with fuel just before returning it. If the rental company has to do it you will pay for the gas and, likely, an extra fee.

Try to return the rental during regular business hours so you can walk around the vehicle again with the rental agent and the vehicle condition report. If you absolutely must do an after-hours drop take pictures of the vehicle or do a quick video walk-around so you can prove there was no damage when you dropped it off.

Watch your credit card statement to ensure that the charges are as expected.

Catch Driving with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.