Renting a car may be the perfect getaway solution for RVers who do not tow another vehicle when traveling.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
We’ve towed a car for almost as long as we’ve had a motorhome. It allows us to explore places where we wouldn’t want to drive the coach and lets us establish our motorhome as a base camp while we use the second vehicle for day trips. For those who don’t have a permanent tagalong but still want to explore their surroundings in a smaller car, renting a vehicle is an option. Here are some tips for getting the best deals from the rental companies.
1. Reserve your car online. If you have Internet access, do your comparison shopping and make the actual reservation online. You almost always can get a better price over the Internet than by walking into a rental agency, and some companies offer special discounts for doing business via computer.
2. Book early. Don’t wait until the last minute to look for a rental vehicle. Prices change quickly based upon the number of vehicles an agency has available at a particular location. Since most of the major agencies don’t have a cancellation penalty, if you find a better deal later, you can cancel the original order. But if the price goes up, you already have your reservation at the lower price.
3. Discounts. FMCA members can take advantage of the rental car discount agreements that FMCA has with Avis Car Rental, Hertz, and National Car Rental. Check the “FMCA Member Benefits Guide” in the January 2010 issue of Family Motor Coaching (page 114) for more information and the discount codes for each company. Or visit FMCA.com and click on “Join FMCA,” then “Benefits,” then “Car rental discounts.” Other organizations, such as AAA and AARP, also offer their members discounts for auto rentals. Before you click the button to make a reservation, look for a space where you’re asked to provide a “discount” code. A quick Internet search for the company name combined with “discount” may turn up a coupon code that can save you money. But compare the discount price against other offers on the Web site, since sometimes the full price minus the discount will not be the best deal.
4. Weekend and weekly rates. Weekend and weekly rates are almost always lower than daily rates. The weekend rate usually requires that you keep the car over Saturday night, and weekly rates are for periods of five to seven days. You’ll also find that discount coupons often apply only to the weekly rates.
5. Large or small company? If you are renting for less than a week, you’ll probably find the best prices at one of the major rental companies. For long-term rentals, a smaller local company may be more competitive. If you go with a smaller company, be sure to check how they handle emergency breakdowns. You don’t want to have car trouble on a Sunday and not have anyone to call.
6. Insurance coverage. Rental companies want to sell you their own insurance policies to increase their profit margin. Before you rent, check with your personal insurance agent. Many auto insurance policies provide the same coverage that you would have while driving your own car. Some high-line credit cards also will provide coverage when they are used for vehicle rental.
7. Prepaid gas. You often will be given the option of paying for a full tank of gas or bringing the vehicle back with an empty or partially filled tank. Although the price quoted per gallon may sound good, you’re probably better off filling the tank at a discount gasoline station just before returning the car. That way you know you are only paying for the gas you actually use.
8. Larger is sometimes cheaper. Don’t assume that requesting a smaller car will be less expensive than a larger model. It all depends on what the rental agency has in stock, so check out the prices for various sizes. But if you have reserved a small car and the rental agent tries to convince you to take a larger car for a small extra fee, the experts say to refuse. It probably means that they are out of the size you requested, and you are going to get the upgrade without paying extra for it.
9. Avoid the airports. Since you won’t be flying into the location where you will rent your car, pick a rental agency located away from airports. Having an airport location is more expensive for the agency, but more important to you, the airports add a surcharge to vehicle rental fees. Travelocity did a survey and found the average major airport added fees and taxes that increased automobile rentals by more than 25 percent.
10. Additional fees. Most agencies charge additional fees for a second driver (although some exclude these fees for a spouse). There are also additional fees for drivers under the age of 25. Don’t try to save money by ignoring these restrictions, however. Your rental agreement is a legal contract, and if a non-listed driver has an accident, it may void your entire insurance coverage.
11. Child safety seats. If you are traveling with small children in your motorhome, you should already have child safety seats with you. Bring them along instead of renting them and save yourself another $10 or more per day.
12. Inspect the vehicle. You and a representative of the rental agency must inspect the vehicle for damage both on pickup and return. Be sure you agree on the condition of the car, since you may be charged for overlooked items. Any damage found when you take possession of the vehicle must be listed on the contract. This is also the time to ask any questions about the operation of the car.
13. Watch the clock. Return the vehicle at the correct time “” not too early or too late. If you sign up for a weekly contract and return the car a day or more early, you probably will be charged a penalty, and your entire contract may be rewritten to exclude long-term discounts. And although there is often a grace period if you are late, it can be as little as 30 minutes. The hourly rate for a late return can be one-third of the day rate. Three hours late may mean paying for an extra day.
Occasionally renting a car for special side trips can make your travels much more enjoyable. It also will give you the opportunity to decide whether a permanent tagalong is right for you.