The pandemic really did a number on the travel industry and especially on car rentals. Rental car agencies were forced to sell off their fleets to survive and then, when travel abruptly bounced back in March 2021, they couldn’t get replacement cars from automakers, due to a global computer chip shortage. That explains why you may have seen alarming headlines like Car Rental Apocalypse! in the news. RELATED: How to Prevent Car Rental Companies From Ripping You Off

Not only are rental cars now much more expensive than they have been historically, but in some markets (ahem, Maui), you might not be able to even get one during peak periods, which is why consumers have been getting inventive.

Here’s my advice if you’re planning to rent a car:

1. Check rental car prices first
Before you plop down your credit card to buy plane tickets or make lodging reservations, be sure to check car rental prices. There’s a chance that the car rental fee could be prohibitively expensive so you might want to change your plans altogether.

Check all the typical car rental sites like Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, but also check with sites like Auto Europe, Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline, RentalCars.com and don’t forget my booking tool (just click the “cars” tab). Also price out deals on Autoslash and Costco (if you’re a member).

2. Don’t wing it
If you really need a rental car, don’t just roll up to an airport car rental counter without a reservation. With the current supply and demand issues, your chances of getting a vehicle without a reservation are slim.

RELATED: An Ex-Cop Has Pulled Over Vehicles For This Reason – Save Yourself Headaches and Hassles With This Car Rental Tip

3. Reserve a car as soon as possible
Book your rental cars well in advance to secure your desired vehicle. It’s best to reserve one the moment you plan your trip.

4. Book refundable reservations
Don’t pre-pay even if you’re 100% sure you’re going on your trip because unforeseen things can (and do) happen. I’m speaking from experience: My driver’s license once fell out of my shallow pants pocket on a flight to Miami. I learned the hard way that you can’t rent a car without your driver’s license. Here’s that story and some takeaway tips.

5. Keep checking rates and availability 
Keep checking rates even after you reserve a car. In the past, car rental prices tended to go down closer to the pickup date. If you find a cheaper deal, book it and cancel the original one.

6. Are you already insured?
Before renting a car, check if your car insurance and/or credit card provider has you covered so you don’t have to buy the car rental company’s expensive coverage. RELATED: The Best Credit Cards with Rental Car Perks

7. Join loyalty programs
Sign up to the car rental company’s frequent renter programs and download their apps so you don’t have to wait in any long lines.

8. Inspect your vehicle
Always inspect your vehicle for scratches, dents and cracks in the windshield. Check the tires (here’s why), pop the trunk and look for a spare tire and check to see if the registration sticker is valid.

9. Report your vehicle
If you find anything wrong with the car, either get a new one or make sure an employee documents your record. Get their name and take a video of the vehicle’s dings or damage with your phone.

10. Get creative
If there are no rental cars available, get creative. You can rent cars from the general public using Turo.com or if you’re really desperate, like some people in Hawaii were in 2021, rent a U-Haul.

11. Try an auto dealership
I learned this tip from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times who writes: “That $2,000 rate in Bozeman might make your Yellowstone trip a nonstarter, but before you ditch your plan, check out Toyota of Bozeman, where you can get a Toyota Rav 4 for $222 a week.”

12. Compare on- and off-airport rates
Savvy travelers know that airport car rental rates tend to be much higher than off-airport car rental rates. That’s because they often add airport surcharges and taxes. So always compare airport and off-airport rates as you could save a significant amount of money.

RELATED: Always Do This Before Renting a Car

13. Get crafty
That’s similar advice to that of the NY Times: “If the car rental search engine says the cars are all gone, get crafty,” said Leigh Rowan, the founder of Savanti Travel, a travel management service, who recommends using Google Maps to search for car rental locations near your hotel or vacation home rental. “In major tourist spots like Wailea in Maui, there are four different car rental spots walkable from hotels.”

14. Price out weekly rates
Autoslash recommends pricing cars out for a week, even if you only need it for a weekend, because sometimes weekly rentals are cheaper. Just make sure you can bring it back early with no penalty.

For more car rental tips, listen to my podcast with Tammilee from Tammilee Tips, who was a car rental executive for 13 years before starting her travel and food blog.

Did I miss anything? I’m happy to grow this list so please send over your car rental tips!

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5 Comments On "The Ultimate Guide To Renting A Car: 14 Tips That Will Save You Time, Money and Headaches"
  1. MS|

    I thought your recent piece on rental cars should have a cautionary note about a new scam regarding returning cars and being charge for smoke smells.

    Here is the article in the LA Times which alerted me to this scam. https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-06-11/column-hertz-smoking-fee

  2. Retired Gambler|

    @MS – of course it was with Hertz which has quickly become the worst place to ever rent (and I was long term Gold Club (still am) but switched to National many years ago)

    One other suggestion – look at Silvercar rentals. They are owned by Audi and are no longer at airport locations (only Audi dealerships). You may have to pay a taxi or Uber fare to get there but could find a nice car (all are Audi A4s) at a much lower price than airport rentals. I know you mentioned renting from car dealerships but I put Silvercar in a slightly different category since they are an established car rental company that happens to be located now only at Audi dealerships.

  3. Mel|

    I just returned from my trip to Wales. When I went to pick up the car from Europcar in Birmingham I was asked “if I have insurance”? I then pointed out that my credit card covers the car. Then I was asked for written proof from the credit card company which I did not have. There was nothing that I could do to prove that I was covered so I went ahead and signed for the insurance since it was getting late. It turned out that this insurance cost more than the original rental.

    For over 50 years I have rented car and never had the problem. I have now learned that for all future car rentals that I will have written proof from the credit card company that the car I am renting is covered.

  4. Ronin|

    Renting a car should not be a huge decision to make. As long as you have found the perfect result to car rental near me, you will not find renting cars difficult. Logic Rentals is one such car rental that makes budget rentals easy and accessible.
    With their huge variety of cars, you have an autonomy of what to buy. Moreover, they provide complete pickup and drop flexibility, allowing you to rent a car in comfort. There’s nowhere else you should look to rent a car in Delaware.

  5. patrick|

    Find a REALLY good discount code and you’ll save a ton. I’ve got a “secret” one I use that saves me at least 60% off the published WEB site rate.

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