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The vast network of highways in the United States makes it possible to embark on scenic road trips all year long. With so many popular routes and destinations to choose from, renting a car to take you on the adventure of a lifetime becomes a necessity. Having a car at your disposal also gives you the freedom to explore cities and small charming towns and make the most out of your cross-country trip. The following guide will fill you in on everything you need to know about renting a car in the United States.

License to Drive

Before you embark on your journey, you need to double check that you are indeed carrying a valid driver’s license in your wallet. Validity is very important because you will need this license to rent a car and fill in the paperwork associated with it. You will also need your license in case you were involved in a traffic accident or in case police officers pull you over for going over the speed limit. There is nothing worse than arriving at your dream destination and realizing that your license is expired, so make sure you renew your license before leaving.

Two Licenses are Better than One

Having a backup plan on standby during your travels is always a great idea. This plan might include an extra phone or charger or even a hidden roll of cash in your socks. Bringing a second license with you to the U.S can come in handy, especially in states that require an International Drivers Permit (IDP) alongside your regular driver’s license. If your road trip is going to take you to more than two states, then it is better to have your IDP with you just in case. Doing your research can come in handy when renting a car since not all rental agencies have the same policies and requirements when it comes to their services. You can apply for an IDP by contacting the motor vehicle department of the country that issued your driver’s license.

Do Your Car Rental Company Homework

The United States has no shortage of car rental companies, so it is important to do your homework in order to figure out what they charge when it comes to things like insurance and deposit. Knowing how much you will pay in terms of fuel and taxes allows you to calculate the right budget for your trip. You will also need to check if these rental agencies are going to ask you about your driving history. This record  usually includes violations, parking fines in addition to collisions. Some agencies can turn drivers down and refuse to rent them a car if their track record is flawed.

Remember to asses your rental car before hitting the open road. This step cannot be overlooked and must be carried out before you finalize the paperwork. Keep an eye out for any visible dents or scratches and make sure that you check the tires as well. Notify the agent of any flaws you find and let him or her record it in your rental agreement. Setting the record straight from the beginning about the condition of the rental car will keep you from paying any additional costs for this old damage. If the agency has its own fuel policy, then it is recommended to refuel the car before returning it to save you from paying this extra fee.

Invest in Your Own Car Rental Insurance

Having insurance to cover you in the event of an accident is a must if you plan on renting a car in the U.S. This insurance can come in the form of your very own auto insurance. Rental car protection is also a perk of having a credit card so you can also use your credit card insurance when traveling. Liability insurance is legally required in most states and this can come in handy in case you cause damage to another car while driving your rental. Being covered by your own auto insurance is better than having the rental agency bleed you dry in case on an accident.

Purchasing what is known as a Collisions Damage Waiver (CDW) is also recommended. Rental agencies offer this waiver as a way to pay for repair costs that your personal insurance might otherwise refuse to cover. Things like towing the damaged car and taking care of administrative fees fall under this waiver umbrella. The CDW is not cheap but it is considered a practical  and proactive  step especially if you plan on driving down picturesque yet dangerous roads such as the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado.

Use Your Credit Card

Always have your credit card with you when you want to rent a car in the U.S since most rental agencies will ask you to pay via credit. Paying with your credit card also makes you eligible for rental car insurance. Just make sure that the name on the card matches the name of the person renting the vehicle. If you happen to use debit cards or prepaid cards during your travels, then you need to search for an agency that will accept this method of payment. Some rental branches will let you pay  for your rental in cash but you will need to pay the extra cash deposit before leaving. This deposit is usually refundable so you will be able to get it back once you return the car.

Age is Not Just a Number

Travelers who are under the age of 25 will have a hard time securing a car since most agencies in the U.S do not rent out their cars to those who are 24 and younger. If you happen to be in this age group and you end up finding an agency that is willing to give you a car, then chances are you will be asked to pay a hefty price in exchange for driving their rental.

Follow the Rules of the Road

Not all countries have the same road rules and this is why you need to learn all you can about the general driving rules in the United States before your journey. For example, carpool lanes are typically located on the far left side of a U.S highway. Speed limits are also important, especially for first time visitors and road trippers. It is also important to mention that almost all rental cars in the country have automatic transmissions.

Take Advantage of Seasonal Deals

Seasonal deals can do wonders for your travel budget, allowing you to spend less money on driving and more on other leisurely activities. During harsh winter weather, Americans often flock to warmer states such as Florida and Arizona during their vacation. Those who drive rentals eventually fly home, leaving those rentals behind. Many rental agencies come up with drive-out offers at the end of the season to encourage people to drive those rentals to other branches outside Florida. If you happen to be in this area during spring, then you can rent a car for as low as $24 per day and go on a road trip where you can drop it off at another branch once your journey is over.

Compare Car Rental Rates

There are more than five well known and reputable car rental agencies in the United States including Hertz and Avis. These national rental agencies have offices in international airports and cities all over the country and they open their doors from 8 am to 10 pm. National toll-free numbers are available for these agencies so you can call them and ask about special offers and corporate discounts. Many agencies give special rates on weekends and during off-peak season. Some even offer reductions on certain car models.

Before you travel, you can browse the internet and compare rates in order to plan your budget. Beware of local fees and taxes that might not be included in the overall rental fee since not all companies list them on their websites. Generally speaking, downtown rental branches and those located in airports are considered the most expensive places when it comes to renting a car.

If you want to save more money, then you can opt for cheaper companies that are also available in all major cities. Some of these budget friendly agencies rent out old cars that are typically three to five years old. These cars are safe to drive and less expensive than newer models. Beware of high mileage charges and hidden costs when it comes to such agencies and have the car replaced if you suspect that it has a fault of some kind.

Drive in Style

Splurging on a more luxurious or classic ride is possible in cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Renting a cherry red Cadillac or a vintage 1965 Ford Mustang allows you to drive in style and celebrate special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries during your trip.  Avid motorbike fans can also rent a Harley-Davidson with prices ranging from $89 to $250 per day depending on the size and class. Cars such as the Porsche  Speedster or the Shelby Cobra can cost up to $450 per day. Renting a luxury exotic car for the day is a great way to mark the end of your journey. Some agencies offer a fleet of supercars featuring Aston Martins and Ferraris that can cost up to $1,500 per day to rent.

Sources:

  1. How to Save Money Renting a Car in the United States – wikiHow
  2. The truth about rental car insurance: Do you need it or not? – howstuffworks

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