What to consider when booking a rental car
How far in advance should I book a car rental for the best price?
The received wisdom is that it's better to book as early as possible to book a rental car, between three to six months is optimal. This has become even more important recently with last-minute reservations being nearly impossible to find and car shortages happening nationwide.
Are some days cheaper than others for picking up a vehicle?
Weekend pick-ups tend to be slightly cheaper, with Monday and Tuesday pick-ups usually slightly more expensive. Compare airport pick-ups versus locations in the city, even factoring a taxi to these locations. Some cities will always be cheaper at the airport, while others will see the complete opposite.
Is it worth paying for rental car insurance?
First of all, you may already be covered, so check with your car insurance policy, or call your insurance company to find out if your existing coverage extends to a rental car. Car rental companies typically offer the following coverage options at the counter as you sign the lease agreement, and it's really down to individual circumstances as to whether you take these out (though some kind of liability insurance is usually compulsory):
Loss-damage/collision damage waiver: This typically waives financial responsibility if the car is damaged or stolen, towed or incurs similar fees. Typical cost: $9–$19 a day.
Liability coverage: This is usually required coverage, protects you from potential lawsuits and typically costs around $7–$14 a day.
Personal accident insurance covers medical costs that might be incurred after an accident. Typical cost: $1–$5 a day.
Personal effects coverage insures against theft any possessions that you might keep in the rental car and typically costs $1–4 a day.
Should I join rental car loyalty programs?
Most loyalty programs are free to join, and sometimes there are immediate benefits or offers, so, there's really no downside to signing up. As with airline frequent flyer programs, the more you can build up by using the same company, the more benefits you will accrue, so frequent renters should look at their travel plans and the companies that will offer the most attractive benefits to members.
Joining a loyalty program is even more attractive right now since they often come with perks like getting to jump the line or getting priority. With longer-than-ever wait times and lines at many locations, those special lines might come in extra handy.
Where can I get a rental quote?
Most car rental companies will happily supply quotes on their websites without too much information being required. Third-party comparison sites are also very popular and can list dozens of options after entering personal information just once.
What if I arrive for my reservation and no car is available?
Unfortunately, this is turning into a real possibility amidst ongoing rental car shortages. Always try to call ahead to confirm you're reservation and check to see if there are currently cars on-site at your rental location. However, if you show up and your car isn't available you have a few options.
First, ask if there's another car available in a different class than you originally booked. Ideally, you may be able to upgrade to a better car than you originally booked at no extra cost if the company is at fault for your car being unavailable. However, if they only have cars available in a downgraded class, this may still be a better option for you than no car at all. Just be sure to get a credit or, at the very least, a voucher for the difference in price.
You can also ask if the company has another nearby location where a car may be available. If you do have to go to an alternative location, ask if the company will cover your taxi or Uber. If it's late in the day, you may also want to consider coming back earlier the next day to see if any cars have been returned.
If no car with your original company is available at all, unfortunately, your only option may be to hunt around yourself at other rental companies or on a peer-to-peer site. You should always ask for a refund if this becomes the case, but be prepared for the fact that if you had a pre-paid reservation, you may need to hound the company and wait several weeks to get your money back.
Are car rentals safe?
The CDC has noted that travel in the US is safe for those who are fully vaccinated.
Additionally, like hotels, rental car companies such as Enterprise, Alamo, National, Avis, and Budget have all announced new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, and are stepping up their cleaning and sanitization procedures.
Our experts weighed in on the overall safety of such rental car policies and agreed that a well-sanitized vehicle is much less of a danger than being around infected humans. Strict checklists, new cleaning products, curbside and contactless pick-up, and the thorough cleaning and disinfecting of each vehicle when returned by a customer or transported by employees are all part of new levels of service designed to assuage concerns regarding COVID-19.
The Best Cars for a Cross Country Road Trip
The great outdoors is calling you. As you probably know by now, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (happy birthday!), which just happened on August 25. The grand size of the United States means we all have enormous opportunities to visit one of the 59 national parks right in our backyards. Luckily, almost all of them can be reached by automobile, though you might find yourself driving further for some. With the spirit of adventure in front of you, here are some of our recommendations (and picks from @theZipperDog) for getting yourself from national park to national park with a mix of either comfort, economy, or creativity.[^1]
If you ever find yourself heading to a national park, chances are you’ll run across a plethora of Volkswagen’s ubiquitous people movers. The EuroVan is a quirky mix of minivan, cargo van, and fun-having mobile that lives up to its forefather, the Vanagon. The EuroVan isn’t going to get you to the next destination in the fastest time, but its unrivaled interior space, cargo room, sweet rotating rear facing seats that make sure the party continues as long as the drive does, and even a pop up tent in the EuroVan Westfalia edition.
Nothing quite says x-country trekking quite like Safari. They made the GMC Safari from 1992-2005, and you’re probably going to want to find a Safari towards the end of the lifecycle when it was hitting its stride. A big panel van at heart, the Safari can haul copious amounts of gear and pack on the pounds like a minivan. Being equipped with all-wheel drive makes them versatile at exploring when the weather gets sour, but its boxy profile means fuel economy will suffer in those mountain ranges. Though not the most posh offering, the Safari is a means to an awesome end.
The Honda Pilot can always be relied upon for providing decent power, reliability, and versatility. It will even seat eight, though we don’t recommend it, as you will be sitting on your supplies. The Pilot is for people who refuse to get behind the wheel of a minivan, and we don’t blame you for it. The newer models come with a standard backup camera so you can avoid traveling travesties, and folding the rear seats down keep the cargo space to a premium.
If you’re smart about packing, and even getting one of the million accessories like a roof rack, the Jeep Wrangler is one of the greatest vehicles for heading out on the open road. What’s great about the Jeep is that once you reach the destination, its capability can get it even further beyond, more or less allowing you to make your own destination. Wranglers are also great for their ability to go from a buckled down cabin to essentially a convertible, making the scenery that much more exciting from the passenger seats.
Similar to the Jeep—in that the allroad is off-road capable, just less so—but more refined and luxurious, the allroad utilizes air suspension to soak up bumps and also extend its suspension travel when necessary to access harder to reach places. In typical Audi fashion, you get beautiful ergonomics wrapped in an equally great looking body. If traveling in style and luxury is something you covet on your way to sights of this country, the Audi is a compelling choice.
If you don’t have kids, or they’re at that age where you don’t have to include them in your packing itinerary, the Corvette is actually a great long haul vehicle. The luggage compartment is surprisingly gratuitous (the convertible loses a bit of room), allowing for plenty of bags and tchotchkes along the way. Newer models have optional adaptive suspension that can go from comfort to sport, making the trek less treacherous on your back than you’d imagine. What’s better than viewing some of America’s treasures in America’s greatest sports car?
Not quite minivan; not quite truck; and not quite van, the Ford Flex is a unique vehicle in its own right by giving you that classic station wagon styling, but future-proofed. Great styling, comfort, seating for seven, and a powerful fuel-efficient engine makes the Flex a great option for larger families looking to hit the road. Don’t expect to do any off-roading, as the lowered nature and low-profile tires won’t get you as far as you would like.
Big, burly, and built for hauling, the Sequoia is equipped with a powerful V8, four-wheel drive, and plenty of options and conveniences for the nomadic lifestyle. There is a massive amount of cargo space available with the Sequoia so if you like your trips to have everything you need and be prepared for the worst, this is a good bet. And even though the Sequoia is based on its Toyota Tundra pickup truck sibling, the Sequoia can be had with rear air suspension that helps to even out the road, no matter how rough. If roughing it and covering miles in one of the most massive options out there is your idea of motoring, the Sequoia has got you covered.
Okay, go ahead and get the laugh out now. We know that looks (and laughs) aside, the Aztek is a crossover with a bad reputation; often labeled among some of the worst vehicle designs of all time. However, the Aztek can be as versatile as you want it to be, and owners almost unanimously love the car, with plenty of them crediting how reliably they’ve held up. For camping, there was an optional tent that popped out once the seats folded. Even the Aztek gods couldn’t have dreamt that up. As a bonus, Walter White drove this in Breaking Bad, which instantly gives it some street cred the next time someone questions your decision.
[^1]: Photo Courtesy of @TheZipperDog & The Dangerfield Family