Rental car companies charge rental fees as well as many other special fees and charges. Here's the low-down:
Rental rates. Rental car companies usually charge rental rates per day. The rate may include unlimited mileage, or the company may charge per mile for each mile over a certain limit. Many companies offer lower rates for weekend or week-long rentals. Rentals at locations other than airports are usually cheaper. Also, members of organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) often can get discounted rates. And check the Internet -- experts say that's where to find the best bargains.
Other fees and charges. Most car rental companies tack on a number of additional fees and charges. They must notify you of these fees before you sign the rental agreement. Here are the fees you're most likely to encounter:
- Fees for renting at an airport. Airports and local governments often add surcharges and taxes to rental car rates.
- Additional driver fees. Most rental car companies charge extra for anyone who drives the car other than the person who signs the rental agreement.
- Young driver fees. Many rental car companies add a daily surcharge for any driver aged 21 to 24.
- Child safety seat fees. All states require children under a certain age to be placed in child car seats. If you don't bring your own seat, you will be required to rent one, usually at a cost of $3-$5 per day or $25 per week.
- Extra feature fees. You'll pay extra for things like a GPS system or the ability to pay tolls electronically (the fee doesn't include the toll).
- Vehicle drop-off fees. Many rental car companies charge higher rates for dropping off a car at a location other than where you rented. Charges for picking up the car in one city and dropping it off in another can be as high as $1,000.
- Refueling charges. Most companies require you to return the rental car with a full tank of gas. If you don't, you'll be forced to pay the company's highly inflated gas prices.
Rental Car Insurance and Loss Damage Waiver
Rental car companies will ask if you want to pay extra for car insurance. You don't have to buy this insurance, and usually you shouldn't. To determine if you need to buy extra rental insurance, check all of the following to see if they provide insurance coverage for a rental car:
- your own car insurance and homeowner's insurance
- your employer's insurance, if you are traveling on business
- your credit cards -- many provide insurance for the rental car if you charge the fee on your card, and
- your automobile club memberships.
If you want to purchase insurance from the rental company, it will most likely be called loss damage waiver, or LDW (also known as collision damage waiver, or CDW). Many consumer protection organizations complain that LDW is expensive (especially because it often provides coverage that you already have) and has many loopholes. That means that the company can charge you for certain damage even if you've bought LDW. For example, bodily injuries or damage that was caused intentionally or recklessly are usually not covered.
Renting a Car in a Foreign Country
Although the laws governing car rentals differ in each country, here are some general rules.
- License. Most countries will accept your valid state driver's license with another form of photo ID. Some countries may also require an International Driver's Permit (available through AAA offices). What you need may depend on the length of your stay; a two-week trip is different from a year abroad.
- Insurance. Your personal automobile insurance policy may have restrictions or limitations on driving in foreign countries. Check your coverage, including the terms of your credit card policy, before you rent in a foreign country.
- Legal trouble. In some countries, the police will take your license if you are involved in an accident or stopped for a moving violation, and they won't return it until you have paid a fine. Get receipts for all payments you make, and report any mistreatment or apparent scams to the American embassy or consulate in that country.
- Traffic tickets. Certain European countries track traffic violations with street cameras that photograph cars at intersections. The police trace the car, using the license plate number, and request payment for the ticket from the rental car company. The rental car company is within its rights to collect the fine from you, even if the company is informed of the violation after you have returned and paid for the car.
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