All too often, renting a car means standing in long lines, discovering that the car you reserved is not available, and learning that the price quoted over the phone doesn't include additional charges such as insurance, coverage for more than one driver, and refueling fees.
You can reduce the number of times you encounter problems at the rental counter by learning about your rights and following several tips. (For information on fighting a traffic ticket, see Nolo's Traffic Tickets area. For information about long-term leases, see Nolo's article Leasing a Car.)
If you have reserved a car and the company does not have the car you reserved available for you when you arrive, the company must do everything it can to find you a different car from its fleet -- if you arrive on time for your reservation. If the only available car is more expensive, you don't have to pay the higher rate. If no car is available, you can rent from another company or take a taxi and then seek reimbursement for your extra costs from the original car rental company.
Nearly all rental car companies charge penalties for four-wheel drives, minivans, convertibles, and other specialty rentals if you fail to cancel a reservation in advance or are a no-show. Some companies are testing similar policies on their standard rental cars.
Virtually all rental car companies will refuse to rent to certain people. Here are the three most common groups that have trouble renting a car:
Young drivers. Most major companies refuse to rent a car to someone who is under 21 and in some cases 25.
People without credit or debit cards. Most rental car companies require a major credit card or debit card as a way to secure a deposit at the time of rental. If you don't have a credit or debit card, you can get a prepaid voucher through your travel agent by paying for the rental car first at the travel agency and bringing the voucher to the rental counter. But, even if you use a voucher, many rental car companies still require a credit or debit card as a deposit when you rent the car.
People with bad driving records. Many companies now screen drivers when they rent in popular vacation destinations by checking their driving records as reported by their state department of motor vehicles. If you have serious offenses on your record, such as DUI violations, most companies will reject you. Some companies also reject you for lesser things such as recent moving violations, seat belt law violations, or accidents -- regardless of fault. If your driving record is poor, find out ahead of time if the rental car company screens and, if it does, what criteria it uses.
Instead of screening you, some rental car companies may require you to sign a statement that says you have an acceptable driving record. If you have an accident and signed a statement that turns out to be incorrect, the rental car company could use it against you by claiming that you acted in violation of the rental agreement.
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