Don’t make these car rental mistakes on your next vacation

Car rental mistakes to avoid.

You can avoid car rental mistakes — if you know what to look out for.

Before you click the “book” button on your next car rental, consider what happened to Elizabeth Thorp on a recent trip from Washington to Denver.

When Thorp’s airline canceled her flight, delaying her arrival by a day, Avis charged her a $150 cancellation fee for her rental car.

“A representative said, ‘Sorry, you had a prepaid rate,’ ” says Thorp, who edits a humor website. “I’m not sure how they can do this nonrefundable stuff in good conscience. The prepaid rate is only $15 less.”

Thorp’s mistake was booking a nonrefundable rate when, for a few dollars more, she could have secured a fully refundable rate. Hidden terms and conditions are only one of three broad categories of frequent auto-rental errors. Insurance challenges and procedural “gotchas” also litter the road ahead.

Let me help you maneuver around these car rental mistakes

For Thorp, getting dinged by her car-rental company was disturbing. She took to Twitter, berating Avis as “shady” for charging her a cancellation fee. “You get to keep my money, no matter what?” she asked. She copied my colleague, CBS News travel correspondent Peter Greenberg, and me, on the exchange.

Avis promptly refunded the fee.

Technically, Avis is correct. Its prepaid rates, like those of other car-rental companies, are either partially or completely nonrefundable. Avis discloses those limits on the fourth screen of Thorp’s reservation. Then again, her flight delay wasn’t her fault, either.

“Rental cars can be tricky,” warns Jared Staver, an attorney based in Chicago. “There is always fine print that can admittedly go unread if the renter is not willing to dig into the rental office’s codes on the spot. Rental-car businesses offer packages and policies that are all different depending on each situation.”

In other words, the fine print on a rental contract in Colorado may differ from one in Illinois, where Staver specializes in representing accident victims. The agreement covers your responsibilities as a renter, but the reservation may set additional terms, such as the car’s refundability, and other rental conditions.

Read the fine print

The fine print can include some critical details. Norma Hopcraft, who lived in Paris for a year, remembers renting a van from Hertz there in 2015. She pulled into a gas station and filled the tank.

“Back on the highway, it began to ping, buck and lurch,” recalls Hopcraft, an author based in New York. It turns out she’d filled it with regular gas. Alas, the van ran on diesel fuel.

“How could we ignore the word ‘diesel’ printed in black letters across the hinge inside the gas cap door? Three adults stood around the gas cap and missed it. We just weren’t expecting a diesel car,” she says. “How the Hertz people in Paris could have failed to mention diesel to American renters still baffles me.”

Make sure you’re covered for mishaps

That brings us to insurance, also a known road hazard. Failing to plan for insurance is one of the biggest car-rental errors you can make on your vacation. Some credit cards and car insurance policies cover car rentals. For example, Farmers Insurance Group’s policies cover you for third-party liability, as long as the loss was one covered under your own policy and the rental period was less than 30 days. Some travel insurance can cover your rental, and you can buy stand-alone car insurance through a site such as Insuremyrentalcar.com.

If you don’t think about insurance beforehand, you could end up stuck having to buy pricey coverage from the car-rental company. That’s because, in some countries, such as Ireland and Mexico, car-rental insurance is either required or strongly encouraged. If you can’t show adequate proof of insurance from your auto policy, credit card or travel-insurance policy, you’ll pay a premium for your coverage.

One more car rental mistake to avoid

There’s one more car rental mistake to avoid, and that’s a procedural one. If you don’t buy the gold-plated insurance package — you know, the one that can double your rate — there may be a little surprise for you after you return the vehicle. That’s what happened to Kristin Budinich, a veterinarian from Langhorne, Pa., who rented a car from Enterprise in Philadelphia last fall. Although she conducted a brief inspection before driving the car, she missed a small area near the underside of the vehicle.

“Somebody had attempted to cover up damage to the car with patching and matching paint before my rental period,” she says. Enterprise charged her $809 for the damage, even though she says she didn’t do it.

“Take pictures of the exterior of the car before leaving the lot,” advises Justin Tysdal, CEO of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company. Having a “before” picture ensures that if there’s a claim, you’ll be able to prove how the car looked when you picked it up. Take a snapshot of the dashboard, including the gas gauge and odometer. Include the VIN placard and the license plate in your album. Then conduct a slow walkaround, capturing images of each body panel, all windows, the roof, the bumpers and the wheels. And don’t forget the “after” photo montage. Car-rental companies sometimes wait weeks, even months, before sending a claim. In the meantime, anyone could have driven your rental.

Budinich’s claim is still tied up with her insurance company. But in at least one respect, Enterprise is correct. If a company discovers any damage after your rental, you’re presumed to be responsible — and those are terms that you accept when you sign a rental agreement. Budinich may not have damaged the car, but she was still responsible.

Renting a car seems so straightforward, but the road can present unexpected hazards. Always plan ahead.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.