Rental cars have become essential for many vacations or business trips, but rental contracts are often misunderstood. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to read contracts carefully and look for conditions or exceptions to advertised rates.
The BBB processed more than 6,700 complaints about rental car companies nationwide over the last year. Consumers complained about vehicle safety, deposits that weren’t refunded, overcharges for insurance coverage and disputes about damages to vehicles. Many of the complaints stemmed from not understanding the rental car contracts and limitations on the use of rented vehicles.
Rental cars are a great convenience for travelers, but rental car contracts can be complicated. Consumers need to read the fine print before signing the contract and be aware of any extra fees that may apply. They can check a rental company’s complaint record in its BBB Business Review at bbb.org or by calling the BBB.
Advertised rates may apply only on certain days of the week, times of the year or in areas that have surplus cars in the off-season. The rates may not include extra charges for refueling vehicles, early or late returns, bridge or highway tolls, child car seats, GPS systems or collision insurance.
The BBB has the following tips to avoid common rental car pitfalls:
- Ask for discounts: If the advertised price is higher than you want to pay, ask whether discounts apply if you’re a senior citizen or a member of an automobile club. Discounts also may be available for certain dates, weekends or longer trips.
- Consider location: Renting from an airport-based rental facility often is more expensive than an off-airport location, usually because of taxes and surcharges the airport charges the rental company.
- Look for package deals: Some airlines or other travel companies may offer discounted rates if you purchase more than one service, such as a flight, rental car or hotel stay.
- Weigh the value of add-ons: Renting a GPS device, a child car seat or a roof rack can add to your total bill. Consider using a cell phone GPS or bringing your own car seat.
- Compare gas rates: Some companies offer to sell you a full tank of gas so you don’t have to fill up the tank before you return the car. Compare the full-tank charge to the prevailing cost of gasoline in the area where you’re renting. In some cases, the convenience of not having to refill the tank can be worth the extra money. In others, it makes sense to top off the tank yourself.
- Understand insurance: Check your car insurance policy before you leave home. In many cases, your policy will cover damage to a rental vehicle and you can skip insurance through the rental contract.
- Ask about late or early return fees: Some renters have been surprised at being charged a fee for returning a car early or late. Sometimes, the penalty may be deducted from your deposit. If you’re traveling over a holiday or have to return the car outside of regular working hours, ask whether the office will be open or if you need to drop keys in a lock box.
- Use your camera: Take a picture of the car before you leave the rental facility and when you return it. Good pictures can protection you from unfounded charges for vehicle damage.
- Ask for the final price: Make sure the rental agent explains all the charges before you sign the contract and drive off the lot. It can prevent surprises later.
- Check a company’s record: A BBB Business Review will show whether a company has complaints and how those complaints have been resolved. The size of the car you rent can also make a difference. If you’re trying to save money, consider renting the smallest vehicle available. But if you have a group of people to transport or lots of luggage, a bigger car may be more comfortable.
Renting a car can be a great convenience when you’re traveling to regions without good public transportation or taxi service. But it’s always wise to understand the provisions of a rental contract and any limitations on the use of a vehicle.