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11 Things To Consider When Renting A Car For A Road Trip

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Renting a car for a road trip can be the perfect way to have a nice new vehicle to enjoy a scenic drive. This article provides all the tips and advice you need to make the right decisions.

I’ll be discussing the best cars, how to save money, and all the tips you need for an unforgettable experience. The right vehicle can ensure you have enough space for all your needs as well as allow you to enjoy the journey in style.

If you’re mainly interested in price check out our article on the cheapest way to rent a car.

Whether you are renting a car for a cross-country road trip, or a short journey, this guide includes everything you need to consider to stay safe and get the best deal. I’ve driven across the United States and many countries in Europe, so I’ve learned a thing or two about renting vehicles.

I’m sure you’ll agree that renting cars for road trips can be a daunting experience due to the number of different options, complicated insurance packages, and vehicle types. This post will answer all your questions and equip you for any situation.

Let’s jump right in.

A man stood in front of a black SUV rental car during a road trip in Spain
Myself stood with my rental car during a road trip in Spain

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Round Trip or One-Way Journey

The first step is to Plan Your Road Trip, including the length of the journey and what route you will take.

Many rental car companies now allow you to pick up a car at one location and drop it off elsewhere. This is perfect for a road trip as it allows you to plan a one-way route. One option is to plan a route between two airports and use those points as your start and finish locations. When you search for quotes on RentalCars or DiscoverCars you can select an option for one-way rentals.

Some people even choose to rent a car for a cross-country road trip and use the vehicle for a long period of time. In this case, it’s definitely worth following the advice in this article to get the best deal.

Get The Best Price On Your Rental Car

In order to get the best price it’s important to only select the options you need and then use price comparison sites such as RentalCars or DiscoverCars. Use this article to decide what options you need to select when searching for a quote.

RentalCars Logo
Discover Cars Logo

Tips For Getting The Best Price

  • Book in advance and use a price comparison site
  • Take out your own comprehensive insurance policy for the rental car
  • Plan a round-trip road trip route
  • Be flexible on pickup locations
  • Choose a cheaper vehicle and hope for a free upgrade
  • Use your phone for navigation
  • Plan a route that avoids toll charges
  • Make sure you enter the correct details when booking

You can actually take out a cheaper full insurance policy for a rental car yourself and use it to cover the vehicle. This is often cheaper than going with the rental car companies offering.

It’s always good to check multiple sites to make sure you get the best deal

Choose The Best Pickup Location

Popular pickup destinations are of course airports, however, you can often get a cheaper deal by picking up elsewhere. In order for this to work out cheaper make sure you have an easy way of getting to the other location. If you can use public transport to get there then the overall saving can be worth it.

Check The Policy On Fuel and mileage Prior To Booking

Some rental car companies use a policy that involves charging you for a full tank of fuel even if you do not plan on using it. I would suggest using the full-to-full policy which means you receive the vehicle with a full tank and fill it up prior to returning it.

Making sure that the mileage limitation fits your needs is also important. You don’t want to get hit by hidden fees for high mileage after getting lured into the deal by a low initial rental cost.

Consider The Insurance Options Carefully

Rental car insurance is one of the most confusing aspects of the whole process. The price quoted online usually comes with basic insurance coverage. One common trick is for the companies to display the prices with lower-level insurance only to try to upsell “full” insurance upon pickup.

This is often called a collision damage waiver (CDW) and covers you for the vast majority of damage except for gross negligence of some kind. The catch is, that this often leads to a large increase in price.

You should decide whether you’re going to purchase this in advance and then calculate the total costs of all options prior to booking the best one.

Key things to consider are how likely you are to cause damage to the rental vehicle. Costs can be high for low-level damage such as stone chips or scratches. If you’re only driving in safe areas then you could get the lower insurance and take the risk. If stone chips or scratches are likely then definitely consider the full insurance and take the price of this into account when booking.

It’s also worth checking if your personal auto insurance covers you for a rental car, or if your credit card has similar benefits.

For Cross-Country Trips Check If You Can Buy Insurance Separately

It’s also possible to buy individual policies separately that are cheaper than those offered by the rental car company. If you’re planning a cross-country road trip it’s worth seeing if you can get an overall cheaper deal by renting the car and purchasing the full insurance separately.

Choose The Right Rental Car For Your Road Trip

Most companies will offer a number of options. Sometimes it is a good strategy to negotiate for upgrades upon arrival. There have been many times when I’ve rented a car and when I’ve arrived they have given me a free upgrade.

However, if you are planning a long trip it’s important to pre-book an appropriate vehicle. SUVs are perfect as you can sit up straight, store lots of luggage, and drive on less favorable road conditions.

Convertibles can be great due to their fun factor but often have a little less space. They’re great for couples or shorter journeys, especially if the weather is nice.

Consider Adding Additional Drivers

If you’re planning on a long road trip in a rental car then you may want to add an additional driver to share the workload. This is usually cheaper to do in the booking stage than when you arrive at the pickup location. During my road trip in Norway, we shared the driving.

Consider Car Seats & Additional Options

Many companies allow you to hire the use of car seats if you are traveling with kids. There are also other add-ons such as GPS, although you can save money by using your phone for navigation.

Another important consideration is breakdown cover. Make sure this is included so that you are provided with assistance in the event of being stuck at the side of the road. That being said, this is uncommon if you are in a new vehicle.

If you have your own dash cam then I would consider taking it with you and using it to record your journey. Not only would you be able to record your scenic drives, but it could protect you in the event of an accident. These are just 2 reasons you need a dash cam that we discuss in our other article.

Check The Vehicle Carefully Before Departing

When you pick up a rental vehicle for a road trip it’s important to take photos and video of the car before departure. I would recommend emailing them to yourself to create a record. It’s especially important to take photos of any damage you see on the vehicle and ensure it is recorded on the vehicle inspection form which is completed by the company prior to departure. Make sure that any damage is recorded so that you are not held liable upon your return.

Make sure you also check the interior of the car and the fuel level, as well as the mileage. All of this can be important when you return the vehicle. I have noticed companies are very relaxed when giving you the vehicle but extremely thorough when you return it. Don’t get caught out with surprise charges.

Keep All The Documents Safe And Accessible

When you are on your road trip you may need to present the documents to law enforcement. In addition to this, if there is an accident, you need to make sure you have the company’s emergency details in an easily accessible location. This also goes for breakdown assistance.

Follow These Steps When Returning The Rental Car

When returning a rental car, plan ahead and visit a cheap location to fill up the tank with fuel. It’s best to avoid highways and gas stations close to airports and opt for a more remote location if possible.

Avoid late return charges by dropping off the vehicle with plenty of time, then sit back and enjoy a coffee at a nearby cafe.

When you return the car, make sure the employee gives you a signed form agreeing that you have returned the car with no damage. I also try to remember to check my bank statements in the weeks following, to ensure there are no unexpected charges and my deposit has been returned.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you make a qualifying purchase, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert.

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Iain Salter

Founder & Editor of The Road Trip Expert

Iain founded The Road Trip Expert in 2019 and continues to manage the website to this day. The inspiration to start the blog came during an extensive road trip around Europe with two friends that spanned several months and involved over 25,000km of driving. He first developed a passion for backpacking in 2014 and has had the pleasure of exploring over 60 countries.