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USA Radio

7 Things You Need to Know About Renting a Car in the USA


One of the most convenient and fun ways to discover the exciting cities, beautiful National Parks and jaw-dropping coastlines of the United States is by car. But you’re going to need your own set of wheels to do so. Here are six things you need to know about renting a car in the USA.

1. Examining the Rental Agreement

Before booking your vehicle, be sure to read the rental agency’s terms and conditions very closely, as there are many fees that you can incur for things like additional drivers or taking the car out of state or out of the country. Such fees may not be listed in the cost of the rental.

If you’re planning a longer road trip, you will want to ensure that you are getting the best rental rate. To avoid incurring fees for exceeding distance limits, compare mileage rates before you book (you can also increase your mileage limit for an extra charge to overage fees). You’ll also want to check the return policy to find out when you must have the car back in the lot, as some agencies do not allow after-hours returns. Rental agencies often operate on a 24-hour period, so you need to drop off your car before or at the time you rented it to avoid extra fees.

2. Booking Your Rental Car

The USA is home to a number of reputable rental car agencies like Alamo and Enterprise that can set you up with the perfect vehicle for your travels, be it a fuel-efficient hybrid or a minivan large enough to carry the whole family.

3. Getting Insured

Rental agencies often include the limited amount of insurance mandated by the state in which you rent the car. You can purchase additional insurance for more coverage, though you should check whether your own insurance policy covers rental vehicles (some credit card companies also offer rental car coverage). If you purchase additional coverage through the agency, the general damage waiver will protect you from being financially responsible if the rental car is damaged in a collision, fire or theft. There is also an additional option for broader coverage in the case that you damage another car.

U.S. rental agencies offer roadside assistance in case you lose the car keys, run out of gas or get a flat tire (though some agencies charge extra for these services). The number for roadside assistance will be included with your rental documents — be sure to keep it handy!

You will be financially responsible for any parking and traffic tickets you receive when using the rental vehicle, so drive responsibly!

4. Being prepared

Several agencies allow drivers under age 25 to rent a vehicle, although they often charge an additional fee. To pick up your car you need to present the confirmation of your rental (if you booked it in advance) and a valid driver’s license from your home country, or a valid international driving permit (IDP) if your license is in a language other than English. You will also need to present an active credit card that matches the name on your driver’s license (even if you have already paid for the car) for insurance purposes.

5. Sharing the Wheel 

Any member of your group who may drive must accompany you to the rental agency, present a valid driver’s license or IDP and sign the rental agreement. Be aware that many rental agencies charge a fee for each additional driver.

6. Picking Up Your Car

If you are embarking on your road trip as soon as you land, it is a good idea to reserve your car through an agency located at the airport. However, if you plan on spending a few days at your arrival destination, you may want to consider waiting to pick up your car until you’re ready to hit the road. Parking in major cities is limited and expensive. Waiting to pick up your wheels will save you both money and trouble.

When you pick up your car, be sure to inspect it thoroughly. Take note (and pictures) of the car’s condition, check that the gas tank is full and ensure that the mechanical features are working properly. If you find any issues, report them to the rental agency before you leave the lot.

7. Returning Your Car

There are a few things to keep in mind before you return your rental car. You will want to allow plenty of time to avoid any late fees (drop-off lines can often be long). You can either fill the gas tank before dropping off the car or pay the rental agency to fill the tank for you after you’ve returned the vehicle. Just be aware that rental agencies often charge a lot more to fill up the gas tank for you.

To return your car, simply follow the signs for rental car returns for your rental agency. Before you turn in your keys, be sure to check the vehicle for any personal items and snap photos of the car for proof that you are returning it in good condition.

For more road trip tips, please see What You Need to Know About Driving in the USA.

This article is brought to you by Alamo.

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