Summer is the season of cold root beers, road trips, and rental cars. Whether you’re a novice or a pro at renting cars, you might learn a thing or two from these rental car tips.

Rental Car Tips

(Pixabay / RonaldPlett)

1. Document, Document, Document

Probably the most important thing you can do to cover your rump while renting your car is to keep thorough documentation of your whole experience. From pick-up to drop-off, you need to mind your p’s and q’s, or you could get hit with some hefty fees that might not even be your fault.

Pick-Up

As soon as you first arrive at your rental car, you should keep an eye out for problems that could get pinned on you at drop-off. As you do your initial inspection, take a video of you doing a slow walk around the vehicle and testing each of the features (lights, electronics, etc.)

Interior: When you’re checking the interior of the vehicle, look for cigarette burns in the upholstery and flooring. You should also make note if there is a cigarette smell inside the vehicle because returning a car with a smoky smell could land you with an expensive cleaning bill. Look for rips or tears in the fabric or leather, and check that the tank is full. Turn on the electrical components, such as radio, satellite, and GPS, to ensure that they work, and make sure that there aren’t any warning lights flashing on the dash.

While you’re making these interior inspections, get acquainted with the different levers and knobs, so you’re not fumbling later to turn on the windshield wipers, blinkers, or brights. Turn the vehicle on and let it run for a few minutes while you listen for strange noises. As you do that, you can adjust the A/C, heater, or blowing aspect of the air system, so you’re being productive and not just wasting gas.

Exterior: While the vehicle is running, do your inspection of the outside of your vehicle. If you find scratches or dings, hold up an everyday object as you take a picture so that you can give dimension to the damage. Look for scrapes, dents, and chips in the windshield and ensure that your lights work (fog lights, high beams, blinkers, reverse, brakes, etc.).

Another important aspect of your exterior inspection should be the tires. They should have at least 3/32” of tread (the tread should be up to the top of Lincoln’s head if you insert a penny). Look for signs of uneven wear, and if you see any bald spots or wires showing through, ask for a different vehicle altogether because that could be extremely unsafe.

Drop-Off

Some car rental companies have you park your car and leave the keys inside without ever doing a final walkthrough with an attendant. If this is the case for you, it’s especially important that you do a final video walkthrough inspection on your own. That video may seem a little silly, but it could be the evidence you need to prevent expensive charges as a result of your word against the rental car company’s.

2. Fueling

Another one of the ways the rental car companies can “getcha” is if you don’t fill up your vehicle all the way when you drop it off. Having them do the filling up can cost up to $10 per gallon, so it’s worth it to set aside a little bit of extra time to fill it up yourself. As you leave the rental center, make mental notes of the nearest gas station (and drop a pin in the location if your smartphone has that capability), so you’re not scrambling around trying to find a gas station before your flight.

3. Check with your Bank or Certain Memberships

A lot of national bank chains offer incentives and discounts if you rent your car through them. USAA, Wells Fargo, AAA, and AARP are some of the different banks and membership programs that offer discounts to several of the rental car companies.

4. Rent Away from Airport for a Cheaper Price

Many times, you can get the same vehicle for a much lower price if you don’t rent from the airport kiosk. It may require you to take an Uber or Lyft to another rental car location, but it could save you a lot of money by the end of your trip.

5. The Fine Print

Last, but not least, be sure to read the fine print! One sneaky thing that some rental car companies do is ask you verbally if you want additional services, and even though you decline, they add it in with the fine print anyway. Unless you see it there and decline in writing, they can legally charge you with the extra cost, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it except pay when you get that final bill.

You should also know that you most likely don’t need additional insurance if you have good car insurance already, though you should definitely check your current policy before you decline it. And while some companies may accept debit cards as a form of payment, they may put a substantial hold on the funds in your account for the duration of your rental. If you need those funds to be available, you should use a credit card instead.

There you have it! Five of the top tips for renting a car this summer so that you can get the most out of your trip and time away.