5 Car Rental Ripoffs You Should Avoid

5 Car Rental Ripoffs You Should Avoid

The lines at the car rental counter can be long, and everyone standing there has a target on them.

For a lot of travelers, by the time you get off the plane and make it to the car rental counter, you're either tired or eager to get where you're going -- or both. And that's just the way the folks who rent you cars want it.

The less in tune you are with what they're doing and the less focused you are on what they're trying to sell, the more likely you are to spend money on unneeded upgrades and get stuck with other charges that you can -- and should -- avoid.

Car rental agents are rewarded for how much they can get you to add. Here are five areas to pay close attention to when renting a car, or you'll run the risk of paying far more than necessary:

1. The fine print. Understand the terms of your rental. If you rent a car for a week for $200 and bring it back after six days, what will you pay? The deal you might have gotten was based on a seven-day rental. You could be charged a far higher rate or even face a penalty for bringing it back too soon. Maybe not, but you ought to know that before you drive away. Make sure what is included in the price and what isn't. Sometimes, airport fees and additional charges can make what seems like a cheap rental expensive.

2. Insurance. Car rental agents can be relentless in their push to get you buy their insurance, which is couched in confusing terms like "collision damage waiver." The best defense against that is to call your car insurance company before you leave home and see what it covers. Then follow up with a call to your credit card company, since many cards offer supplemental coverage to what your auto insurer covers. Car rental companies will charge you for roadside assistance (millions of Americans have access to that through AAA and other services) and the time a vehicle can't be rented because it's being fixed (ask your insurer about "loss of use" coverage).

3. Damage charges. The complaints are repeated over and over again. A consumer gets a bill from a car rental company for damage that they didn't think they are responsible for. If you can't make the case with any evidence, you'll not likely to get off the hook. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle prior to pulling out of the parking spot, and make sure any damage is noted before leaving. Take photos of the vehicle using a camera or smartphone that has a time stamp, paying particular attention to any existing damage.

4. Gas charges. Prepaying for a tank of gas is a sucker's bet. But be clear about the rules for how much gas has to be in the car when you return it and whether you need a receipt, as well as how far you're allowed to drive from a gas station. Seriously. Driving more than 10 miles after filling up your tank could lead to a penalty. Or failing to show your receipt could negate bringing it back full.

5. The upsell. That could be anything from getting you rent a bigger car to paying a daily fee for a GPS or a toll transponder. Anything you're going to get charged for on a daily basis or prepay from a car rental agency is going to be money you could have saved. Do you really need to rent a GPS in today's world of smartphones? Do you really want to pay a premium to pay tolls? Need a car seat? Bring one.

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