Guest post from Jody of Plastic Back Books.
Is it cheaper to rent a car or drive your own?
Our Honda has nearly 300,000 miles and no air conditioning. Taking a road trip when the temperature is 103ºF is not just unpleasant… it is risky!
Even if I don’t have a heat stroke, the Honda might. The cost of a tow truck and being stranded in an unknown town is probably more expensive than renting a car.
Gulp. But I hate spending money.
If you share my concerns, I’ve got 12 tips to help you save money on car rentals.
Tips for Renting Cars for Cheap: When you book
1. Book Early
Prices change drastically even within hours. Ask about making a reservation to lock in a price — even if you aren’t ready to make a commitment.
2. Compare Rental Companies
Prices vary between agencies. Use sites like Costco.com and Priceline.com to compare multiple rentals at a glance.
3. Be Aware: The Same Company May Have Different Rates at Different Locations
I saved $80 just by renting six miles farther away. The location closest to me would have picked me up for free, but saving $80 was worth getting a ride from a friend.
4. Adjust Pick-Up and Drop-Off Times
These are listed in half-hour increments. Tweak your time to find “sweet spots” during the day when rentals are the cheapest. You may even get a lower rate by renting the car longer than you need it. I wanted a car Friday morning, but it was considerably cheaper to rent Thursday night.
5. Find Coupon Codes
The mantra “Never Pay Retail” holds true with rental cars too. Costco.com factors coupon codes into the price. Priceline.com allows you to name your own price. Retailmenot.com offers various coupon codes.
6. Factor In Insurance Costs
Check with your insurance provider to see if extra insurance is even necessary.
7. Don’t Forget Fuel
You may be thrilled when the rental agency offers a free upgrade from economy to a fancy SUV, but can you afford the gas? Considering this cost is an important factor in staying within your trip budget.
8. Read the Fine Print
Make sure you have unlimited mileage and are allowed to take the car where you want to go.
9. Get Rewarded
If the rental company has a rewards program, join it (know the rules to maximize rewards).
How to Get Rental Car Discounts: Before you drive off the lot
10. Don’t Get Distracted
This is the most important tip: When you slide into that shiny new car it’s tempting to fiddle with the “bells and whistles”. Do this before pulling onto the road.
Adjust your seat, mirrors, radio, a/c – whatever you need to do to get comfortable. Take a moment to find the hazard lights, headlights, defroster, and windshield wipers. Do this while you are still parked. It could save you a deductible and the humiliation of pulling out and causing an accident right in front of the rental agency.
11. Don’t Take the Blame
Before signing on the dotted line, do a thorough inspection of the car, and write down any damage you see. Don’t be held liable for what a previous driver did.
Tips for Cheap Rental Car Deals: When you return
12. Leave Things Better Than You Found Them – Except This
Check the gas tank before you sign the rental agreement. If the previous driver left you with an empty tank, get it in writing that you aren’t responsible to return it full. If you did receive the car with a full tank, return it that way, or you may be charged.
How to Get Car Rental Discounts FAQs
This depends on the situation — usually you can get a discounted rate for longer rentals, but sometimes renting per day will be cheaper.
Weekends are often more expensive, so you’ll likely save a bit of money if you rent them Monday – Thursday.
A good price (in 2023) is considered to be around $10 per day or $100 per week. You can likely find it even cheaper than that with the tips above though… so just keep looking! As mentioned above, contact various rental agencies in your area — one might have a special and you’ll get an extra good deal!
Have you found any other great ways to save on car rentals?
Jody is creating PlasticBackBooks; a marketplace for helpful, wholesome, and entertaining eBooks.