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Your Ultimate Car Rental Guide from Our Travel Experts

car rental tips

Renting a car is often considered the most convenient and independent way to get around on your business trip. But for first-time or inexperienced renters, the car rental process, with its potentially numerous add-on options and lengthy contracts, can feel a bit overwhelming. Luckily, Christopherson has years of experience managing car rental policies for corporations across the country. We can help you have the most efficient and cost-effective car rental policy. Below, we’ve compiled our top car rental tips for corporate travel.

9 Basics of Car Rentals

Start here for the basics of car rentals. If this is your first time renting, or it’s been a while, this review will come in handy when you show up at the rental counter or get behind the wheel.

Things to Know When Picking Up Your Rental

1. Airport vs Non-airport Location

– When traveling for business, it’s always most convenient to pick up your rental car at the airport. Be sure to verify that the company you’re renting with has an on-site location or a shuttle to their off-site facility. You don’t want to be stuck scrambling for a taxi or Lyft to take you to your rental car.

2. Insurance Coverage

— Your company’s corporate travel policy will outline how to handle car rental insurance. If your company does not have a policy or an agreement with preferred vendors, talk to your travel or HR team before traveling to know how you should handle car rental insurance.

3. Drivers under the age of 25

– If you are a business traveler under the age of 25, your company may have to pay extra. Check your company’s travel policy as young drivers can be negotiated in a contract and no additional fees will be added.

4. Extra drivers

– On occasion, two or more business travelers may share a rental. Consider designating one driver to keep costs low or consult with your travel manager on how to handle extra drivers.

5. Verify the return location

— Typically your return location will be the same place you picked up the car, but verify the drop-off, especially if you’re flying out of a different airport. It never hurts to double-check and you don’t want to get caught unaware as you’re trying to make your return flight.

6. Bring your own extras

– Most travelers can bypass the extras like GPS or satellite radio. After all, that’s what phones are for. Your corporate travel policy may also not allow these add-ons and you could end up paying for them personally.

Things to Know When Driving and Returning the Vehicle

7. Stay on the road

– It seems simple enough, but when the customer service agent reviews what you can and cannot do, pay attention. Most car rental companies prohibit the use of their cars on unpaved roads. Insurance could be voided by driving off-road.

8. Fuel up

– Fill the tank prior to your return. Car rental companies will ask if you want to purchase a full tank of gas prior to you returning it, but many times you don’t use a full tank of gas or can’t time it right to return the car on empty. As you leave the airport, pay attention to where the nearest gas station is so you can stop prior to your return. If you have opted to return the car full of gas but do not, the refuel rate can be two to three times as much as the price at a local gas station. And again, check your company’s travel policy. Some companies will not reimburse this charge as it is considered extra fees.

9. Plan ahead for tolls

– Many cities have toll roads and bridges. Most car rental companies provide electronic toll collection programs integrated into the vehicle, but charge you a per-day fee to use them in addition to the toll fees. These usually are not on the final bill and are charged later. As it can be difficult to find a receipt for expense reimbursement for tolls, make sure you know how the receipt will be delivered. If no electronic collection option is integrated, tolls will be charged to the license plate number, which is sent to the car rental company and will be tracked back to you or your company. In some states, this is the only way a toll is invoiced. When there is a toll booth, it’s best to have cash, but some accept credit cards.

10. Avoid syncing your phone to your rental car, if possible

— Though it’s convenient, syncing your phone to a rental car can leave your information exposed to the next renter. If you need to, be sure you know how to unsync it once you’ve returned it.

Travel Experts’ Tips for Saving Money on Your Next Car Rental

For frequent travelers, finding ways to cut costs each trip can mean significant savings in the long run. Just like hotels and airfare, there are ways to save money on rental cars — especially if you plan on regularly renting. Read below for some of the easiest ways to save money on rental cars. For more extensive trip budgeting or help planning an economical travel program, reach out to one of our team members for a consultation.

Steps To Take To Save Big on Your Next Rental

  • Have a membership – It’s easy to join a membership program for a car rental company. When you first sign-up, important information like a driver’s license number, contact information, insurance, etc., are filled out and completed ahead of time. Everything concerning your account will then be fully automated and ready to go next time you need to book a car. Additionally, being a member typically includes deals that keep your overall rates lower. This brings us to our next point…
  • Rent with your company’s preferred car rental company – If your company has a managed travel program, they will likely have a preferred car rental company. The three major U.S. car rental companies, each with two or more large brands, are Enterprise Holdings Inc. (Enterprise & National), Avis Budget Group, and Hertz. Christopherson can help you select the partner that’s right for you and negotiate a contract that meets your overall travel program goals.
  • Take 30 seconds to walk around the car and inspect it before renting. Every time a rental car is returned, it is inspected for damage, cleaned, and put back on the lot. Or at least it should. If there is damage to the car before you rent it, it likely hasn’t been seen or claimed yet. Meaning, you could be held responsible for the damage and its repair costs when you return the car. Car rental employees work hard, but small details can easily fall through the cracks. Be extra diligent about the state of the car before you take responsibility for it.
    • Also, check for errors inside the car. Make sure the gas tank is full and there are no warning lights on the dashboard, too. Note any damage to upholstery, finishes, and other interior surfaces.

Sneaky Surcharges You Should Know About

Rental car companies are well-known to have extensive surcharges and hidden fees, to drive up the initial “sticker” price of your rental. Be aware of the following fees, as well as ways to plan ahead to avoid them when possible:

  • Drop-Off Charges — An extra fee is usually charged if a car is returned to a different location than where it was picked up. This fee varies by location. In some instances there is no charge, however, you could pay more than $1,000 for picking a car up at LAX and dropping it off at JFK plus around $0.35 per mile. If your corporation has a car rental contract make sure it notes a “one-way” rate. The rates will be higher than your normal corporate rate but will save money in the long run.
  • The 24-Hour Clock — If you rent your car on Wednesday and return it on Thursday, most companies charge you one day only if you return it within 24 hours. Some companies will give you a 29-minute grace period before hourly charges kick in and after 90 – 120 minutes you may be charged for the full extra day. Some rental car companies are also now charging a late return fee of $10 per day. Make sure you check the terms and conditions in your rental documents.
  • One-Day Surcharges — Picking a car up only for one day will cost you more if those days are Monday through Thursday. Because of the yield management process, it is more expensive for the car rental company if you pick your car up in the morning on Monday through Thursday and return it the same day. It eliminates the possibility of another traveler needing that car for two or more days at a time. The one-day surcharges are $5 to $7 over the normal daily rate and are “hidden” in the rate so you will not recognize you are being charged extra. Corporations can sometimes get this fee reduced or waived when negotiating a car rental contract.

Hopefully, this list gave you a few additional tips for the next time you rent a car for business travel.

Car Rental Safety Tips

While business travelers are generally aware of air and hotel safety precautions, not many of us think about car safety. However, staying vigilant and cautious with your rental car can prevent crime or accident from derailing your next corporate trip. Here are 8 tips to remember:

Keep your keys safe.

Keep your car keys with you and out of sight at all times. Years ago, car rental companies eliminated their logos from the cars, as they became targets for theft. While this precaution is helpful, you can still spot travelers by their car rental keys. Usually the ring has both sets of keys on it and a big tag with the make, model, color, and license number on it. Since you are traveling, a thief will know your car may have valuables in it.

Choose your parking space wisely.

Be careful when parking at events where thieves will know you will be gone for a set period of time (such as sporting or entertainment). Park “trunk out.” If storing items in your trunk, this makes your trunk visible in an aisle where more people are apt to see suspicious activity. When parking on the street, choose a busy area, i.e. in front of a store, hotel entrance, under a street lamp, or a busy corner. If the street seems too vulnerable, park in a parking garage where the likelihood of being broken into is less. However, still be aware of your surroundings. Being in a place where people can’t see you leaves you open to other acts of violence.

Load and hide your stuff before you reach your destination.

Everything you plan on leaving in the car should be stowed and hidden before you arrive at your destination. If, upon arrival, you take the action of stowing your valuables, you are exposing your possessions for all to see.

Don’t leave any possessions visible in the car.

It takes a thief five seconds to smash the glass, grab your valuables, and be out of sight, even with the alarm sounding. Keep in mind, it’s not only valuables in plain sight that are a target, but any bag or box may have something valuable to a thief. Even if replaceable, you are left with a broken window, which now you must deal with the car rental company to report the damage.

Unload your stuff away from your parking space.

If you have to remove luggage or valuables out of the trunk, do so away from your parking space, if possible. Should a thief see you taking it out, he/she will know that you’ll likely return with it, leaving you vulnerable as a target.

Check for your valuables as soon as you return to your car.

If you have any suspicion, do a quick check of your items before leaving. A common tactic of thieves is to take a camera out of the camera bag but leave the bag. You are then long gone before you notice the missing item and can’t pinpoint when it might have been taken.

Take your time upon return.

Most major car rental companies have automatic check-in and readily available receipts from the rental return attendant. But take a moment and really check the car. Make sure you have all your belongings out of the consoles and compartments.

Contact Christopherson Business Travel to Drive Happy

Hopefully, these tips provide a starting point for helping you rent cars for business travel more easily and affordably in the future. To learn how Christopherson Business Travel can help you save money and time with your business travel program, contact our travel team today.