Ah, Seattle! The water, the coffee, the needle! Not only do we get to see friends and family, but we get to explore a city that has been on my “go to” list for years. I’ve trekked through multiple tourist websites and blogs focused on gleaming out the best of the city – the museums, bakeries, coffee shops, city tours and of course the numerous beautiful parks.
In amongst all of the fun planning and researching, we’ve been looking up rental cars.
While we realize that actually traveling with a car in downtown Seattle is more hassle than its worth (Frommers has a good article about this), we do plan to travel up to Vancouver and down to Mt. St. Helens. We’ve rented cars before when our own car needed fixing, so we aren’t total newbies, but we had never rented a car for vacation.
Hey, I’m savvy! Bring it on! 😎
Little did I know that I was about to learn differently. . .
Cue Twilight Zone music
You are about to enter another dimension,
a dimension not only of sneaky fees and extra small print but of insanity.
A journey into a nightmare land of terms and restrictions.
Next stop, the Car Rental Zone!
Navigating through the fine details involved in renting a car can make you feel like you’ve slipped into a different universe. There are the countless acronyms, scary sounding insurance plans and the sheer cost of hiring a car to contend with before you even settle on which company to trust (as much as you might trust a 10 foot starving python, anyway).
So, I started like everyone else by searching Expedia. Then I searched Priceline, then Hotwire, and ultimately Happy Cars. Notice the trend? I was getting desperate. The rates were horribly high and even the mother of a used car salesman would balk at the “deals”.
There were so many fees and taxes that my eyes crossed and don’t even mention the numerous restrictions. I spent more than a few hours looking up rates and reading up on advice. I asked a LOT of questions (a big thank you to you-know-who-you-are!) and finally started to get some answers.
In the end, we actually discovered quite a few things that helped us nab a car at a decent rate!
So, if you want to rent a car and it’s your first time, here are the fruits of my labor. Perhaps they’ll help you in your quest for the best deal! 🙂
Tips for Renting a Car
A couple caveats before I begin: One, I assume you’re over 25 and two, you’re living in the US. Also, this is all based on experience – take it for what it is.
- Begin by checking whether or not your current auto and health insurance covers rental cars and if so, how much. If your car insurance doesn’t, check your credit cards. Some offer coverage while others don’t. Also see what you’re covered for while you’re at it – in case it’s very skimpy and doesn’t cover beans.
Why? You can skip paying the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance) and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) – depending on your coverage. LDW can cost nearly $30 a day and most of the waivers and insurance protections they try to sell you are covered by either your health insurance, car insurance or credit card. We’re covered for everything they’re trying to sell, so we’re saving hundreds of dollars by declining.
(Another tip: double check what you’re signing when you arrive to make sure that they don’t opt you back in under your nose.)
- Next, check if you can rent a car somewhere other than the airport. Not all cities are people friendly, but if you’re going to a place like Seattle, be aware that there’s a rail link that takes you straight downtown where you can rent your car.
Why? You pay a fraction of the cost that the same company will charge at the airport. The reason seems to be the fee that they tack on from the location – the airport seems to charge a lot more than, say, a hotel for the privilege to rent a car. The company we went with wanted to charge a bit over $1000 for a two week rental, but the same company was asking $600 if you went downtown. Seeing as how the rail ticket costs about $2, you can guess what route we’re going to take!
- Finally, comparison shop, but also look into other avenues to save. Are you a member of a club? See if they give you discounts on rentals. Does your work place offer you savings as an employee? Check it out! Do you even need the car for the entire stay? If not, book for a shorter time!
Why? You can get a great deal. Our work place is a member of Motivano and so we can get a deal through them on a weekly rental – $36 a day. The same car without the discount would have cost us $58 a day! More cups of coffee for us! Plus, Seattle happens to have a good public transit system, so for the first week, we plan to take the bus and walk rather than pay for not only the car but the parking fees (which can be $30 a day). This will save us at least half the rate, if not more.
It can definitely be daunting to rent a car, but once you educate yourself about your destination and do a bit of research on your option, you can feel confident about your choice.
Oh, yes, one more suggestion: Don’t go for the cheapest car out there. We found that there were slightly cheaper rates than the one we got from other companies, but some of those companies charged for your spouse to drive and others wouldn’t let us into Canada. Most of those companies also had bad ratings on sites like Yelp. So definitely read the fine print on their terms and conditions. If they aren’t clear, then I’d suggest renting from a company that isn’t afraid to spell it all out.