8 Ways to Save on Your Next Rental Car

Autos in line on the right.

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

Renting a car is one of those things you don't give much thought to until the need arises. And when that happens, it's best to know what to expect.

USAA recommends a little planning, research and careful examination before you drive away in your rental. These steps will help you avoid busting your budget when renting a set of wheels:

  1. Plan ahead. You'll increase the odds of getting the model you want. This is especially true during heavy travel seasons when fewer cars are available. If the agency can't provide the car you reserved, it will typically offer a complimentary upgrade.
  2. Do your research. Compare rates. Some websites boast coupon codes for renters. Memberships in USAA and motor clubs can help you score the best deals. You'll also get additional offers like double upgrades.
  3. Fees add up. Your research should help you compare rates and not-so-transparent fees. Rental agencies make their steepest profits from insurance and other add-ons. But don't take the bait. If your smartphone has a GPS, for instance, don't be talked into adding a unit.
  4. Forgo insurance if you don't need it. Check with your auto insurance agent and your credit card company to determine what kind of coverage you already have.
  5. Pay now. Some rental agencies have "pay now" offers that cut a significant amount from your rental rates. Some even boast a 35% savings. But be aware that these prepay rates could be subject to other terms and big fees.
  6. It never hurts to ask. Even if you've researched and planned, you still might be able to negotiate at the rental counter. Just ask.
  7. Follow the rules. Don't be so quick to grab the keys and head out. Walk around the car with the agent before you leave so you are not held responsible for damages you didn't cause. Go over the terms of your rental contract and avoid penalties. Most agencies add a fee if more than one person will drive the car, for example.
  8. Fill that tank. You could save money by filling the tank yourself instead of signing up for the prepay fuel option. But don't forget to tend to the tank — you'll pay a hefty per-gallon price if you don't.

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