The dos and don'ts of renting a car on vacation

Mar 23, 2012, 8 a.m.

If you're planning a vacation and will be renting a car to get around at your destination, consider the following rental car tips to help ensure you don't pay too much or wind up holding the bill if the rental company tries to stick you with damages that were already existent.

Weigh your options when choosing the location of the car rental company. One of the thriftiest rental car tips is to get your car from a rental company that's located off the grounds of the airport. Cars rented from the airport are a far greater convenience, and that convenience is reflected in the price you'll pay -- which could be as much as 20 to 50 percent more. If you're interested in saving as much money as possible on your vacation, research the location of the nearest car rental agency outside of the airport and compare costs. Naturally, it may be a bit of a hassle to have to take a taxi to get there, but the amount of money you save might be substantial enough to make it worth your while.

Don't be fooled by price advertisements. Even the cheapest rental car companies advertise their rates without including additional taxes and fees. In order to avoid any unpleasant last minute surprises that could put a crimp on your vacation plans, call ahead and inquire about all additional charges so that you'll be able to budget what type of car you rent accordingly.

Before making any rental car reservations, call your auto insurance company and find out to what extent your current coverage will cover any accidents that may occur. Rental car companies offer collision insurance, which comes at a high cost and bumps up the total cost of rental. In many cases, getting additional coverage is entirely unnecessary if you're already covered by your personal car insurance policy. If you're vacationing within the United States, you're more than likely covered. If you're vacationing out of the country, all bets could be off and collision insurance might be a smart extra to pay for. Don't rely on the rental company salesman to answer any insurance questions for you, though. Discuss your options with your insurance provider in advance so you'll know if you need collision coverage or not.

Take photographs of the car before and after your rental period. This is one of the most basic, fundamental tips for renting a car and is one that will serve to save you from taking the blame for damages you're not responsible for. Prior to leaving the rental car lot, give the car a thorough inspection and take photos of any dents, dings, or scratches to the exterior body. Do the same for the interior of the car. Check for stains or tears in the upholstery, or any other damages you see. Even if you see no evidence of damage, take plenty of snapshots. It's also critical to make sure the date and time stamp on your camera is accurate, in the event you're ever asked to prove the validity of your photographs. Follow the same procedure immediately before returning the rental car.

Having a rental car at your vacation destination may or may not be necessary at all. If all you'll be using it for will be to shuttle you from the airport to a resort, for example, you might be better off paying for a taxi or taking shuttle. As always, do your homework before heading out on vacation. It might just save you a bundle.

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