Last Updated on March 6, 2024 by Kristin

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While renting a car seems straightforward, many people end up paying more than they should. Whether it’s racking up unnecessary extra charges or missing out on significant discounts, there are plenty of ways to unnecessarily hike the price of your car rental bill. The good news is that with just a little bit of planning, these added costs are usually easy to skirt. Here are some common mistakes to avoid if you don’t want to make your rental car more expensive.

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Paying too much for rental car insurance

One of the most common mistakes when renting a car is overpaying for the rental car company’s collision damage waiver (CDW) or additional insurance products. This often happens because the renter is not aware of how much coverage they already have. At between $20-30 per day, the CDW can add up extremely quickly. In many cases, you can safely decline the CDW from the rental company and rely on your personal auto policy or a credit card benefit.

Prepaying for gas

Overpaying for fuel can also make your rental car more expensive. Before you drive off the rental car lot, the agent will likely ask if you’d like to prepay for gas. Accepting this offer is usually a bad idea. The per-gallon price rental car companies will charge is more than what you would pay at a local gas station, and you’d need to return a nearly empty tank to get your money’s worth. The only time where prepaying for gas may be a good idea is if you think you might not have time to fill up the tank at a gas station before dropoff or simply do not want the hassle of having to make an extra stop. In other words, prepaying for gas typically means that you’re paying a premium for convenience.

Instead, decline the prepaid gas. But always take a picture of the dashboard showing the mileage and fuel level at the time of return, and save your receipt from your last fill-up. These proofs can come in handy if you get hit with a wrongful refueling charge. 

Forgetting to document the vehicle’s condition

Another unwanted scenario is finding a surprise charge on the final bill for mystery damages.  Luckily, this is avoidable. Before and after you take possession of the vehicle, make sure to take detailed photos of the inside and outside of the rental car for your records. It’s crucial to note even the smallest scratch, scuff, ding or upholstery tear. Keep the photos for at least a few months after the final bill arrives, just to make sure you do not encounter any unwanted surprises.

Not taking advantage of all your membership discounts

Another huge mistake is passing up discounts and special rates you’re entitled to. Chances are you have a membership that provides a discount on car rentals or have the right to special rates through school or work. Costco, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are just some of the organizations that provide members with double-digit discounts. When you request a quote from AutoSlash, we automatically factor in all your memberships and apply eligible discounts to your quote. 

Only checking one pickup location

Another common mistake when renting a car is not checking multiple locations. Rentals at airport locations, for example, typically incur special taxes and fees that neighborhood rental offices often do not charge. The price difference can be striking, even when factoring in the extra cost of transportation to get to an alternative location. So, always check both on-airport and off-airport locations and weigh the difference in cost versus convenience.

Pro Tip: Reserving a one-way rental, picking up off-airport and returning to the airport, can be a great way to save on taxes and fees and still have the convenience of returning the car back to the airport for your trip home. Just keep in mind that off-airport locations typically have more limited hours than the airport.

Not being flexible on your pickup time

Being willing to adjust your pickup time can reap huge dividends. When requesting a quote from AutoSlash, try the so-called “half-hour hack:” Ask for a quote with your desired pickup time at, say, 9 am; then request a second quote for a pickup time one half hour earlier, 8:30 am, or later, at 9:30 am. We’ve noticed that this experiment can often result in a big price drop. Likewise, if your dates are flexible, try checking a few different dates to see how much prices can vary.

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Not joining the rental car loyalty program

Not joining the club can make your rental car more expensive. Signing up for a rental car loyalty program is free, easy and often provides special perks, and yet many renters leave it all on the table. Signing up for the rental car company’s loyalty program not only ensures that special promo codes end up in your inbox, but offers the possibility of nabbing free rental days or being able to skip the line and waive additional driver fees.

Pulling a no-show or late return

Car rental companies may ding you for turning in the car later than agreed or forgetting to cancel a prepaid reservation. Pre-paying for a car rental and not showing up can cost up to a big loss. Believe it or not, turning in a car early can also carry an extra charge at some companies. So be sure to keep the rental car company in the loop about any changes to your reservation—especially if you prepaid.