If your plans for this summer include family travel, visiting the United States is a great choice. A USA road trip is on many family’s bucket list. From its breathtaking natural wonders and famous amusement parks to its unique and sometimes surprising culture, the United States promises an unforgettable trip with lots of family fun. However, it’s important that you make all the necessary arrangements to ensure a fun trip for the whole family; this includes booking your car rental services in advance so you’re free to come and go as you please. So what do you need to know about renting a car in the US?
This post may contain affiliate links, read our disclaimer for more info.
- 1 Tips for renting a car in the USA
- 2 What is the best place to rent a car in the US?
- 3 Other aspects to take into account when renting a car in the US
- 4 US rental car hidden fees
- 5 Conclusion
Renting a car is an important factor to consider when planning a family vacation, and yet it’s often one of the last things we think about when we prepare for a trip. Leaving it to the last minute leads to plenty of stressful and totally avoidable situations. That’s why we want to give you a set of essential USA car rental tips to make your trip a lot easier and more enjoyable.
Planning a USA holiday? Also read:
Best places to visit with kids in the USA & Canada
5 fun things to do in Miami with kids
Tips for renting a car in the USA
Book in Advance
There are many advantages of booking your rental in advance. By doing so, you will be entitled to some of the best deals on the market and have the best choice. In order to get cheap car rentals, you need to book as early as possible. The ideal time to get a great pre-paid deal is around 50 days before you plan to leave for your trip, this way you can get up to 30% discount on your rental! Many car rental agencies also hold up your car in the counter for even 24 hours after your pick up time when you have a pre-paid reservation. Now, if you leave it for later, there’s the possibility that there will be few cars available, the prices will be higher and you take the risk of not getting the car model you want.
Choose the right type of car
Choose the adequate car depending on your family size and luggage requirements to avoid paying for space you don’t actually need. A van or a minivan is great for families but there are other types you might want to consider too. See some car categories and their current daily rate price so you can have an idea:
- Economy (up to 4 people) from 30 USD per day.
- Compact (up to 5 people) from 31 USD per day
- Standard (up to 5 people) from 32 USD per day
- Standard USV (Up to 5 people) from 33 USD per day
- Compact Elite (Up to 5 people) from 56 USD per day
- Standard Elite (Up to 5 people) from 76 USD per day
- Minivan (Up to 7 people) from 85 USD per day
- Full Size Van (Up to 15 people) from 87 USD per day
Beware of the child seat regulations
There are different child seat regulations that vary from state to state in the US so you have to pay special attention to this depending on the US state you are visiting. The general aspects to take into account when choosing your children’s child/booster seats are their age and weight. General guidelines:
- Children that are 1 year and under or 20 pounds in weight, should be in rear-facing infant seats
- Children should be in forward facing car seats between 20 pounds and 40 pounds or 4 years.
- Children aged 5 – 7 years, or shorter than 57 inches, or less than 60 pounds, should use a booster seat to make the adult safety seat fit them properly.
! Remember these are averages, distilled from individual state requirements. If you want to know the specific regulation by state it is recommendable to check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
If you are not bringing your own child seat, make sure to include it in your rental. Some agencies have the option of including it as an extra as well as the GPS or the Tank of gas, but in most cases, you only have the option of adding it in the counter. This normally has an average price of 13-15 USD per day.
Bring the required documentation
What do you need to rent a car? Make sure you have all your documents in order when you go pick up your car. These are the documents required in the counter:
Documentation needed by foreigners:
- Roundtrip plain tickets
- Valid passport
- Valid driver’s license
- Credit card under the reservation holder’s name
Documents US Citizens need:
- Valid driver’s license
- Valid ID
- Valid credit or debit card. For debit card customers normally conduct an identity and address verification check.
! When it comes to documentation, each car rental agency has a policy that may differ from other companies. Make sure to call or email the rental agency and request a list of required documents.
What is the best place to rent a car in the US?
As your aim is to find the best price, quality and benefits, you cannot just rely on any random agency you don’t know anything about. There are so many car rental agencies and car rental sites in the US that most people get overwhelmed. So the first step is to do your research regarding America car rental. You can go online and search for well reputed comparison sites, which compare all the agency’s best deals at a glance. How to check experience and reputation? Very simple, some very reliable sources are Trustpilot or TripAdvisor, which show relevant comments and car rental reviews from families just like you.
Here are three of the best car rental web pages we could find on Truspilot:
- Viajemos.com This agency features in Trustpilot with a 9.3-out of 10-score. Its five-star rate is mostly due to valuable client reviews that highlight the company with excellent prices and fast/efficient costumer service assistance when booking or solving doubts during the rental process.
- Milescarrental.com is a very well qualified agency in Trustpilot scoring 9.2 out of 10. Most comments compliment the website’s easy use when booking a car and its highly competitive prices. Miles car Rental offers services all over the world and its vehicle fleet options are huge.
- RentingCarz.com has an 8.4 score out of 10 in Trustpilot. Clients mostly value the fast response at the time of making the reservation and the web page easy handling when choosing the car and extras. It is also possible to find an excellent choice of vehicles.
Other aspects to take into account when renting a car in the US
There are other details you must be aware of when making your reservation that may not be immediately clear, especially when you are not a US citizen and you are not familiar with the rental process.
Be specific with your pick up and return locations
There’s the possibility of returning your rental car in another location. Many agencies offer you the option to return the car in another city but you must know this has an extra fee. It’s a great option if you are thinking on taking your family on a USA road trip.
Buy your car rental insurance
In the USA rental cars are not insured, so at the moment you rent the car, you are responsible for any damage to or loss of the rented car. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you make sure the final charge always includes car insurance. There are different policies available to purchase with your rental that will protect you, your passengers, and outside drivers, take a look:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) / Loss Damage Waiver: This is an additional amount charged per day which lets you off the hook for costs if your rental car is stolen, vandalized, or damaged in a crash. However, renters still must comply with the terms and conditions of their rental agreement; otherwise their insurance may not cover them.
- Personal Accident Insurance: This covers passengers for any medical expenses. In some cases, travel insurance may also cover this.
- Personal Effects Coverage: This protects renters from any damage caused or theft of personal items left inside their rental car.
- Supplemental Liability Insurance: This provides coverage for renters if a third-party is injured as a result of an accident.
Although every kind of liability protection offered by the rental agency is optional, it is highly recommended to take the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) as it limits the financial impact of any collision that may occur while you’re on the road. Even if, when you rent your car in advance, you have the option of taking the car with no insurance, it is very likely they will make you take this insurance at the counter at a higher price.
If you have your own car insurance policy and it covers you for any vehicle you drive, you don’t have to purchase the rental car agency’s insurance. However, you must present a certificate of insurance at the time you pick up your vehicle.
Two optional extras when renting a car are a GPS and a full tank of gas. You can normally add these to your rental car reservation, which guarantees a lower price compared to taking them directly in the counter. If you have a cellphone with Google Maps and a US dataplan, you might not need a GPS. The optional ‘full tank of gas’ makes sure you don’t have to return the car with a full tank.
Renting a car can be a bit of a minefield if you’ve never done it before. Make sure to read the small print to know what your obligations are and be mindful of any hidden fees.
Under 25 Penalty
Make the reservation on behalf of someone over 25. Companies charge a significant extra fee to those who are under 25 years old. Drivers under 25 have to be prepared to pay a daily fee of around $25 (or more) per day.
Car-rental companies have to pay a “concession fee” to the airport in order to operate near it, and they pass those fees on to the consumer. Avoid the charge by picking up your car at a location a bit farther out.
Early Return Fee
Did you know you can be fined for returning your car early? Well, yes. Some rental-car companies charge clients for “breaking the contract” by returning the car early or tell you that your discount for booking a car for several days is now voided.
If you are visiting different states with during your rental, be aware of the tolls between cities, they will be charged to the credit card left on the reservation.
Tank of Gas
If you didn’t include the Full Tank of Gas to your rental at the moment of the reservation, you better top off the tank before you return that rental car, otherwise you’ll get hit with a “refueling fee,” which includes the cost of gasoline and a heavy charge.
Family vacations are a great way to create lifelong memories and the United States is filled with endless ‘must sees’ and awesome family experiences. From famous cities to outrageous amusement parks and from wonderful national parks to iconic landmarks, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Having a car at your disposal will make family travel in the US so much easier. So use these tips and rent a car headache free. And most of all, have fun!
*** This article was contributed by Miles Car Rental ***