An Insiders Guide to Car Rental in the US

It is a real pitty that most of the historic “Route 66” does no longer exist. But there are many other good driving routes to follow, like the highway alternative

 

I have previously written a blog post with general car rental tips for the untrained minds, but figured that it would also be good with a bit more country specific advise. This post could just as well have been for car rental in another countries, but USA is probably the country in the world where renting a car makes most sense, so this might be the first of several posts about the topic (South Africa, Canada and Australia might come later). For customers I have probably booked more than a hundred cars in the US and have noticed the following:

 

  • The competition among the rental companies in the States is strong and most companies therefore let you cancel a car rental free of charge. It can therefore be smart to book a car if you are uncertain, and just cancel it if the price should be reduced a couple of months later or if you should find a better deal somewhere else
  • If you are planning on driving “Highway 1” in the peak season/summer months you will notice high one-way charges if you are driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but not the other way around. This is because everyone wish to drive from North to South in order to drive on the outer lane right by the water. In my opinion it can be worth sacrificing a little sight for a rental with little or no one-way fee.
  • The age limit for car rental with most companies is 20, but if you are under 26 you will probably be charged with underage driver fees. Age limit is also dependending on the state where you rent, and there are two states where the minimum age is 18 which is New York and Michigan. And since you follow the laws of the state where you pick up your car, that means that for people under 20, driving from Los Angeles to NYC is a “no go” while driving from NYC to Los Angeles is a “go go”
  • The tax of the car rental is also state dependent, so a drive across the country will often be hundreds of dollars more expensive when driving from east to west than from west to east. NYC-Los Angeles is much more expensive than Los Angeles to NYC.
  • Florida is the only state where it is required to have an international drivers license to pick up and drive a car. This should be collected at your local NAF office before you go
  • GPS is usually cheaper to buy than to rent, a day of GPS rental can cost the same as as downloading maps for your phone and a couple of weeks GPS rental will probably cost you as much as the price of a brand new GPS in the US (100USD)
  • A lot of American rental companies include a tank of petrol when picking up the car, which can easily be worth 50 US dollars, so in many cases it can be cheaper to divide the car rentals between the cities. Especially if you are travelling through San Fransico, where you can ride the tube and easily get between the different parts of the city or get to the airport without a car
  • “Go big or go home”. Roads in the US are good, the gas is much cheaper and most cars are bigger than here in Europe. It is highly reccomended to get the full American experience and get a car that has enough room for you to travel comfortably with all your stuff. Upgrading locally is really expensive, so doing the upgrade at the time of booking is strongly advised.

Do you have other tips for people going to rent a car in the States, feel free to share them on the comment field below.

10 things every traveller should know about the car rental industry

Renting a car can get you to a lot of places that buses and trains do not go, this time to a faraway road in Western Cape, South Africa

 
During my time as a travel agent I have gotten a much bigger understanding of how the car rental industry works, and I have decided to share some of the things that I would consider “must knows” for people planning to rent a car:
  • It is a known fact that most car rental companies make most of their money not from renting out the cars, but from buying discounted cars from suppliers, and selling them used just after a few months. Rental agencies will also ALWAYS try to upsell insurance, fuel and upgrades which can be expensive to buy at the car rental agency.
  • People working at the car rental agency might not remember all SIPP codes or terms for the contracts of the agency/broker you bought it from, and might therefore offer you a product you have already paid for (e.g insurance of extra drivers). It is advised to bring your voucher so that they can see exactly what you have paid for and whatnot. 
  • Using a car broker (e.g Auto Europe) can be good as some offer refundable access which means that if you get charged by the rental agency, you can just collect receipts and supporting documentation (police report for not DUI-ing) and send this in to the broker and have them refund the excess you paid to the rental company
  • Using an agent to book can also be a good idea. They usually have negotiated contracts with the car rental companies, which might including one way fees, additional drivers, fuel and insurances which will make it cheaper than booking the car online. 
  • When picking up a car you should make sure you have a credit card with a high enough limit to keep as a deposit for the rental. Sometimes these amounts can be up to 5000 dollars and this money will be blocked and can not be used before you hand in the car
  • You should not overestimate the size of a rental car. Search for images online and make sure that the car you book will be big enough for your use. It is much more expensive to upgrade to a bigger car at the pickup location thank booking a bigger car in the first place.
  • For smaller rental companies it is advised to do a quick check online to find more information about the rental company or office before booking your car. Doing a quick search online will reveal if there are any reoccurring problems with the office or company where you will rent your car. 
  • The most important thing to look for in a contract should be the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) to check what the deductible access is for your rental. 
  • When picking up and returning a car you can never check too carefully for scratches and damages. I was recenty a victim of a Hertz case myself where I was charged around a thousand euros for a small scratch I did not do.
These are just general things to know about the car rental industry, and are not related to any countries as this would make the post way too long. So instead of making this list ten times as long I will try to write more destination specific post later as I travel and discover more about car rental in different countries. 

The Highway Alternative to Route 66 and other Driving in the US



As most people already know, the legendary Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles does not exist in full anymore, but there are many other roads that can be driven between the two cities. Last weekend I took the quickest alternative, a straight 40 hour long drive where I got to see the landscape shift several times between snowy mountains, green fields and sandy deserts. Even the deserts were not the same, shifting between red and dark and light brown. 


The US is perfect for those who like to travel with car. It is a country built for driving, where you can find drive-in-shops, drive-in-banks, drive-in-restaurants, drive-in-cinemas and drive-in churches where you do not even have to go out of your limousine to get married. The roads are also wide. Even in middle of Nevada dessert there were two lanes going each way, and in bigger cities like Los Angeles there roads had seven, yes seven lanes. There are also signs showing all you need to know on the roads, but some of the traffic laws are a little bit different from the traffic laws in Europe: it is allowed to drive right on red light if it is ready, in most states you are allowed to drive past other cars in the right lane (not only in the left) and in the biggest cities they have lanes for “carpooling” where only cars with two or more people are allowed to use.

The gas prices in the US are also ridiculously cheap compared to gas prices in Europe. The prices differ from state to state, but the most expensive gas we filled along the way was between Las Vegas and Los Angeles where the price was four dollars for a gallon, which means that a liter of gas would not cost more than a dollar. After putting almost 5000 miles behind us we knew that we would have to do some maintenance of the car, and for a full service in Colorado they did not charge more than 60dollars for a full service, including brake fluid and oil change. As long as you fill the car seats, roadtripping is the cheapest way to travel in the US and it will give you a lot greater flexibility compared to flying going by buses and trains.