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5 lesser-known facts about renting a car

Robert Berger
26 June 2013
(Photo: Arild Andersen | Flickr)
(Photo: Arild Andersen | Flickr)

I was recently in the process of renting a car for my mother to take a one-way trip from Washington, D.C. to Ohio. An economy-sized car costs a reasonable $40 a day, but then I found out the car rental company charged a $160 fee for driving the vehicle only one way. I was stunned.

If you’re curious about other lesser-known terms for the next time you go to rent a car, take a look at these five:

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1. There may be more fees when renting at an airport. The Federal Trade Commission notes that rental rates can be substantially higher if you pick up the car at the airport. Airport concession recovery charges and other fees can add 10 percent or more to the total cost of a car rental. This applies any time you rent from the company’s airport office – or one nearby that offers a shuttle to the airport.

2. Returning the car early could cost you. You’d think returning a rental car early would mean you’d pay less, right? If you’re getting a special weekly rate, returning the vehicle early may be extra costly, as some rental companies will cancel your discounted rate. Other companies will prorate fees for the days you didn’t use, so you’ll pay a little less – but then some tack on a $10 to $15 early return fee to your bill. Therefore, make sure you understand what the company’s early return policy is before dropping off the car.

3. Adding a second driver could cost more. Renting a car that both you and your spouse plan to drive could alter what rate the rental company offers you. A number of companies add a fee for a second driver, as well as charge extra for adding the second driver to the insurance waiver.

If you’re planning to split the driving, shop around. Many large rental companies won’t charge a second driver fee if the person is your spouse or partner.

4. The company will likely put a hold on your credit or debit card. While most major car rental companies require a credit card to get the rental process started, you may also be able to use your debit card to rent a car. Either way, there’s a good chance you’ll face an authorization hold on your card.

A hold means the company reserves on average anywhere from $300 to $500 through your bank account or credit limit. Once you return the car, the unused portion of the funds are returned to your account or will be made available in your credit limit once again. However, when using a debit card, the funds may not be back in your bank account for up to two weeks after they’ve released from the hold.

5. Small companies may offer big benefits. Renting a car from a large company may be more convenient, especially if you need to make reservations online ahead of time. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best option, since small, local car rental companies frequently offer lower rates.

Rob Berger is the founder of the popular personal finance blog, the Dough Roller.

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