Getting a Rental Car Will Be Easier After Your Read This, Don't Expect Magic

Rental cars can help you attain a certain level of freedom while you are on vacation, especially when in a foreign country. Maybe you do not want to rely on the local public transportation, or driving your vehicle there is not that practical, and getting a rental is simpler. You also have the added bonus of having local license plates, which might help you blend in.
Black Toy Car (Fiat 500 model) on World Map showing Europe 22 photos
Photo: Alex Mihis (mcfraftpix) on, Free to use license
ACRISS codes explainedRead the fine print in rental car contractsA small discount now does not mean a better dealOnly the renter is insured to drive the carTraveling with a toddler? Rent a seat or get your ownYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careWhich one do you think is best? The most expensive one covers full theft and full collision damage with no excess for the customerYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careYou must read rental car terms and conditions with careTaking Pictures During a Road TripScenic Road TropRoad TripWeatherTech Rubber Floor MatHertz 2022 Shelby GT500-HHertz 2022 Shelby GT500-H and Hertz 2022 Shelby GT-HHertz 2022 Shelby GT500-HHertz 2022 Shelby GT-H
It is always a gamble when you are getting a rental car, especially because you never know what you are going to get. Sure, you have reserved a VW Golf or similar, but you might find yourself with something significantly smaller or with the choice of an upgrade to something larger that will guzzle fuel, and your vacation budget, away without providing you with too much in return.

So, what is there to do? Well, the first step would be to ditch the small discount that you might get when paying in full for the vehicle upfront when you book the reservation. Instead, research pricing with several providers and then check the footnotes.

Every contract has footnotes, and some are intentionally concealed in latter pages, which many never read. That's a big mistake. Always read any contract before signing it. Read it twice, as slow as you need to understand it, or else you might end up on the wrong side of the deal. Save it in your computer.

Second, when booking a car, be aware of the ACRISS code system. While it is mainly used in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, it may also be used in the U.S. by some operators. It is a standardized code for classifying cars, but it also helps booking agents locate vehicles in inventory.

ACRISS codes explained
Photo: Screenshot from rental car company website
The code involves just four letters, and it defines the kind of vehicle you are about to get. The first letter describes the category of the vehicle, with E for economy, P for premium, L for luxury, C for compact, F for full size, and so on.

The second letter is the body type, and a 4-5 door car has the letter D, but a Limousine has L, or a convertible has T. The third letter refers to the transmission, with M for manual and A for automatic. The last is focused on fuel and air conditioning, and N means no air conditioning and an unspecified engine, while H involves a hybrid with air conditioning.

You can make the final payment for the reservation at the checkout desk of the rental company. It may take precious minutes from your vacation, but you also have the option to back out of the deal if you did not pay for the entire reservation beforehand. Do you see where this is going? This is just like any deal – you have the power to negotiate until you sign the contract and hand over the money.

The first thing you need to check is the collision damage waiver, which is the equivalent of insurance for the rental. Some of those do not include things like tires or theft, while others offer full coverage.

Which one do you think is best\? The most expensive one covers full theft and full collision damage with no excess for the customer
Photo: Screenshot from rental car company website
You want full coverage here, even if you pay more because otherwise, you risk having your credit card charged with the "excess."

Mind you, it is advisable to check your credit card balance with care even weeks after your rental, as some less honest operators decide to charge tourists that have long returned their cars with fees for preexisting damage or insufficient fuel in the tank upon return, and so on. If you are on the other side of the planet, you might not get to file a complaint, and it is their word against yours.

Coming back to an important element, the term excess refers to the sum that the rental car company will lock on your credit card when you make the booking and that you are supposed to get back when the vehicle is returned safely. Sadly, for many tourists, that amount gets charged because of their lack of attention when looking for a rental car, as well as not checking the contract. If you make a reservation online, be sure to print the contract, and check it with the clerk if there is a change at the desk.

I have noticed that some hotels charge this excess for their minibar upon your arrival at the reception. While they claim to refund it as soon as possible, you will discover that it does not happen upon checkout.

You must read rental car terms and conditions with care
Photo: Screenshot from rental car company website
Instead, you may have to wait for days, weeks, or even months for your deposit, which is refundable, unless you email them with the receipt and politely demand your money back, as agreed on with the reception.

I have been in this situation, and I can say it may be tricky to find a local branch of an international hotel's email, but emailing them as you move higher up the hotel chain will do the trick. In the case of rental agencies, it does not work like that.

All the offices that you see across the world's airports may not belong to the main company but are just franchises. In other words, if you have a problem with a local agency, it is between you and them, and the big brand name that you see above the desk might wash its hands of the whole deal if you ever get replies to the emails you send. Have everything in writing, as verbal assurances that things will or will not happen have no value.

While everyone is looking for the lowest possible rate for a car, usually a premium one, it might be wise to pay a bit more but have the excess, or the guarantee, as small as possible.

You must read rental car terms and conditions with care
Photo: Screenshot from rental car company website
Yes, it can be close to zero, or even zero, if you negotiate the deal accordingly and pay a bit more for each day of rental. It is obvious that doing so still requires you to return the vehicle in accordance with the terms of the rental agreement.

Moreover, when looking for your next rental car, you might be tempted to book it through the airline's website or through the website that helped you find a hotel. It may seem convenient, but do not go there.

Instead, look for a rental as soon as you book your flight, but do it on rental car websites instead of on websites that sell airline tickets or hotel rooms. Do not mix these businesses together, as everyone makes money out of the deal, except for the person paying for the rental.

Now, once you know when to book a rental car (right after you make a flight reservation), where to look for it, when to pay for it (hint: not immediately upon booking), and what to look for in the contract, you should also know that the booking agency may be able to offer you a lower rate if you email them.

You must read rental car terms and conditions with care
Photo: Screenshot from rental car company website
Be sure to check if you need a credit or a debit card for the reservation. If the latter is fine, you might pay a bit more, but you can also get a chargeback on excess that was billed to you without blame. To prevent unwanted charges, always check the vehicle you rent before leaving the parking lot.

Have the booking agent next to you as you take photos of it, take a walk-around video, and check for chips in the windshield, fuel level, wheel damage, scratches, and any preexisting damage.

Send the footage to yourself on your email right away, as well as send it to a friend on an online messaging service of your choice, albeit one that does not make photos disappear.

This way, you have proof of existing damage before you get the car. It is ideal to look at it in the sun, not in a dark parking lot, but use your phone's flashlight to be sure you are not missing anything.

Hertz 2022 Shelby GT500\-H
Photo: Hertz/Shelby American
Mind you, take photos of the interior, as well as the trunk, and do the same when you return the vehicle. Do not forget to photograph (and be sure it is clear) the gauge cluster with a visible odometer and fuel level. Be sure to report any inconsistencies to the booking agent immediately, and have them written down in both copies of the form.

Otherwise, you might get charged for extra miles or not filling up to the right level way after you return the vehicle. It costs nothing for you to take 10-20 photos of a vehicle, but it might save you hundreds of dollars. It goes without saying that all rental cars have GPS units installed, so do not do anything stupid in them.

Before going to the rental car desk to get your booked car, if possible, leave your family at the airport café or something so that they cannot be seen by the booking agent.

Beware of any upselling attempts made at the rental desk, as these may have hidden fees. Upselling happens at every booth you encounter in the service industry.

When you are asked if you want fries with that, that is basic upselling, and it is standard procedure. Remember that nobody is being nice to you in this business just because it is all about making more money since that is what their job is about.

Whatever rental car you choose, do not do the things that Rob's customers did.

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Editor's note: For illustration purposes, several screenshots of terms and conditions, as well as rental car pricing offers from rental car websites are shown. The images are just to illustrate some differences between contracts, rental deals, and other conditions, and we have concealed the names of the companies because those terms might change.
The photo gallery also shows other images that are meant to illustrate vehicles, road trips, and going on vacation.

About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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