5 Tips for Choosing a Rental Car

Should you always go for the convertible? Read on to find out.
Should you always go for the convertible? Read on to find out.
Digital Vision/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Travel is stressful. Sometimes that stress comes in the form of exhilaration. We call this eustress -- it's stress that's curative or beneficial. For example, the emotions you feel as you drive up a winding road to take in the view of an amazing vista are a type of eustress. But there's another form of stress that isn't so helpful. We call it distress, and it's the type we generally associate with frustration.

While it's impossible to eliminate distress entirely, taking time to think about your needs before your trip can help keep distress to a minimum. This includes choosing your rental car. With some research and careful consideration, you should be able to determine the type of car best suited to your needs for any given trip.

But even the best plans can fall through. While these tips may help you choose the right car, it's important to remember that some things are beyond your control. If you can accept that fact without your knuckles turning white, you're well on your way to having a pleasant experience with your rental car.

5
What Are Your Car Rental Needs?

In general, most rental car agencies offer similar vehicles in various classifications. The number of categories has increased over the last couple of decades. The era of simple choices between subcompact, compact, mid-size and sports cars is over. Now your options might include everything from mini cars to luxury SUVs.

What is it that you need? A luxury car might sound nice, but if you're not spending a lot of time in the vehicle, it may be a wasted expense. You might be tempted to rent a convertible, but if the weather isn't nice or you have a lot of luggage, it's not the most practical choice. An honest examination of what you'll need while on your trip will help guide your choices.

The earlier you determine what you need from your rental car, the more flexibility you'll have when shopping around for the right deal.

4
A Compact Car Isn't Always a Compact Car
Your definition of small might not be the same as the rental agency's.
Your definition of small might not be the same as the rental agency's.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

A compact in the United States isn't the same thing as a compact in Europe. European cars tend to be smaller than American vehicles. For that reason, it's a good idea to take into account the size of your party and the amount of luggage you'll be carrying if you're planning to rent a car in Europe. You may want to ask for a vehicle one -- or even two -- sizes larger than what you normally rent.

On the other hand, many of the roads in Europe are narrower than streets in America. Some roads date back to medieval times, when the most common vehicle to travel down the lane was a horse-drawn cart. Try to find a balance between a car that will comfortably seat your party and one that will let you navigate through tight streets without causing you too much stress in the process.

3
Bigger Isn't Always Better
If you have a large family or a lot of luggage, an SUV might be the right choice.
If you have a large family or a lot of luggage, an SUV might be the right choice.
Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Large cars tend to consume more fuel. They're also usually more difficult to maneuver, particularly in cities that have narrow roads or limited parking. Mid-sized cars tend to be the most popular rental vehicles in the United States. Most have better fuel economy than larger cars, and they tend to be less expensive to rent. You may even find that when you reserve a compact or subcompact car, you'll often receive a free upgrade to the mid-size category. That's because most rental agencies only keep a few smaller cars in their fleets.

Remember, of course, that you aren't guaranteed an upgrade -- you may get exactly what you asked for. If that makes you nervous, try to choose a car that's large enough for you. Avoid upgrades to big SUVs or other large cars unless you have a real need for storage space. But there's nothing wrong with renting an SUV if that really suits your needs. Large families with lots of luggage should pick a vehicle that will provide a safe and comfortable ride.

2
Ask About Transmissions
Keep in mind that cars in the United Kingdom and Ireland have the wheel and transmission on the right side.
Keep in mind that cars in the United Kingdom and Ireland have the wheel and transmission on the right side.
Digital Vision/Photodisc/Thinkstock

In the United States, the majority of rental cars have automatic transmissions. It's not hard to understand why rental car companies made this choice anyone who knows how to drive can drive a car with an automatic transmission. But if you prefer manual transmission, you should mention that to the rental car agent when choosing your car.

In other parts of the world, manual-transmission vehicles are the norm. If you're an American traveling abroad, you may want to ask the rental car company if you can rent an automatic vehicle. This could be particularly handy when you visit a country like Ireland or England. In these countries, the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle and the driver operates the manual gear shift with his or her left hand.

Be aware that the rental car facilities may only have a few automatic vehicles available for rent, so it's a good idea to put in your request as early as you can.

1
Be Flexible
Staying flexible will help you avoid stress when you rent a car.
Staying flexible will help you avoid stress when you rent a car.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

At the end of the day, you may not have much choice in your rental car. Ultimately, your choices depend upon what's in the rental car company's lot at the time. Most of the time, you should be able to get a vehicle in the size category you desire. But you might not be able to choose between two different car models.

Call ahead to various car rental agencies to find out what kind of cars they have in their respective fleets. If you have a preference for a particular kind of vehicle, choose an agency that has lots of those cars available. It still won't be a 100-percent guarantee that you'll get the car you're looking for, but it'll improve your chances.

Choosing your rental car requires a combination of planning and remaining flexible when it's time to pick up your car. If you keep that in mind, you should have a smooth experience before hitting the road.

Learn more travel tips by following the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Avis. (May 26, 2010) http://www.avis.com/car-rental/avisHome/home.ac
  • Car Rental Express. "Car Rental Tips." (May 24, 2010) http://www.carrentalexpress.com/tips/
  • Edmunds. "Top 10 Car Rental Tips." (May 25, 2010) http://www.edmunds.com/reviews/list/top10/116640/article.html
  • Hertz. (May 26, 2010) https://www.hertz.com/rentacar/reservation/gaq/index.jsp?targetPage=reservationOnHomepage.jsp
  • Independent Traveler. "Car Rental Tips." (May 25, 2010) http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=25&category=2
  • Schlichter, Sarah. "International Car Rental Tips." Independent Traveler. (May 24, 2010) http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=665&category=2