There’s something magical about taking a road trip with friends or family. Hitting the highway and heading for a destination hundreds of miles away can spark a sense of adventure. But sometimes, your car might not be the best choice for a thousand-mile trek.
In these situations, consider leaving your car parked to save it from excess wear and tear and opting to rent a car instead. You should also consider the pros and cons of car sharing vs. car rental for a road trip, as car sharing through a company like Avail can often be more convenient and cost-effective. Whether you want to borrow a car from a local driver or rent a newer vehicle for the journey, let’s talk about what you should know before you hit the road.
Considerations before renting a car for a road trip
Before you head out on your road trip, you’ll want to become familiar with car rental requirements. From mileage limits to age restrictions, following the rules will help reduce the risk of unexpected fees and make your journey much more enjoyable.
1. Check age restrictions
Most car rental and car sharing companies have some form of age restrictions regarding who can legally rent and drive a vehicle. Most companies won’t rent a car to anyone younger than 21. In many cases, drivers who are younger than 25 may have to pay an additional daily surcharge. This added fee exists because younger drivers are statistically more likely to get into an accident.
For older drivers, there’s usually nothing to worry about until you turn 70. After this, the car rental company may restrict you from renting.
Ultimately, age restrictions in each country are all over the map (pun intended). If you’re a young driver, research rules and fees before you attempt to book a car. Avail car sharing requirements, for example, allow drivers ages 21 and older, and there is no surcharge for those under 25 years old. You can even add a second driver without paying extra.
2. Pick the right size vehicle
There’s nothing worse than renting a car for a road trip and discovering that you’ve picked the wrong-sized vehicle. Depending on the length of your trip and the size of your party, you may need to choose a larger car than you usually drive. Just be sure not to rent something too big that you’re not comfortable driving.
In addition to size considerations, you should think about your journey. The best car to rent in Colorado for a mountain trip might require all-wheel drive (AWD), while a coastal adventure may be more enjoyable if the vehicle is a convertible or has a sunroof.
3. Rent away from the airport
While you may need a car when you arrive at the airport, you should try to avoid renting a vehicle at the airport counter. Why? Because it’s more expensive.
Airports often charge fees to rental car companies that operate on the premises. The rental companies in turn pass those fees along to the customer. You’ll end up paying an estimated 26% more to rent your car at the airport than at non-airport locations. So if there is a rental company you love, check if they have an off-site location and compare those prices with the airport branch.
In some cases, you may not even need to rent a car right away. If you’re visiting a city with a robust public transit system, like Chicago or Denver, you could get away with taking transit from the airport to your hotel and then finding other ways to get around, or renting a car closer to your hotel on the days you need one.
4. Start and end your trip in the same location
Rental companies often charge one-way rental fees to deter customers from picking up the car in one location and returning it at another. With car sharing, since vehicles are owned by local residents, you’re required to start and end your trip in the same location. These are important factors to keep in mind when you’re planning whether to go with a traditional rental car or try car sharing. But if you plan to start and end your trip in the same location, then it’s not a concern.
5. Know your insurance coverage
Many car rental companies charge significant fees for insurance to cover your trip. But you can avoid shelling out too much for coverage if you know what questions to ask. Understand what your personal insurance policy covers, if you have one, and be mindful of any extra coverage you may want to include or add when booking your vehicle.
When you use Avail to borrow a vehicle, Allstate insurance coverage is offered for each trip. It acts in excess of your existing coverage, and fees may apply. If you’re able to provide valid proof of insurance for your personal policy at checkout, then Avail may waive the insurance fee. But don’t stress if you don’t have other insurance or if your personal policy will not cover you on your Avail trip! Allstate’s insurance will provide coverage in that case.
For questions about whether your personal auto policy or credit card policy may apply, please contact your insurance provider or a licensed insurance agent.
6. Know the mileage restrictions
Car sharing and rental car companies sometimes put mileage restrictions on vehicles, and a borrower or renter needs to know exactly what those limits are. Renting a car with a mileage cap can save you money, but any additional miles driven over that daily or trip limit will incur fees.
Avail’s daily limit is 200 miles. That means a three-day trip allows you to drive up to 600 miles before you start being charged an extra $0.50 per mile. We calculate the mileage by looking at the car’s odometer before and after your trip.
If you borrow or rent a car with a mileage limit, be aware of how much you’re driving and do your best not to exceed that limit. But if you know you’ll go over, then budget for the additional mileage.
7. Look out for tolls
When you’re taking a big road trip, paying a few tolls along the way is perfectly normal. You may be tempted to pay rental car tolls with the company’s electronic toll pass — it seems like an easy option, right? Think again. You could end up paying a whole lot more with the rental company’s toll program than you should. They’ll not only charge you for the toll, but they can tack on an additional fee for the convenience of using their equipment. Instead, pay tolls in cash or take the scenic route to avoid them altogether.
8. Consider your budget
Whether you’re using a car sharing company or renting a vehicle from a traditional agency, you’ll want to set an appropriate budget for your trip. That means researching average rental costs for the location you’re renting from and comparing pricing and discounts from several vendors at once.
Don’t underestimate how much you’ll pay in additional fees for things like car rental insurance or taxes, and make sure you pick a vehicle whose fuel expenses won’t eat up too much of your trip budget.
9. Try a different vehicle
Have you ever dreamt of taking a convertible along the coast but don’t want to invest in one since you live where it snows? Trying a different vehicle for your upcoming road trip is the best of both worlds! Consider this an extended test drive to determine if a new car is in your future. Some rental and car sharing companies even allow you to rent a specific car for your trip.
10. Book in advance
If you’ve got the time, booking your car in advance is a great idea. The best time to book a rental car is one to two months before your road trip, or you could shell out a hefty load of cash. This is super important, as rental companies have made many changes during the pandemic. Demand dropped significantly, and companies downsized their vehicle fleets to compensate.
But now that demand is skyrocketing, many companies can’t keep up. So it’s common to find prices three or four times higher than expected. Book in advance, and you’ll have access to better rates and a better variety of vehicles.
11. Look for discounts
Renting a car for a road trip can be expensive, so keep your eyes open for discounts or promotions. You may be able to find rental deals with AAA or grocery memberships like Costco or Sam’s. Your credit card may offer discounts as well. You can even check with your employer; they often have company discounts that could save you a few dollars.
Finally, check your credit card’s rewards program to see if there is a partnership or promotion with a rental agency or if your card offers perks like insurance coverage or a free upgrade. Some companies offer discounted rates for long-term customer loyalty.
12. Consider long-term car rentals
Planning on hitting the road for longer than a week or two? Instead of putting thousands of miles on your vehicle, consider a long-term car rental instead. Renting for an extended period of time can be more cost-effective than short-term rentals. How much you’ll pay will vary based on factors like your age, the time of year, the type of vehicle you rent and the mileage you plan on accruing. Understanding long-term car rentals and what you’ll be responsible for, such as insurance, can help reduce stress and keep your road trip itinerary running smoothly.
Renting a car for a road trip
Renting a car for a road trip is a fantastic option for those who want to adventure on the open road but don’t own a vehicle. It’s also an excellent way to avoid putting mileage on your personal vehicle.
If you haven’t tried car sharing for a short road trip or long-term rental, you might be surprised at how easy it is to use. Avail has self-service locations in neighborhoods around Denver and Chicago. That means you just grab the keys at the lot, hop in your vehicle, load your destination into one of the best GPS apps and hit the open road — all without waiting in a single line.
Frequently asked questions about renting a car for a road trip
What are the benefits of renting a car for a road trip?
Renting a car for a road trip offers plenty of benefits. For one, it helps save mileage on your personal vehicle. This can reduce maintenance costs down the road (pun intended). You can also use a car that offers more space than what you currently drive, like swapping out a sedan for an SUV. This is even more important if you’re traveling with family or friends, who may need some extra legroom. It also allows you to travel to your destination at your own pace instead of on a time schedule dictated by trains, planes or public transportation.
How do I choose the right car for a road trip?
Picking the right car for your road trip isn’t an exact science, but there are several things you might want to consider as you shop. First and foremost, you’ll need a vehicle that can fit you and your luggage comfortably and suits your budget. Next, think about fuel economy. Fuel-efficient cars can help save money on your trip and reduce downtime by limiting the number of pit stops you need to make.
Pay close attention to comfort features, like adjustable seats and climate control, as they can make the difference between an unpleasant drive and comfortable one. Don’t neglect safety features, either. No one ever wants to think about car accidents, but having some special safety features can reduce the risk of serious injury. Finally, think about potential road conditions. An all-wheel-drive (AWD) system might be required if your route takes you on rough terrain.
What should I consider when renting a car for a cross-country road trip?
Most of what you should consider when choosing a car for a typical road trip also applies to a cross-country road trip. Fuel economy, comfort and safety are all important, but you should also think about choosing a rental company that makes pick-up and drop-off convenient. Avail car sharing has plenty of locations in neighborhoods throughout Chicago and Denver that are self-service, so you never wait in line.
In addition, make sure you know important details of your insurance policy and any coverage the rental car company offers. That includes roadside assistance services. You never know when you’ll need it, and trusting the rental company or their roadside service provider can help minimize stress on your journey.
Are there any tips for renting a car for a long road trip?
If you plan on renting a vehicle for a long road trip, do plenty of research to compare rates and try to book early. Booking in advance can save you money and help you make a better-informed choice. You should also be on the lookout for any rental upcharges, including to add a second driver or modify your trip.
One last thing: Ensure you carefully inspect the vehicle before the outset of your journey and report any pre-existing damage you see to avoid fees or fines when you return it.