Ready to get out on that open road and explore the country? Road trips are one the best ways to see different parts of the U.S., whether it’s city life you’re after or a quiet escape to the wilderness. If you’re looking to rent a car for a road trip, there are some things to keep in mind. Heck, car rental can be complicated and expensive. But if you have the tools to navigate the system and know what to expect, there are ways to avoid the headaches.
So whether you’re traveling with a big group, on a budget, or looking for a specific vehicle, we’re here to steer you in the right direction. Here’s everything you should know about renting a car for a road trip.
Book in advance
If you’ve got the time, it’s a great idea to book your car in advance. Start looking ahead three months before renting a car for a road trip, or you could shell out a hefty load of cash. This is super important right now, as rental companies made a lot of changes during the pandemic. Demand dropped significantly and companies downsized their vehicle fleets to compensate.
But now that demand is skyrocketing, many companies don’t have the capacity to keep up. So it’s common to find prices three or four times higher than you would normally expect. Book in advance and you’ll have access to better prices and a better variety of vehicles.
Buy insurance in advance
Even if you’re the safest driver in the world, you need to cover yourself and the vehicle to avoid potential costs. Thus, you definitely need to purchase rental insurance when you rent a car for a long distance trip. You may have another form of rental insurance through your credit card, but if that’s not the case, snag the insurance ahead of time when you book so you know exactly how much you’ll be paying. Rental insurance can be pricey, and nobody likes an expensive surprise.
Look for discounts
Renting a car for a road trip can be expensive, so keep your eyes open for discounts. 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.
Rent far away from the airport
If you’re flying into a city and renting a car for your road trip, check a few rental car spots before booking. A rental car can be more expensive if you’re picking it up right at the airport. If you’ve found a company you love, see if they have another office outside the airport and check those prices.
Rent the right car
When you’re deciding what type of car to rent, consider the vehicle you’ll need for the destination and the stops along the way. Heading to the mountains or driving through snow? You’ll definitely want to book a car with 4-wheel drive. Stopping in a few big cities? You may want to get a smaller vehicle that’s easy to park on a crowded street.
Rent for the group needs
Consider what everyone in your group needs when renting a car to drive cross country. If you’re traveling with a big crew, you want to make sure everyone can sit comfortably for a long period of time. Booking multiple vehicles is an option, or it could be way more fun to have everyone together in a big van and switch off drivers. If that’s your path, check those additional driver fees so you know exactly how much you’ll get charged.
Rent a fuel-efficient vehicle
Gasoline costs can add up fast when you rent a vehicle for a road trip. Check and see if the rental company has fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids, electric cars, or smaller models that consume less gas and stretch those fuel dollars.
Watch out for mileage fees
You may think you can simply rent your car and drive for miles. But when you rent a vehicle for a road trip, you’ll probably be charged those extra mileage fees. Some rental cars have unlimited mileage, but others will have a cap at how many miles you can drive per day. If you’re going to put a lot of miles on a car, be ready to pay extra.
Look out for drop fees
Say you’re taking a cross country road trip. You’re renting a car in LA, dropping it in Chicago, and flying back home to California. Though this may sound like an ideal plan, many rental car companies charge what’s called a drop fee. This is essentially a fee for picking up the car in one location and dropping it in another. The drop fee can jack up the price of your road trip fast, so make sure you ask in advance before booking.
Look out for tolls
When you’re taking a big road trip, it’s perfectly normal to pay a few tolls along the way. You may be tempted to use the rental company’s electronic toll pass—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. Instead, pay tolls in cash or avoid them altogether.
Try car sharing
If all that sounds a little too complicated, check out a car sharing option before renting a car for a road trip. When you borrow a car with Avail, there are no surprise fees at the end — just an honest, affordable price upfront.
First off, Avail protects your trip with insurance coverage from Allstate and includes 24/7 roadside assistance. And there are no additional driver fees to worry about either. Avail also has tons of options from all of our local participants, with standard vehicles, vans, mid-sized and large SUVs owned by real people. We can hook you up with exactly what you need for your road trip. We also didn’t sell off our fleet in the pandemic; our supply of cars belongs to our car-sharers, which means you’ll get a much better price. In other words, borrow a car with Avail and get exactly what you need without all the complications.