A Change of Rental Car Strategy.
I hate to rent cars when I travel. I’m constantly worried that something will go wrong with the car or, much worse, I’ll be involved in an accident, which means a hassle and probably a big delay. And there are more and more stories of people being dunned by rental car companies for dents or scratches on cars returned in perfect condition.
I’ve rented a car several times in Europe and only once had a problem. We had rented the car in Saumur, France for a few days, but found no one there when we brought it back to the office. As I had been instructed, we parked the car in one of the company’s stalls and left the keys with a man at the gas station next door. When I got the bill, I found I’d been charged for two additional days. We got the bogus charge removed, but only because I was able to produce a hotel bill from another town hundreds of miles away for the very same days they said I was still driving their car.
By the way, if you rent a car in Europe, be aware that automatic transmissions are virtually nonexistent, so you’d better be able to handle a stick shift. That’s especially fun if you’re driving a rental car in the U.K. because you’ll be sitting on the right side of the front seat, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, while working the stick shift with your left hand. And lotsa luck with that!
Whenever I’ve rented a car, I’ve always declined the very expensive damage insurance they try so hard to sell us. After all, my personal auto insurance policy covers me when I’m driving a rental car in the U.S. and my credit card company does the same if I’m out of the country, assuming I’ve used their card to pay for the car rental.
But I’ve now decided that’s a mistake … it’s probably better to buy the over-priced damage insurance coverage. If you do have a problem—a dented fender or a scratch on the bumper, even one you don’t know anything about—there will be no question about who pays if you bought their insurance. Furthermore, there’s undoubtedly a deductible of $500 or $1000 on your personal auto policy, so you would still have to pay out-of-pocket for that mystery dent up to that amount.
Some of the second tier companies—Thrifty or Alamo or Enterprise, for example—may rent a car for a few dollars less, but there often seem to be hassles when the vehicle is returned or even later, when mysterious additional charges appear on your credit card statement.
Even though they’re probably a few dollars more, I really suggest sticking with one of the two or three industry leaders when you rent a car in this country. I’ve been an “Avis Preferred” member for years and have never had a problem.