The Lowdown on Car Rentals

Advance bookings, local agencies, shopping the web-money-saving secrets you need to know before you rent

8. Always return the car with a (mostly) full tank

You don't have to fill up right outside the airport. As long as the needle says "F," nobody can say the tank isn't full. Returning your rental car (almost) full is still the most economical option. If the gauge is not on "F" when you return the car, you'll pay a fortune in refueling charges. If you pay in advance for a full tank, you'll come out ahead only if you bring the car back empty (not something you want to chance).

9. Check your automobile and health insurance policies to avoid hefty daily insurance charges

The rental companies will try to sell you additional types of insurance, ranging from liability (sometimes called liability insurance supplement) to accident (a.k.a. personal accident insurance) to policies covering personal belongings. If you already have an auto insurance policy, decline them all. Each charge is several dollars a day, and they add up fast. If you have automobile insurance, you're probably covered for rental cars; if you have health insurance, you're covered for personal injuries regardless of how you end up in the hospital. And if you have homeowner's insurance, you may be covered if somebody steals your swimsuit from your trunk. Even if you don't have homeowner's insurance, personal effects coverage is a waste of money unless you're transporting the crown jewels in your Ford Escort.

10. Check your credit card coverage to avoid CDW charges

Then there's that painful charge for a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver, both of them lures the rental companies use to get you to pay the collision portion of the insurance on their vehicles. Unless you sign the CDW agreement, sometimes adding more than $10 a day to the price of your rental, you're responsible for damage to the car in an accident. Many states (but not all) have outlawed this liability by requiring the car companies to pay for collision insurance, so you don't have to worry. But even if you rent in a state that allows CDW charges, you can decline the hefty fee by paying for your rental with a credit card that covers you in case of collision. American Express provides this service to holders of its Gold, Platinum, and Blue Cards, as well as standard green cards, but not every Visa or MasterCard does. MBNA America is one bank that does; check with your credit card's issuing bank to see if yours does too.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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