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How to Save Money on a Rental Car

Posted By timparker On 03/28/2012 @ 2:10 pm In Cars | 21 Comments

Sometimes we’re just plain clueless when it comes to certain expenses. We don’t purchase air conditioners, automobiles, or furniture enough to consider ourselves expert consumers in those areas and often, that causes us to feel at the mercy of the salespeople. For many, travel expenses fall under that category. Most Americans don’t travel regularly so expenses like rental cars could make you feel like you wouldn’t know the difference between a good and bad deal.

As the husband of a former Enterprise employee, I’m in a unique position to know the real story behind rental car sales so let’s take a look at some of the facts that the rental car sales staff won’t be quick to tell you.

The Base Price

The base price of the car isn’t where the company makes the big money. The rate you received is dictated by the amount of inventory the store has, the day of the week, whether it’s a holiday weekend, and other factors. Although the rate can be reduced by certain discounts, shopping around for rates before you arrive instead of trying to haggle with the company is often the best way to score the best rate.

Their Motivation

Once you arrive at the counter, the hard sell begins. Much like shopping for a new car, the sales personnel are highly incentivized to sell the extras. The employees’ performance is tracked and formal sales numbers not only serve as a way to move up in the company but if they’re using their current position as a stepping stone to another, higher paying sales job, they have personal incentive to get you to say yes. Expect the hard sell and know the answers before you arrive.

Where To Save

  • Prepaid Fuel: It can be a good deal but it is sold by the gallon or even less. You know that you’re going to get charged if the car isn’t full when you return it so you’re probably going to fill the car beyond the amount of fuel you purchased. It’s only worth the cost if you can avoid paying for it twice and that’s hard to do.
  • GPS: Do you have an IPhone, Android, or other smart phone? How about bringing your own GPS with you? $13 per day is a lot of money for something that is probably already installed on your phone.
  • Satellite Radio: $5 per day doesn’t seem like much but with apps like Pandora, your phone could serve your entertainment needs. If you love your satellite radio, it might be money well spent for a few days.
  • Car Seat: Of course you need a car seat but maybe the hassle of bringing it with you will negate the cost. If you have to check the car seat and pay the fee, renting one may be cheaper but for extended trips, these small extras can add up quickly.
  • Insurance: Insurance is what the person on the other side of the counter really wants to get you to purchase. The truth is that your auto insurance probably covers you if you wreck the car and your credit card may fill in any gaps that aren’t covered.  Some people think that $20 to $30 per day on short term rentals is worth the cost to keep their auto insurance from having to handle the claim but it may double the cost of the rental. In most cases the extra cost is unnecessary but know that the salesperson will try hard to sell you on it.

Bottom Line

The salespeople at car rental companies often work long hours for not enough money. They rely on bonuses from the sales of these products to supplement their income so when they put the hard sell on you, nicely and patiently turn them down or from time to time, throw them the gift of saying yes to one of the extra products. My wife and I do that because we know that cleaning cars in the 90 degree heat wearing a suit for 8-12 hours a day is tough. From a purely financial sense, rent the car and say no to the extras.

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