If you only rent a car once or twice a year while on vacation, it can be difficult to find the lowest car rental rate and to dodge all of the extra fees.
But Clark rents cars about 30 times a year, so he’s seen just about everything!
Protect yourself from surprise car rental charges
Clark says he uses a secret weapon every time he rents a car to ensure that he doesn’t get a big fat bill in the mail for alleged damage to the vehicle.
What’s that secret weapon? His smartphone.
“When I first get to the car, I do a complete walk around and even if there’s a little tiny scratch on the car, I take a picture,” Clark said. “And when I return the car, I take tons of photos of every fender, every door – the front, the back, the tires.”
That type of photographic evidence came in handy for Clinton Burke and Samuel Holloway after the couple got a $650 bill from Budget for damage they say they didn’t cause.
When the Atlanta-area couple asked Budget for a picture of the damage, it matched one of the pictures they took when they inspected the car before driving off.
Budget dropped the claim the same day that Team Clark contacted them.
Bottom line: You need to take pictures of your rental car at pick-up and drop-off so there are no questions later if the company tries to charge you.
How to get the lowest car rental rate
Renting a car can really take up a big chunk of your vacation budget! So here are a few of the strategies Clark personally uses to get the lowest rate every time:
1. Search rates using a travel site (Clark likes Expedia) to display the lowest prices from multiple car rental agencies.
2. If you’re buying a plane ticket, book your car at the same time.
3. Airport locations charge more! It may be significantly cheaper to take a cab or Uber/Lyft from the airport to a downtown car rental location.
4. Make sure your car rental is refundable. Set a reminder to re-shop for a lower rate one week before your trip.
5. Check reviews online! Clark avoids third-tier rental companies due to consumer complaints.
6. Some car rental companies will give you a lower rate if you don’t specify car size. Take them up on this offer if you aren’t traveling with a lot of people!
7. Subcompact cars may not be the lowest rate. Go with the cheapest option.
8. If the rates seem high, adjust the pick-up and drop-off times by a couple of hours to see if it makes a difference. Being flexible can save you money!
9. Don’t prepay for gas. Fill up the tank yourself before returning the car.
10. Know whether you can decline add-on insurance. Your auto insurer can tell you if you’re covered for a rental, and your credit card may also provide protection.
Read more: Do I need car rental insurance?