By Automan

So you're renting a car? It's no big deal, unless something goes wrong. Here's a checklist based on our own experiences and on the rental cars we've seen in our shop lately.

  1. Have all your IDs with you. This includes drivers license and the credit card you used to make the reservation. Check cards are dead on arrival. You say you're well-to-do and don't carry a major credit card with you? BIG MISTAKE. You will not be rented a vehicle if you do not have one. Too bad if you are a millionaire, ALL of the rental companies are very strict on this.
  2. Read your automobile insurance policy before you rent, paying special attention to any sections pertaining to rental vehicles. Bring your insurance card in case you're asked to prove you have insurance.
  3. Read your credit card documentation. Most cards provide some kind of insurance on rental cars when charged to their card. Check limits and exclusions. If in doubt pay for the additional insurance. I know of one driver who owes $10,000 for a wrecked rental auto when on vacation in Alaska, with no valid insurance coverage.
  4. Make sure you're old enough. Just married at age 21 ... on your honeymoon? Sorry, most companies will not rent to drivers under age 25 without prior approval from the mother ship or verifying your driving record history. Visit DMV for a copy. Ask questions in advance so you're not stranded at the airport.
  5. Read the fine print about tracking devices (location and speeding), out of state driving fees, mileage limits, fuel return policy. Paying for a full tank in advance saves time and aggravation so you can return it empty. Also if the tank is half full when you first get the vehicle make a note of it. Ask now or pay later.
  6. Before you put those keys in the door make sure they work the trunk -- and gas cap, if it has one.
  7. Eyeball the tires for low pressure and tread wear. If you're unsure check them with a gauge. Check the sidewall for the psi. If wear bars are showing or tread is missing anywhere on the tire or there are any bulges or what you would consider abnormal indicators do not take the auto.
  8. Make sure there is a jack and a spare with lug wrench.
  9. Ask for any phone numbers to call should the car get stuck or break down. Write them down on the back of the rental envelope if they are already not on there.
  10. If you have to have any repairs while underway keep all documentation, repair orders, towing bills, etc. and maybe a picture or two. In general, you should call before having any work done. The company may prefer to bring you a replacement car.
  11. Check the windshield for bug guts, mud or crud. In fact if the car looks like a demo from a movie set in the Amazon (I have seen a lot of these lately), check under the seats for critters, refuse the vehicle and ask to speak with the manager. Nothing worse than a filthy or bad-smelling driving experience.
  12. Check the brakes. Remember, you're not used to this car. You should know how hard you have to press on the pedal to gauge your stopping distance. If the pedal is soft, goes to the floor, creeps under steady pressure, or if the brakes make grinding noises upon application, get another vehicle.
  13. Adjust all your mirrors. If any mirrors are missing do not take the auto.
  14. Do one last walkaround to note any damage before you take the vehicle. Drive back to the ticket window and make sure they make a note of any problems, dents, cracked lenses, missing hubcaps etc. Turn on your headlamps and indicator lamps. Note now or get charged later.
  15. Maps are worth their weight in gold. Some rental companies have local maps that may show more detail than the ones you have with you, or may show current (never-ending) construction detours. (Hello, NY)
  16. Drive with care. It's not your car! You don't want to spend your vacation or travel time picking up the pieces from I-95.

Good luck. Safe Trip.

Automan operates an independent auto repair shop in North Carolina.