Renting a Car? Learn to “Drive Happy” With a Little Research

Oct 2, 2023

With travel approaching pre-pandemic levels and international travel as popular as ever, now is a good time to look at some helpful hints for renting cars.

Car Rental Traps

#1 – Domestic to International Travel

I recently rented a car from Indianapolis, drove to Montreal, and then dropped it off in Boston. One rental car company, which had many rental locations locally, would only let me pick up the car from the Indianapolis Airport location to allow me to drive out of the country. So whether you are driving to Montreal or Tijuana, make sure your rental location allows for international travel.

#2 – Airport Pickups

Picking up a car from an airport location can cost more, particularly if you are dropping off the car at a different location from where you picked it up. Twice in the past year, I’ve encountered higher fees if I rented from the airport. First in San Francisco and recently here in Indianapolis. I avoided a few hundred dollars in charges by renting a car in downtown San Francisco rather than picking it up at the airport. My one-way rental from Indy to Boston would have cost another $500 (for five days) if I had done an airport-to-airport rental. Instead, I picked up a car from a neighborhood location from a different rental company that allowed international travel. I dropped the car off at a downtown Boston location (conveniently located next to Legal Seafoods) and took a short Uber ride to the airport.

#3 – Rental Car Insurance

Have you ever gotten a strange look from the rental car employee when you turn down their insurance? You get the impression that you are making a horrible decision. I haven’t seen the breakdown of profits from rental car companies, but I would bet they make a nice profit on the insurance they push.

Before going to the rental car counter, you should know whether you need insurance, and then you won’t feel compelled to buy the insurance on the spot. Often, your car insurance has rental car insurance already in the policy, or they can quickly add it to your coverage with a phone call. You can leave the coverage alone or remove the rental car rider from the policy when you no longer need it.

The rental car insurance cost through your auto policy should be more economical. If you are traveling internationally, double-check to make sure your auto policy covers foreign travel as well.

I recently rented a moving truck and confirmed that my auto insurance covered this vehicle, with one exception. I am still on the hook for lost rental income if the truck is taken out of service for repairs. If you are worried about this, check and see if the rental company’s insurance covers lost rental income. In my case, lost rental income wasn’t covered by any insurance offered by the rental company.

#4 – Renting an Electric Vehicle (EV)

As with gas-powered vehicles and fuel levels, rental companies may require EVs to be charged to a certain level when returning the car. Research ahead of time the locations of chargers and the time it will take to charge and plan accordingly. The cost of not returning it adequately charged could be significant.

Also, when picking up a rental EV, make sure you know the location of certain controls, such as lights and windshield wipers. It can be dangerous to pull out of a garage during a rainstorm and have no idea how to activate the wipers or manually turn on the lights.


Understanding the nuances of renting cars can make traveling easier and more affordable. Do yourself a favor by taking a cue from the rental car companies Avis and Alamo the next time you rent:

“Try Harder” by doing a little bit of homework in advance, and “Drive Happy” by knowing that you are avoiding the traps into which many fall.

Bon Voyage!

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