How to avoid the most common rental car mistakes

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Please don’t do what Richard Rubin did to his rental car this summer.

When he picked up his mid-size sedan from Enterprise in Granada, Spain, an agent showed him that the gas cap was spring-operated and said the car had been drinking gas. But when Rubin found the vehicle wasn’t big enough to fit three passengers in the back seat, as described on Enterprise’s website, he asked about a minivan.

“The agent tapped the gas cap again to show me how to open it and told me that gasoline was used,” says Rubin, a New York City editor.

Something must have been lost in translation. When he filled the tank with petrol a few days later, the engine sputtered to a standstill. It turned out that the minivan took only diesel. Enterprise towed the van to a nearby mechanic for repairs. Rubin and his group paid 90 euros for a taxi ride to Granada.

The next day, while Enterprise was touring the historic Alhambra palace complex in Granada, Enterprise called Rubin with bad news: he had to pay €1,500 for the repair because misfuelling a car is negligence and is not covered by the company’s damage insurance. The company later reduced its bill to 844 euros, including 100 euros “administrative fee” and 115 euros “loss of use fee”. Rubin says he has no memory of warnings to only use diesel in the vehicle.

Misfuelling is one of the most common mistakes travelers make, especially when traveling abroad. A gas mix-up is absolutely avoidable. Vehicles often have warnings next to the tank saying ‘Diesel Fuel Only’, although they may not be in English, and the fuel nozzles at some petrol stations prevent you from using the wrong petrol. But never take anyone’s word for it.

I asked Enterprise about Rubin’s case. A representative promised to check his bill, but added that his experience was a valuable lesson for other customers.

“Take the time to learn about the vehicle you’re renting,” spokeswoman Lisa Martini told me. “Learn how to operate important functions, e.g. B. where the seat levers are and how to operate the infotainment system.”

And of course what kind of fuel the car needs.

If you misfueled your car, there is a way to reduce your costs. According to Ernesto Suarez, chief executive of UK travel insurance company Halo Insurance Services, you can call a local garage to tow your rental car to the nearest service center. In Europe, draining and cleaning the engine costs about $300 and can take a full day.

“It’s always a good practice to contact the rental company to let them know what you’re planning to do,” Suarez adds.

Of course, incorrect fueling is not the only common mistake made by car rental companies. This includes not photographing your car before and after your rental period, not scheduling an additional driver and not understanding the economics of rental cars.

“Always take photos of all sides of the car and inside the car to document damage before pick-up and after drop-off,” says Michael Stalf, managing director of Myonecar, a German car rental company.

Why take holiday photos of the car? Because your rental car company probably won’t do that. If she finds damage to your vehicle, she will hold you liable. By the way, if you find a dent, dent or scratch on your car when you pick it up, make sure it is documented in your papers. Or better yet, ask for another vehicle.

Some car rental companies have started taking pictures of their vehicles before and after the rental. Andy Abramson, a frequent business traveler, rented several cars in Europe this spring. Some companies have new scanning devices that capture an image of your vehicle before you drive off and when you return.

“Using artificial intelligence, they compare the photos to detect scratches, dents, dents and other damage to the car’s body and windshield,” says Abramson, who runs a communications firm in Los Angeles.

Renters also often forget that car rental companies charge high fees for additional drivers. For example, Hertz charges $13.50 per day for each additional driver, up to a maximum of $189 per rental. Julie Demaret, director of car rental Rhinocarhire, says you need to think about the additional driver before you rent.

“If you want to share the driving, try to find a deal with a free additional driver,” she says. “Booking in advance is always cheaper than booking on arrival.”

And watch out for upsells. For example, insurance can add $20 or more per day to the rental cost. But you can get rental car coverage for about half that from a traditional travel insurance company. Allianz Travel Insurance has a product called Rental Car Damage Protector for $11 a day. Insurance site, operated by Halo Insurance, even sells a policy that covers you for up to $1,200 for misfuelling your car.

Make sure you understand the tricks of the trade too. Car rental companies are very busy in summer. Nicole Gustas, a frequent traveler from Boston, recently couldn’t find a rental car in Los Angeles, so she employed a strategy that became popular last summer: rented a U-Haul truck for two days. Then, via Enterprise, she found an SUV in a remote location outside of the airport.

“We wanted an economical car,” says Gustas, marketing manager for an insurance company. “But beggars can’t be picky.”

And finally, she employed a different strategy to keep her car: the ability to extend her rental until the end of her trip, an option many rental car customers don’t know they have. Enterprise allowed her, which solved her ground transportation problems.

Adhering to the basic rules of car rental etiquette is especially important now, not only because car rental companies have become stricter about charging cleaning fees for soiled vehicles, but also because the continued lack of car rental companies has meant fleets are older than they have been in years.

“Etiquette is about being mindful of other people, which certainly includes being mindful of the person who’s going to rent the car after you,” says Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and co-host of the weekly podcast Who you grew up”. Of wolves?”

Leighton says it’s all about common courtesy. Don’t smoke in your car. Clean up after yourself. “And if something breaks or doesn’t work properly, tell the rental company when you return the vehicle. Don’t let the next renter discover that the USB port has been flooded with root beer and needs fixing,” he says.

But perhaps the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to your rental car is underestimating your budget.

“Be prepared to spend money,” warns Robert Walden, editor-in-chief of, an auto maintenance site. “Due to shrinking fleets, delayed maintenance of vehicles and many other factors, rental cars are expensive today.”

Walden says higher prices aren’t the only thing to worry about. Vehicles will be in short supply, a continuation of last summer’s rental car shortage. That means some of us won’t even have the opportunity to make these common car rental mistakes.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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