How to Rent a Car in USA

How to Rent a Car in USA

Ultimate Guide to Renting a Car in the USA

WRITTEN BYBryan Jacinto
PUBLISHED ONDecember 10, 2023
Road Trip through Yosemite National Park
Source: Photo by Daniel Cabanas on Unsplash

Are you dreaming of majestic coasts, vast plains, and teeming cities, all waiting to be explored? Or perhaps you're setting out on a business trip or visiting family stateside? Either way, the thought of navigating America's vast terrain might seem daunting. But, do you know what's the game changer here? That's right; renting a car.

You get to steer your journey, quite literally, in your own hands. But where do you even begin with such a process? How do you choose a suitable vehicle that fits your budget and needs? Wonder no longer. With this guide, you'll have all you need to know about renting a car in the USA.

Age Requirements

Driver's View Inside Luxury Car Interior
Source: Photo by Nicolai Berntsen on Unsplash

The minimum to age rent a car in the USA is typically 21.

But, it ain't that simple. While you may be able to rent a car at age 21, there could be additional fees or restrictions if you’re considered a ‘young driver’. As a rule of thumb:

  • Rental companies often treat drivers under the age of 25 as 'young drivers'
  • These young drivers may be subject to additional rental charges called 'Young Driver Surcharge'
  • They may also be restricted from renting certain types of vehicles

Now, you're probably asking yourself: what about older drivers? Good question! Here's everything you need to know:

  • As no upper age limit exists, anyone regardless of their age can rent a car in the USA, provided they hold a valid license.
  • Older drivers are usually not subject to any special restrictions or additional fees.

Always get in touch with your chosen rental agency to clarify age-related requirements before your journey. Make your trip as smooth as possible by understanding these conditions beforehand. When it comes to getting on the road, knowledge is power!

How the Rental Process Works

American Muscle Cars in Garage with Flag
Source: Photo by Obi - @pixel8propix on Unsplash

So, planning to hit the open road in the USA and wondering how the car rental process works?

Let’s break it down step-by-step for you!

Booking Your Rental Car

First things first, you'll want to book your car.

  • Online: Most rental companies have a seamless online booking system. You can compare prices, vehicle types, and availability from the comfort of your own home.
  • In-person: You can also head down to the rental location of your choice and book there. This may be a good option if you have specific questions or requirements.

Booking in advance typically secures better rates and ensures your preferred vehicle type is available.

Picking Up Your Rental Car

Once your booking is confirmed, it's time to pick up your ride.

At the pickup point, provide them with your reservation confirmation, a valid driver's license, and a credit card for the security deposit.

Inspecting the Rental Car

Before you hit the road, take some time to inspect the vehicle thoroughly.

  • Exterior: Check for any scratches, dents, or damages.
  • Interior: Make sure everything inside the car, from the radio to the air conditioning, is working properly.

Report any observed damages prior to leaving the lot to avoid being held accountable for them upon return.

Returning Your Rental Car

Once your journey is complete, it's time to return the car. Be sure to:

  • Top up the fuel tank, unless you've chosen a pre-paid fuel option.
  • Return it to the specified location by the agreed-upon time to avoid late charges.

See, it’s quite a straightforward process isn't it? Now, you're all set to rent a car and explore the amazing landscapes of the USA.

Financials: How Much Does It Cost?

Just like planning any trip, understanding your potential expenses when renting a car is crucial. It's not as simple as quoting a single figure for all. The cost to rent a car in the USA can be influenced by various factors, and it's important you're familiar with them to help plan your budget accordingly.

Average Daily Rates

According to industry statistics, average daily car rental rates fluctuate between $45 and $80 depending on the type of vehicle and the rental company. However, keep in mind these numbers are averages – actual rates can be lower or higher. The best way to ensure you're getting a good deal is to compare prices from different agencies.

Type of CarAverage Daily Rate
Economy$45 - $55
Compact$50 - $60
Standard/Intermediate$60 - $70
Full Size$65 - $75
Luxury$70 - $80+

Factors Affecting The Price

As with most things in life, the cost isn't always set in stone. There are several elements that can alter the price of your car rental:

  • Location: Renting a car at the airport is often more expensive than city locations due to additional fees.
  • Season: Prices can skyrocket during peak tourist season.
  • Length of Rental: Longer rental periods typically equate to lower daily rates.
  • Car Size: Larger, luxury cars tend to cost more than economy or compact versions.
  • Insurance: While optional, rental car insurance can further inflate the final price.

Insurance Considerations

Whether you're a seasoned traveler or a novice, insurance considerations are a critical aspect when renting a car in the USA. It's an area often overlooked, but handle it right, and it shields you from unpleasant surprises later on.

Should You Pay for Extra Insurance?

Standing at the rental car counter amidst the endless contracts and paperwork, you may ask yourself, "Should I spring for the extra insurance?" Well, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this, as it largely depends on your personal circumstances and risk tolerance.

Rental companies generally offer a few types of additional insurance:

  1. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): This covers the cost of repairs to the rental car if you get into an accident. Sometimes it also covers loss-of-use charges—costs associated to the potential lost revenue for the rental agency while the car is being repaired.

2. Liability Coverage: It provides protection in the event you harm others or damage
else's property while driving the rental vehicle.

3. Personal Accident Insurance: This covers medical costs for you and your passengers
if you're involved in an accident.

4. Personal Effects Coverage: It protects you from theft of personal items from your
rental car.

Pros and Cons of Taking Additional Insurance

CDWEliminates financial responsibility if the car gets damaged.Purchasing CDW can significantly increase rental costs.
Liability CoverageGood option if you don't have a personal auto insurance policy.Unnecessary cost if your personal auto insurance already covers this.
Personal Accident InsuranceUseful if you don’t have health insurance or if your policy has high deductibles.An additional cost that could be covered by your own health insurance.
Personal Effects CoverageGood if you're traveling with valuable items.Could be unnecessary if you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy.

Supplemental Liability Insurance

As a traveler planning to rent a car in the USA, you might come across the term Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI). But what exactly is it, and do you really need it?

Simply put, SLI provides an extra layer of liability protection. In the event of an accident where you're at fault, it will cover the damage done to other people's property or their medical expenses, over and above the basic liability protection that's often included in rental agreements. But the key question here is: do you need to add SLI to your rental policy?

It depends on your current coverage and comfort level with risk, as well as the rental car company's liability insurance policy limit. Let's break this down.

  • Current coverage: If you own a car, your existing car insurance policy may already offer liability protection when you rent a car. It's a good idea to check with your insurance provider before you rent.
  • Comfort level with risk: If you're comfortable taking some risk, you might choose to decline the SLI. But, if the thought of getting into an accident without enough coverage worries you, go ahead and add the SLI for peace of mind.
  • Rental company's liability insurance limit: Keep in mind that the rental company will offer a certain level of liability insurance. However, this can often be lower than what's generally recommended. If this is the case, you may want to consider the extra protection SLI offers.

Best Credit Card to Use

Did you know some credit cards offer insurance benefits just on car rentals? Choosing the right card can not only save you money, but also assure you of extra protection. Here are some top credit cards that provide great advantages:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: The primary rental insurance it offers covers up to the cost of the vehicle in case of theft or collision. No need to use your personal automobile insurance!
  • American Express Cards: With their Premium Car Rental Protection program, any of their cards can give you high-quality coverage for around $20-$25 per rental.
  • Capital One Venture Card: This card provides secondary insurance but has the added advantage of earning travel reward points.

So, which one suits your needs? You make the call.

Always make sure to read the terms and conditions of your credit card's benefits. Some may not cover certain types of vehicles or certain countries. Always verify information directly with your credit card issuer.

Preparing to rent a car in the USA involves understanding the legal requirements before stepping foot into a car rental agency. You may be asking, "What are these requirements?" Let's break it down together.

Driver's License

The very first requirement is a valid driver's license. Ensure it’s up-to-date and legally accepted in the USA. Now, this part may vary depending on where you are from:

  • For US citizens, a state-issued driving license is enough.
  • For non-US citizens, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside your driving license from your home country.

Credit Card

Next in line, you need a valid credit card in your name. Occasionally, rental agencies might accept a debit card, but the terms can get tricky.

International Driver’s Permit

If you're an international visitor to the U.S., you might be wondering about this. The good news is, in most states, your home country's license should cover you. That is, as long as it's valid and as long as it's written in English or accompanied by an English translation.

While an international driver’s permit isn't required by law, it can serve as a useful form of identification. However, remember that an IDP is not a substitute for a driver's license— it's a translation of your existing driver's license in multiple languages.

Touching on the specifics:

  • License in English: If your home country driver's license is in English, you're golden! You can legally drive in all 50 states without needing an additional permit.
  • License not in English: If it's not in English, many states will require you to have an IDP, which essentially translates your license so local law enforcement can understand it.
  • Duration of stay: However, if you intend to stay in the U.S. for more than a year, you may be required to obtain a U.S. driver’s license.

Renting a car without fulfilling these requirements may get you into hot water, and car rental companies may deny renting you a vehicle. So it's better to have all your bases covered!

Picking a Vehicle

So, you're planning to rent a car while visiting the good old USA? That's fantastic news! But wait, what kind of vehicle should you choose, you ask? Well, that largely depends on your travel needs and preferences.

  • Compact or Economy Cars: Compact or economy cars are excellent options if you are travelling alone or with one other person. Not to mention, these vehicles certainly excel when it comes to fuel efficiency, making them a solid choice if you're looking to save some money.
  • Mid-size or Full-size Cars: Are you traveling with a small or medium-sized family, or perhaps a small group of friends? If so, mid-size to full-size cars should be on your radar. These class of vehicles offer decent fuel efficiency and extra space for luggage, without compromising on comfort.
  • Luxury Cars: If comfort, style and high-performance are your top priorities and you don't mind splurging a bit, consider renting a luxury car. These high-end vehicles are equipped with advanced features and technology, providing a lavish and ultra-comfortable travel experience.
  • SUVs and Vans: Traveling with a large group? A sports utility vehicle (SUV) or van is what you need. These vehicles offer ample space for both passengers and luggage. Moreover, if your travel involves off-road adventures, SUVs will take you where smaller cars can't.

Areas Worth Exploring with a Rental Car

If you're thinking about renting a car in the USA, then you're in for an amazing journey. This diverse country lends itself wonderfully to road travel, and with your own set of wheels, you're free to explore at your own pace. So, where should you go with your rental car? Here are some areas that are definitely worth a visit:

The Pacific Coast Highway

Coastal Road Along Mountain Cliffs and Ocean
Source: Photo by Sebastian Staines on Unsplash

There's nothing quite like driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. Stretching for 655.8 miles from California's stunning Dana Point up to Leggett in Mendocino County, this roadway offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean to your left and towering green mountains to your right.

Route 66

The legendary Route 66 is a must-drive. Known as the "Main Street of America", it covers more than 2,400 miles, starting in Chicago, Illinois, and ending in Santa Monica, California. You'll get a chance to witness the country's varied landscapes and charming small towns along the way.

The Florida Keys

This 120-mile long chain of tropical islands off the southern tip of Florida, stretches all the way to Key West, the southernmost point in continental USA. The lush greenery, crystal-clear waters, and unique local culture make this a must-visit destination with your rental car.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

For a slower, more scenic route, drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile road takes you through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in the states of North Carolina and Virginia, offering unrivalled views of the surrounding countryside.

So, where will you go on your next USA road trip? With such an array of stunning vistas and intriguing destinations, the choice is all yours!

Choosing Rental Companies and Insurance Providers

When planning a trip across the United States, one of the most crucial steps is choosing your rental car company and securing the right insurance. After all, you want to hit the open road with peace of mind, right?

Car Rental Companies

When planning a trip through the states, having the ability to get behind the wheel of a rental car can give you the freedom and flexibility you need. But which rental company should you go with?

Some of the big names in the industry include Enterprise, Avis, Hertz, and Alamo. These companies have widespread locations throughout the country and offer various vehicles to choose from. Whether you need a compact car for city driving, or a multi-passenger van for family road trips, you're sure to find exactly what you need.

Car Rental Insurance Providers

When renting a car in the USA, one crucial factor you can't overlook is insurance. Which providers should I consider? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Let's take a quick look at some of the significant car rental insurance providers in the country:

  • Allianz Global Assistance: Known for its 24/7 assistance services and various coverage plans.
  • Bonvoy: Offers comprehensive plans with theft protection and personal accident insurance.
  • Guardian Rental Insurance: Popular for its low deductible policies, protecting you from high out-of-pocket costs.
  • Insure My Rental Car: Provides insurance products that cover damages up to $100,000.
  • AIG Travel Guard: Offers specialized plans for people looking for long-term car rental insurance.

Still feeling overwhelmed with all the choices? Check out our detailed guide to the Best Car Insurance in the USA. This helpful resource will steer you through the nitty-gritty of insurance choices, helping you sail into the best decision for your road trip!

Pick-up and Drop-off Locations

Picking an optimal pick-up and drop-off location can be a game-changer that can make your journey smoother, so why not make the right choice?

Pick-up Locations

Here, you've got quite a few options. If you're flying into a new city, picking up a rental car from the airport can be an incredibly convenient choice. But did you know that this might end up costing more because of airport surcharges? Yup, that's right.

Drop-off Locations

If you're planning to explore only one city or state, returning the car to the same location where you've picked it up can typically be your cheapest bet. But what if you want to go on a cross-country road trip, exploring multiple states and ending up hundreds of miles away from your starting point?

Look for rental companies that offer flexible one-way rentals. They'll allow you to return the vehicle at a different location than where you picked it up. Just be aware that there might be additional fees for this benefit, so make sure to calculate whether it’s worth it or not.

Other Factors

Hours of Operation: Make sure to check the opening hours of your chosen location. You don't want to be stuck waiting hours for the place to open in order to pick-up or drop-off your car, do you?

Busy Locations: Popular busy locations may run out of the type of car you want, be prepared to make a reservation in advance or have alternate plans.

Additional Charges and Extra Costs

Car renting in the USA may come with added costs that were initially unseen. These may turn a cheap deal into an expensive one. To avoid unsuspected extra charges in the future, be alert.

  • Late Fees: If you're late returning the car, you'll most likely have to pay a late fee. Some rental companies charge on an hourly basis for late returns while others charge for an additional day even if you're only an hour or two late.
  • Extra Mileage: Unlimited mileage sounds wonderful, doesn't it? However, it's not always the case. Some rental companies place a limit on the number of miles you can drive per day or per rental period. Once you exceed that limit, you'll need to pay extra for the additional miles.
  • Additional Driver Charges: You're not alone on this trip, are you? If you plan on sharing the driving duties with someone else, watch out. Some rental companies charge an additional driver fee, usually per day, even if the additional driver is your spouse or domestic partner.
  • Fuel Charges: You'll need to return the car with the same level of fuel it had when you picked it up. If not, you could face hefty refueling fees, which can often be higher than the cost of fuel at local gas stations.

Money-Saving Tips

If you're traveling across the USA, renting a car can be costly. But with some tips and insider knowledge, you can save on car rentals.

  • Book in advance: Just like with air tickets and hotels, car rental fees increase as you get closer to your travel date. Therefore, book as far in advance as you can to secure the best possible rates.
  • Compare prices: Don't just rely on one car rental company. Do your research and compare prices across different car rental websites. Websites like Kayak and Expedia aggregate prices from different companies, making your search easier.
  • Avoid airport rentals: While it may seem convenient, renting from the airport usually comes with higher rates. Consider renting from a downtown location instead.
  • Stick to one driver: Additional drivers usually come with extra fees. So, try to stick to one driver for the entire trip to save some money.
  • Choose economy cars: To save on rent and fuel costs, consider renting an economy car. These vehicles typically have the best gas mileage, and they often cost less to rent.

The next time you're planning a trip to the USA and considering renting a car, keep these tips in mind. They could save you a bundle!

Gas Policy: Return it As You Got It

Rental agencies in the USA commonly run under a "full to full" policy. This means that they fill up the gas tank before your rental period starts, and expect you to return the car with a full tank at the end of your rental period.

  • Additional Charges: If the rental car is returned with less fuel than it had at pickup, the agency will often charge you their price to refuel the car. This amount is typically more expensive than if you filled up the car at a local gas station.
  • Empty to Empty Policy: Some rental agencies offer an "empty to empty" policy. With this, you're supposed to return the car with an empty tank. However, it's not easy to gauge exactly when you'll run out of fuel, so be careful not to get stranded!
  • Pre-paid Fuel: Another option that some agencies provide is a pre-paid fuel option. Here, you pay for a full tank of gas at the start of your rental period, and then you don't have to worry about refilling before you return the car. Be aware, though, that there is usually no refund for unused fuel in this case. This option may not be the best choice unless you’re certain you'll be driving long enough to use almost all the fuel.

Keep these points in mind, plan your fuel usage and refills wisely, and the gas policy should not create any unwanted surprises during your car rental experience in the USA.

Understanding the Rental Agreement

Prior to using your rented vehicle, understanding your car rental agreement is essential. While it may seem dull, it can prevent unexpected problems. What should you pay attention to?

  • Rental Period: First and foremost, when are you supposed to return the vehicle? Some rental agreements specify an exact time, not just the date. Ensure you have this etched in memory as late return can attract penalties.
  • Mileage Limit: Most agreements have a daily mileage limit, crossing which can incur additional charges. Does yours?
  • Insurance Coverage: What's included in the rental agreement? Comprehensive, collision, or just third-party? Know the terms—your wallet will thank you in case of an accident.
  • Damage Report: Any existing dents or scratches on the vehicle should be duly noted in the agreement. If not, you could be held responsible for them upon return.
  • Fuel Policy: Are you required to return the car with a full tank? Or do you pay upfront for a full tank and return it empty? This often confuses renters, so make sure it's clarified in your agreement.

Having these key points noted will help ensure that you don't get sideswiped by unexpected charges. It's always better to spend an extra few minutes comprehending your car rental agreement—consider it your roadmap to a smooth rental experience.

Types of Rental Contracts

When you're renting a car in the United States, you'll likely come across several types of rental contracts. Each comes with its specific features and requirements, so understanding what they entail is essential in making your experience smooth and stress-free.

Daily Rental Contract

A Daily Rental Contract is perhaps the most frequently used type. It's perfect if you only need a car for a short period, generally less than a week. Rates are calculated on a per-day basis.

Weekly Rental Contract

Under a Weekly Rental Contract, you're allowed to have the vehicle for a full seven days. This type of contract often comes with a discounted rate compared to the daily option, making it a more cost-effective choice for week-long vacations or business trips.

Monthly Rental Contract

If you plan on staying for a more extended period, consider the Monthly Rental Contract. These contracts allow you to keep the car for 30 continuous days, and they often have the best daily rate.

Corporate Rental Contract

For businesses, the Corporate Rental Contract is an option. These contracts are tailored for companies that require vehicles for their employees. They may include special pricing and other perks.

Closing Thoughts

We hope that this article has provided you with the knowledge and resources you need to navigate the process of renting a car in the USA with confidence. Driving allows you to explore the country at your own pace and make memories that will last a lifetime. From understanding rental policies, to comparing prices from various car rental companies, to realizing the importance of car insurance - you are now equipped for your journey.

Remember: Preparation is key. Take the time to plan and gather all necessary documents in advance to ensure a smooth transition.

If you're ready to go on a US adventure, consider getting your IDP today.


Get your International Driving Permit in 8 minutes

Instant approval

Valid for 1-3 years

Worldwide express shipping

Back to Top