Whether traveling for a business trip or a family vacation, renting a car can be a pain. Standing at the counter, itching to get on the road. And ALL the questions they ask you: do you want to return it with a full tank or do prepaid fuel? Oh, and how about purchase “third-party” insurance (aka liability insurance)? UGH.

But knowing the questions — and answers — beforehand can help save you money and make the whole ordeal … surprisingly painless!


Many rental car companies try to add on extra insurance coverage to your rental. But you may already be covered by your regular insurance. Just note that if it’s a commercial or business rental, your personal car insurance likely won’t cover it. Either way, it’s smart to check in with your insurer before tacking on anything more. Additionally, depending on the company, your credit card may take care of any additional insurance fees — just be sure to use that card to pay for the rental car!


Most rental car companies will ask if you want to return the rental with a full tank or have them fill it up. Although it may be less convenient, money-wise it’s usually better to take care of it yourself. Weigh the pros and cons to see what works best logistically, as well as for your pocketbook. Some companies may offer a pre-set cost per gallon to refill the tank, which could work in your favor. But most charge a per-gallon amount to fill up a tank, which can be much more expensive than hitting a gas station before returning it. 

Also important: know what kind of gas the rental car takes. In the U.S. this isn’t a big deal, but if renting a car overseas, avoid the mistake of putting gas into a diesel car or vice versa!

Daily rate

The daily rate was likely set when you booked the car. Just to cover all bases, verify what’s included in the rate to avoid any extra fees at the end of the trip.

Mileage plan

Most rental car companies offer unlimited mileage as the standard, but some may have policies about daily mileage maximums. If the rental car company asks for a preference, it’s usually best to choose unlimited mileage.

Ask them questions

Although people at the car rental place may be the ones asking the questions, don’t forget to ask a few yourself. Doing so’ll help prevent surprises down the road. A few to remember:

What is the pickup and drop-off policy?

Sometimes, rental car companies designate different locations for pickup and drop-off. Confirm locations in advance, especially if air travel is involved! It’s also worth noting any early or late fees. Changes while traveling can be unavoidable, so just be sure to call if it looks like you won’t make it by the cutoff or need to return the car early.

Who do I call if there’s an accident or car trouble?

When picking up the car, ask what to do in case of an accident or if the car has mechanical trouble. Will the company replace the car? Provide a tow truck? Best to have these questions answered just in case.

What about other fees?

It’s always a good idea to ask ahead of time about extra charges. Things like hidden fees, fuel charges, key replacement, and additional drivers, to name a few. The more transparency the better, with as few added charges as possible.

Once you’ve answered all their questions, and they’ve answered yours, grab those keys and hit the road. And it bears repeating: make sure you’re covered. Happy driving!

Travel hacks | Car insurance 101


about Hannah

Hannah Fairbanks is a freelance writer living in San Francisco with her husband and 2 daughters. When she’s not writing, you might find her reading, packing bento box lunches for her kids, and making sure she gets in at least 10,000 Fitbit steps a day.