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9 Secret Rental Car Hacks You Need to Know [Updated for 2022]

by Jeremy B

The average rental car reservation has increased to around $109 per day. That’s a lot of money to spend on renting a car! Our readers have spoken and they want to know: what are the best rental car hacks travelers need to know (how do we save money renting a car)?

In this article, we provide 9 secret rental car hacks and car rental tips designed to help travelers save money, save time and avoid unnecessary fees, delays or headaches.

Rental Car Hacks – The Car Rental Tips & Tricks you Need to Know to save money, time & hassle

Rental cars are often a key part of any trip (business or pleasure). And, if you are a business traveler, it’s likely you are spending a significant amount of time in a rental car. If you are a leisure traveler, it’s likely that a rental car plays a large role in the success of your trip (ever tried cramming a family of 4 into a small Kia?!?).

In recent years the price of rental cars has skyrocketed. In the wake of a devastating pandemic, rental car companies sold huge swaths of their inventory in a bid to survive. However, as travel started to return they quickly found themselves without enough inventory to satisfy demand. And that meant higher prices for those cars they did have, making your trip that much more expensive. Ouch!

So, whatever your reason for renting a car, it’s likely you want to save money, avoid unnecessary time-wasters and get the nicest car you can with the least amount of hassle.

Image of a car rental sign at an airport

With that in mind, buckle up and settle in. Here are some great 9 Secret Rental Cars Hacks every traveler ought to know (and that the rental car companies don’t want you to know about!).

But first…a funny video about renting a car

Please enjoy this funny video about renting a car…you will thank me.

Rental Car Hack #1: Skip the insurance.

Rental car insurance is pretty much just a scam.

It’s likely your personal car insurance covers the rental or if on corporate travel, your company’s insurance. It’s not needed unless you literally have no other insurance options somewhere else. If that’s the case, you are probably not a business traveler…and more like a 26-year-old kid in college. :-).

It’s also possible that your credit card (yes, your card!) might provide additional coverage for your rental car as well.

So, skip the rental car insurance. You can save some serious money with this rental car hack.

Share this with your friends:

9 secret rental car hacks to know

Rental Car Hack #2: Sign up for reward programs.

If you’ve been following all of our travel tips and advice, you’ve been maximizing the value of your travel by signing up for travel rewards programs. Don’t forget to get on board with a rental car company’s program.

They offer lots of benefits that you can use to your advantage (like scoring free rental days, or upgrading to a luxury car, or skipping the normal rental car lines).

Here are a few of the more popular ones:

Rental Car Tip #3: Pay attention to the bonus programs the rental companies often offer: you could be missing out on some extras

In addition to signing up for your chosen rental car company’s rewards program be sure to keep an eye out for special incentive programs. Often rental car companies will offer incentives (e.g. rent 3 days and get a 4th free). But, if you don’t periodically check their website or sign up for alerts you’d miss them.

Rental Car Trick #4: Never prepay gas – it’s likely a waste of money.

This is another scam you can avoid by employing this rental car hack. Using whatever prepaid gas options they offer you is a likely dumb move.

And it’s stupidly expensive.

Rental car companies charge you for a FULL tank even if you only used up 1/4 tank. And it’s at a much higher rate (like double in some cases for the “labor” of someone pumping the gas for you).

Plan your return with enough time to fill up before you return the car and save the money.

Note: Many companies actually prohibit employees from taking this option – forcing you to fill it up yourself before returning it. And if you are a leisure traveler, just do it yourself…it’s not that hard!

You might be interested in Travel Tip Tuesday #11: Never Prepay your Gas with a Rental Car

Rental Car Hack #5: Book early to save money.

Typically, the earlier you reserve your car the better rates you will get.

As the cars on the rental car company’s local lot get reserved, prices start to inch up. Usually, you can cancel a rental car without too many repercussions so reserve one earlier even if you don’t have your flight options sorted out. Not only will this lock in your car, but it locks in a better rate.

Rental Car Hack #6: Rent from the rental car company directly to save money.

While business travelers may be prohibited from doing this, book direct and you might be able to get a better rate and/or be able to use a discount code.

Certainly, if you are on vacation, go direct and skip sites like Orbitz and Travelocity (unless there’s some crazy good deal bundle they are offering you).

This is another fun little rental car hack you can use to save money and I have almost always found the rates to be cheaper when I book direct.

Rental Car Hack #7: Download the rental car company mobile app.

Rental Car Hacks - Make sure to download the rental car company's app
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Most rental car companies now have a mobile app (some are better than others). Car renters can use these apps to book cars, pick them up, track their rewards progress, and more. Some even allow you to call for roadside assistance if need be.

Rental Car Hack #8: Ask for the upgrade.

This is one of those “cherry on top” rental car hacks. You’d be surprised at how often they will give you the upgrade if you just ask.

This is certainly the case if you are a seasoned regular traveler (you may even get the upgrade automatically). But, even as a regular car renter it doesn’t hurt to ask. Maybe it’s a slow day on the lot, or maybe the attendant is just feeling nice.

Rental Car Hack #9: Book using a group membership discount code.

Often, organizations like AAA or AARP will offer their members discounted rates for various products – including, at times, rental cars. You may be able to save some cash by using these programs.

AARP Rental Car Discounts

Even if you are booking the car on the company’s dime, using your AAA code could save the company a few more dollars. In fact, I once worked for a company that required us to use our AAA memberships to rent cars to save money.

Bonus Rental Car Hacks & Car Rental Tips

Here are a few extra car rental tips to help get even more out of the renting experience.

Bonus Rental Car Tip #1: Get an AC-Mounted Magnetic Cell Phone Holder for your Phone and go hands free!

This is one of those practical car rental hacks if you will. Your personal car back home probably has a hands-free attachment of some sort. It may even be mounted somewhere (permanently, in many cases). But, when away in a different location, how do you stay hands-free while trying to find your hotel?

Simple. Use an AC-mounted (removable!) magnetic cell phone holder like the WizGear model depicted below. I highly recommend travelers bring these babies with ’em on their next trip. You can read my WizGear Product Review here.

Bonus Rental Car Hack #2: Don’t forget to check your car out before you drive it off the lot.

Make sure you do a walk-around and check the car you are renting for any damage. If you find it, take a picture of it, and if you have time, let the staff know so they can add it to your rental car record. No need to pay for something that’s not your fault.

Bonus Rental Car Hack #3: Consider buying a pre-owned rental car for personal use. 

Conventional wisdom says don’t do this because they’ve been rode hard and put away wet.

However, here at the CBoardingGroup, we’ve found the opposite to be true. Rental Cars likely followed regular maintenance schedules, were fixed when damaged, and are usually only 2 years old.

We’ve found some wonderful vehicles this way (we have a 2007 Suburban w/ 170k miles on it now that was a rental). And you can usually get a good deal.

Here are a few places you can buy rental cars:

Bonus Hack for 2020, 2021, and the new travel world we all live in: wipe your car down like crazy with sani-wipes

Now, rental car safety is a thing and as unfortunate as that is, we all are a little worried about getting sick when renting a car. The good news is that it’s pretty unlikely. However, you can improve your odds by simply bringing some sani-wipes with you and wiping down the interior of the car before you get too cozy.

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Door handles, steering wheel, radio nobs, armrests, etc – common areas where your hands will touch something is where you want to wipe. It only takes a few minutes. And yes, the rental car companies are doing enhanced cleaning but frankly, we still don’t trust them. Just wipe it down.

Closing Thoughts – Rental Car Hacks

We hope these rental car hacks are incredibly helpful to you on your next trip. We want to hear from you. What worked/didn’t work? What rental car hacks did we exclude? Tweet us or leave a comment and join the conversation.

If you liked this content, please share it on social media and click the “like” button below and don’t forget to follow us on social media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

By the way, if you are interested in more travel tips and travel advice, you might like these great articles:

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Gene April 5, 2019 - 6:30 am

I’m pretty sure #5 is not a good generalization. I usually book early and then re-book as rates go down.

The C Boarding Group April 5, 2019 - 6:48 am

I’ve seen them go up and down, usually down, but I think it depends on where you are traveling to and what times of year. If you book a rental car in NH for Leave Turning season in the Fall…rates go up the closer your get.

DaninMCI April 5, 2019 - 6:41 am

Not terrible tips however the insurance tip is only good for domestic and maybe Canada rentals. Most personal insurance will only cover rental cars for domestic USA and Canada. International locations are a different animal and may be partially covered by credit card coverage. Also some countries have some levels of insurance that are mandatory.

The C Boarding Group April 5, 2019 - 6:47 am

Good point about international travel!

lenin1991 April 5, 2019 - 11:14 pm

How is Autoslash not mentioned? I’ve found they almost always get the best rates. Yes, better than booking direct.

Jonathan April 6, 2019 - 7:03 am

One site you may not be aware of is autoslash.com. AutoSlash automatically finds the best deals up-front using all the coupons and discounts you qualify for (Costco, AAA, AARP, USAA, etc.). You can also track any rental (even if you didn’t book it with them in the first place) for better deals. Prices are checked daily and you’ll get an email if AutoSlash finds a lower rate. Prices often drop as the pickup date approaches, so this can save a significant amount of money. Best of all, it’s a free service.

Max Jacob April 11, 2019 - 8:08 am

Thanks for posting.Your all points is very useful.

Emma Leo April 11, 2019 - 8:23 am

Your 9 secret rental cars hacks is really great and very informative.

Kingston April 23, 2019 - 1:59 am

Here are some awesome car rental hacks for your next trip:
If you are a US citizen you probably have membership like Costco of AAA that you are already paying for, you can use them to get a great deal on a rental car
Always make sure to check you credit card benefits before buying the insurance
Do not overpay for gas
Check the car for damages and take pictures before driving out the lot
Avoid peak travel times

Aaron Jenkins August 22, 2019 - 10:04 pm

Thanks for posting. This s really useful. I’m so glad that i found your blog.

Michael Gilbert September 12, 2019 - 3:02 am

Hi! My fiance and I are going to be driving in Italy for our honeymoon later this year. We’ve read stories about rental companies charging you on return for a full tank of gas, even if you returned it with a full tank. Have you guys ever experienced anything like this?

bar tender September 25, 2019 - 5:28 am

Super-Duper web site! I’m loving it!! Will take place back again once again – having you feeds also, Many thanks.

Luxury car rental services

prime chauffeurcars September 30, 2019 - 6:34 pm

Great content. Great hacks. I really love this post. Thanks for sharing such infomative tips. I’m also offering the chauffeur car service in Melbourne. And I also try to offer best service from my end to my customer.

Cars January 8, 2020 - 11:48 pm

This post covers valuable tips through which people can save their money and experience a comfortable ride. Keep sharing posts like this!

Adam L December 12, 2020 - 8:10 pm

In regards to insurance: some of us city dwellers find cars to be an inconvenience and therefore do not own personal vehicles or maintain auto insurance. Business insurance will cover work-related rentals, but not for personal trips. So while skipping out on collision insurance and damage waiver coverage is a good idea, don’t skip on the liability insurance. Last thing you want is to be on the hook for legal expenses in the event you’re sued due to an accident, which can be substantial even if you’re not found to be at fault.

Charlotte Fleet May 24, 2021 - 2:29 pm

I appreciate your suggestion to book your rental car early to save you money. My dad needs to rent a car next week. I will help him find a reliable rental service as soon as possible so that he can book it early.

Anna Davis July 30, 2021 - 12:19 pm

It’s good to know that you shouldn’t prepay for gas. I’m doing some traveling next month. Your advice should help me have a good car rental experience.

William James August 15, 2021 - 11:25 pm

Excellent work you have done keep sharing about car rental.

Oscar November 20, 2021 - 9:36 am

The best hack I can recommend is my visa infinite card has discount codes for avis/budget and enterprise/national. I have saved a ton of money using those codes.

RideAlike May 16, 2022 - 3:14 am

If you’re standing at the rental desk of a firm and they’re that close to renting you a car, they’re almost certainly willing to haggle. And they will frequently negotiate. Even if haggling makes you uncomfortable, go for it.

Mark Kingsman July 23, 2022 - 5:00 pm

Not good tips, always reduce you damage liability at the rental counter. I know it will be little bit extra $$$ but it save you from lot of hassle and you will get peace of mind on your holidays.
I took out insurance from rental cover, and involved in accident and I had to pay $5000, even I was not at fault.
I researched how car rental excess works, so the key tip is never purchase a cheap insurance just to save few $$.
Reduce your damage excess down to $0, and you don’t have to pay any excess if car gets involved in an accident. No deposits no hidden charges.
I had faced a lot of trouble kindly don’t give people worthless advise.


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