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Avoiding Potential Problems When Renting a Car

Renting a car can be complicated and riddled with pitfalls, from finding a good deal to understanding insurance requirements. Here are some best practices to follow from making reservations to returning the car.

Prices vary widely based on the vehicle model and the location of the agency. Airport rentals are generally more expensive due to extra taxes and fees. Some cities now charge similar fees if an agency is within 20 miles of the airport, so it’s important to check both options.

If you’re flying and choosing an off-airport rental location at your destination, consider the cost and convenience of transportation to the agency. Most off-airport outlets have more limited hours than airport-based outlets, which could be important if your flight is delayed.

Many agencies offer discounts for prepayment, but prepaid contracts often incur fees if you cancel. Most unpaid reservations are flexible, allowing you to cancel anytime with no penalty. It’s advisable to reserve early and then monitor prices before your trip. If prices go down, you can cancel and rebook at the lower rate. Many agencies, including Budget and Dollar, offer best rate guarantees, meaning if you find a better rate on their cars elsewhere and they can verify the claim, they will rent you the car for 10 percent below that price. The website AutoSlash will track your reservation at no cost and alert you to any price drop.

Use memberships at Costco, AAA or AARP to get a discount at specific companies. If you join loyalty programs at Avis, Hertz or other major rental companies, which are usually free, you are entitled to express pickups, allowing you to skip the line at the counter and go directly to your vehicle.

Turo and Getaround act like Airbnbs for rental cars, where owners offer their vehicles to rent through company websites or apps. Turo is available in 11,000 cities in the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Australia, and requires renters to work out where and when to pick up cars from their renters. Available in more than a dozen cities in the United States, Kyte will drop off and pick up its cars, which are competitively priced, wherever you specify, at no extra charge. The contactless and app-based UFO Drive rents E.V.s in more than 20 cities in the United States and Europe.

At traditional agencies, when the car you’ve reserved is not available, it’s common practice to give you the next-best available car at no extra charge. Always request your original class of car before accepting an upgrade for a fee, and be wary of “manager’s specials,” which tend to be bargain leftovers. As agencies transition to electric cars, renters have ended up with surprise E.V.s that they didn’t necessarily want.

If you already have auto insurance, it usually extends to a rental. Many credit cards also provide coverage against theft and damage as long as you use that card for payment. Check on both before buying additional coverage at the agency. If relying on credit card coverage, pay attention to exclusions of certain kinds of car and peer-to-peer rental agencies like Turo.

Most personal auto insurance will not apply to driving abroad, with some exceptions for Canada and Mexico.

Look for damage, including dings and scrapes and upholstery tears. Take photos or a video to establish the vehicle’s condition at pickup. Take photos again when you drop off the vehicle to have a record of its condition should a deeper review find any damage.

When returning the car, you have the option to return it with a full tank or have the company refill it at rates that may seem attractive. However, in the second scenario, you must buy a full tank. Take a picture of the gauge showing a full tank to avoid extra gas charges.

Returning the car late may incur another full day’s charge. Even if you reserved a car from noon on pickup day to noon on drop-off day, arriving early obligates you to return it by the earlier time. It’s important to adhere to the specified return time to avoid extra charges.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.

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