Car Rental

Where should I book my car?

You can book directly from the rental companies direct or from dedicated brokers. Booking via a broker often reduces the cost considerably and secures you the same rental and rental conditions. The car you get will be from one of the major companies. However booking direct with the rental companies can sometimes be cheaper so it’s worth checking.

Which are the major rental companies?

The major players are Alamo, Dollar, Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, Enterprise, Thrifty. Alamo/National/Enterprise have the same owner. The same goes for Thrifty/Dollar and Avis/Budget. Hertz own Thrifty/Dollar.

Which are the major brokers and how do I find them?

There are many brokers out there on the web.
This page is not designed to list the best priced or best performers as these change from time to time and vary with dates, pick-up location and car class.
Post on the Dibb Florida Trip planning forum for current feedback in car hire prices.

Note that since they are brokers, they themselves are not present at the airport in the US. On your voucher it is stated which rental company you should look for in order to pick up the car.

What difference does it make if I book via a broker as compared to booking directly from the rental company?

In either case, you book your car and receive a voucher/e mail which specifies what you have booked, and which should be handed over to the rental agent at pick-up. Broker or not, there is no difference in terms of the car or the rental contract you sign at pick-up. Booking via a broker often reduces the cost considerably and gives you the same rental.
Note that insurances are not always included in your quote if you book from the rental company .com websites (see next para). Booking via the rental company sites will include insurance.
Also note that amendments or cancellations are subject to fees with some brokers and are free with others.
Also note that booking with a broker you have two contracts and T&Cs. The first one is with the Broker to provide you with a certain car class on a certain date. The 2nd contract is with the car rental company which you sign on collection. Strictly any problems incurred with the car rental after collection is with the rental company, not the broker. Some brokers may help you pursue issues from a customer service point of view but this cannot be relied upon.

Why can I get better quotes via the websites?

These websites are for US renters, who often have insurances provided through their CC’s or their own car insurance. The quotes often do not include insurances. Adding the insurances later (at the counter) can cost much more than if the car was booked from a site or from a broker. Typical costs for this are $25-$30 a day.
Note some US sites have the option to state where you live and will add insurance accordingly.

Which size car will suit my needs?

Vehicles come in different sizes (classes), and most companies allow booking in classes called economy (smallest, cheapest), compact, intermediate/midsize, standard, full size, premium, luxury (largest, most expensive).
SUVs come in different sizes/styles too, as do vans.
Note that although a formal definition of these classes exist, rental companies are not obliged to follow those definitions, meaning that it is usually not possible to dispute the size of the car you have received on the basis of the class you have booked.
Rest assured that the rental company will not downgrade you. As a rule, you get a car of the class you have booked or larger.
Most rentals will have a “or similar” caveat on the typical car advertised.
A few rental companies will permit you to book a guaranteed car type, Hertz via their “fun collection” and “prestige Collection” and Budget’s “Street Fleet”. However these are normally for specialist makes/models, i.e. convertibles and high end spec’d cars, not the general rental cars that most people require

How do I get an upgrade?

In some cases your offer from the broker includes a free upgrade (‘subject to availability’ means it is not guaranteed). In other cases you get the upgrade for free anyway, depending on the availability of cars at the facility where you pick up. In other cases you can buy the upgrade at the counter. If you do this, make sure you understand the price of your upgrade; if the agent tells you it is $xx, make sure you ask if that is per day, per week or for the entire rental, and make even more sure it is specified to your satisfaction on the contract where you sign. Sometimes a “free” upgrade will come with an increase in the insurance.

Which documentation do I need at pick-up?

Driver’s Photocard license and car hire voucher.
Those holding an older UK paper licence only may be required to show photo ID, usually a passport.
An International Driver’s Permit is not necessary. The international drivers licenses are typically translations issued by motor organisations (RAC, AA) and the Post Office, and although such documents make it easier for the rental agent to understand the licence, they are not authorised government-approved documents.
Brokers are still typically writing in their T&Cs that an international permit is required nonetheless. Check the rental company T & C’s in advance and the majority state one is not required.
IDP applications cannot be made any more than three months in advance of the date of travel.

Which car rental packages exist?

For European renters two packages generally exist. These packages do not differ in terms of the insurances; they only differ in terms of the number of allowed drivers and the first tank of fuel.

The packages have different names depending on who you book with, typically they are called Silver and Gold, or Gold and Platinum, or Basic and Extended etc.
The basic package always includes the car, and uninsured motorist protection + third party liability insurance + loss damage waiver (see below), and with some brokers an extra driver.
The extended package includes the same plus extra drivers (from one to unlimited) and the first tank of fuel. Some tour operators also include drivers under 25 and car seats in their extended packages.
Whatever package you take, your car reservation will include all the necessary insurances (unless booked on a rental company .com site – see above).

Are there any hidden charges?

Depends on what you consider as hidden. Orlando Int’l Airport (MCO) has a mandatory facility charge $2.50 per day – max $12.50 per rental which isn’t always included with the ordinary vouchers. This is the only charge which is mandatory and possibly not included on the package vouchers.

What are my fuel options?

When you book the extended package you get the car full, and you can return it empty without any additional cost. That in effect means you have paid for a tank of fuel up front at the time of booking.
Note the majority of broker bookings with the basic package will state you have to pay for a tank of fuel on collection.
With the basic package if you have to buy the first tank of fuel from the rental company at the counter you can return it empty. If you have the option to return the car full then there is no additional fuel cost (provided of course the car really is full at the time of return). The former seems to be standard with Thrifty, Dollar, Alamo, while the latter is the standard for Budget and Hertz rentals. In any case you can ask if you can have the other option but normally you are bound by the booking T&Cs.
Under no circumstances take the option to return the car full and not do it. All rental companies will charge a very expensive premium if you do.

So even with the basic insurance, the car will be full of gas?

Yes. You will not be given an empty vehicle.

If I have a basic package and pay for the first tank of fuel from the rental company, how much will it cost me?

A: That depends on the tank size of your car, the current gas prices, and the rental company. Feedback suggests that Budget, Alamo and Hertz offer competitive, near local pump prices, for pre-paid fuel. Dollar seems to be a bit more expensive.

Guideline gas tank capacity is as follows.

Economy – Chevrolet Aveo 12 gallons
Compact – Dodge Caliber 13.5 gallons
Intermediate/standard – Pontiac G6 16 gallons
Full size – Dodge charger 18 gallons
Premium – Chrysler 300 :18 gallons
Luxury – Cadillac DTS 18 gallons
Convertible – Chrysler Sebring 17 gallons
Midsize SUV – Jeep Grand Cherokee 21 gallons
7 seat SUV – Chevrolet Tahoe 26 gallons
7 seat minivan – Dodge Caravan 20 gallons.

Which insurances are necessary in the US?

The three necessary insurances (which are included in the packages) are:
3rd party liability (LIS/ LSI): Covers others to any damage you do, e.g. if you hit them on the road. Max. is typically a $1M per event.
Under(un-)insured motorist protection (UMP): Covers you if you are hit by a driver who has no (or insufficient) coverage.
Some places include the above under another name, extended protection for example.
Others include UMP as part of LIS/SLI.
Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) /Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): Covers you for loss of the vehicle and damage to it. Note that undercarriage, windshield, tires, mirrors, are typically not covered but check what is actually excluded in the CDW.
In all cases, the rental companies provide roadside assistance in case the vehicle breaks down due to mechanical problems etc. In practice this means when the breakdown is not the driver’s fault.

Are other types of insurance available?

Yes, most companies offer personal effects coverage that covers things and stuff stolen from you (or your car) during the rental. Your travel insurance will normally cover these elements
Also on offer is extended roadside assistance under several names, which covers some problems caused by the driver (if you lock the keys inside the car, if you run out of gas, flat tyre etc). Note that when a car breaks down and it is difficult to prove beyond doubt that the breakdown is due to a faulty vehicle, this type of coverage may have justification.
These additional insurances/coverage products are optional.

So, I can just say “no” to all the optionals and avoid all unnecessary costs?

In the ideal world yes, but you are required to pay for whatever you sign up for. If you verbally say “no” to e.g. the extra roadside assistance product and the rental agent nevertheless adds it to the contract then you are required to pay for it if you sign. That does happen, unfortunately. Therefore, make sure to read and understand the contract before you sign it. If necessary get another member of the party to read it as well.
If you have a pre-paid booking and have not bought any extras at the desk, the estimated charge part should be zero or just the fuel depending on that option.

Do I need to leave a credit card imprint?

A very common question and one that has no consistent answer, mainly due to the inconsistency of the rental companies.
Most if not all booking methods state a CC in the name of the main driver is required.
This is not always the case though, but it is simply easier for them to state the one method which will always be accepted.
Debit cards (Visa and Mastercard usually) can be an option as can cash
In some cases a hold will be made on the card balance, in other cases it is merely swiped.
Note non-corporate (franchise) locations can have different, usually more limited, options regarding deposits. Where these exist they are not usually located at airports.
The only way to be sure is to contact the rental company (even if booked via a broker) and get something in writing which states your rental, pickup location and deposit method is acceptable to them)

I found an insurer here in the UK who provides coverage for US rentals. Is this a good idea?

Check with the rental company if they accept that. If they do, then the obvious advantage is that you can book via the dot com websites and book your car cheaply without insurance. The drawback is that if you have an accident then you may be liable directly to the rental company for the damage (meaning you must pay for it then and there out of your own pocket), and you must claim the amount back from your UK-based insurer afterwards. You can usually not tell the rental company to sort the expenses out directly with your insurer.
Note a hefty deposit is normally required using this 3rd party insurance, sometimes in the region of $1500.
Also note the providers of this insurance do not recommend this for US Fly-Drive or package trips.

Is there any way I can speed up the pick-up process?

Some rental companies offer various types of solutions involving a pre-registration process on the web where you give driver’s license and CC details in advance. Not all deals are compatible with pre-registration.
If you have a booking with Dollar then you can use the Dollar Express scheme.
If you have a booking with Budget then Budget pre-registration or their fastbreak scheme is an option.
If you have a booking with Alamo you not only can ‘skip the counter’ but at Orlando and Miami airports you can select your own car – subject to availability.
Car rentals via Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic also have a similar scheme.
Hertz #1 club gold members can use a dedicated desk.
These schemes allow you to bypass the terminal rental desk and proceed to the garage.

My tour operator has thrown a car into the pot for free, is this too good to be true?

Several operators provide a car for free in your holiday package, but insurances are often not included, or just basic 3rd party, and you must pay for insurance separately, as you will not be allowed to drive uninsured. The cost of insurances can be higher than what you would otherwise pay for the same car in a broker package. In that case it turns out cheaper to simply not pick up the ‘free’ car, and take a car from a broker instead. Some tour operators insurance packages can include under 25’s which make them a good option.

I just came back from my holidays and checked my CC statement, and it appears the rental company has added a charge I don’t know about. What do I do?

Ideally, this should be sorted out at the time of return. Typically this could be because the car was returned late, or if you opted to bring the car back full of gas and the people at the car facility found out it was not full. It also could be for some toll violation, a red light fine or some other breach of the rental agreement (smkoking, pets etc)
At any rate, check your contract (did you sign up for an upgrade or something?) and check the receipt handed to you when you returned the car. If you still don’t agree with the charge then notify first the rental company and later dispute the charge with your CC company if the rental company does not respond and/or if their response does not clarify things to your satisfaction and/or there is a discrepancy between the signed rental contract and the actual charge.

What is available for drivers under 25?

Certain brokers will offer a pre-paid under 25 package which works out cheaper than paying the young driver premium which is around $25 per day.
Note in most cases you have to take the extended insurance package or equivalent for the under 25 policy which will increase the overall cost.
As with most things car rental wise, policies and prices change so if you want current feedback then post a request on the Florida Trip Planning forum.

What does my car code mean?

Most rental companies use the ACRISS car coding scheme for identifying the various rental car groups. This is detailed in the picture below.