The variations in car rental prices, terms and services between and within rental companies — especially from destination country to destination country — are so considerable you should study them if you want to get a good deal. This guide along with IdeaMerge's online car and motorhome rental booking software and our associated webpages are carefully designed to help you get that deal.
Rarely does the insurance included by car rental companies in the basic rental rates cover vehicle damage that results from accidental collision or fire or from natural disaster, vandalism, or theft of part or all of the vehicle. The insurance included with basic motorhome rental rates, on the other hand, typically does involve some coverage in these respects. Regardless, you need adequate financial protection against these unfortunate eventualities. Virtually all auto rental companies essentially offer such protection by proffering "waivers" which — to one degree or another and subject to certain exclusions and other limitations — absolve you of financial responsibility with respect to one or more of these types of damage and/or loss. Which is to say, these waivers effectively introduce or reduce insurance deductibles — alias, excesses. Typically these waivers are designed to profit the rental company (i.e. in the big picture). Hence the waivers are usually expensive, confusing and veritably albeit quite reasonably bristling with exclusions and limitations.
Small print aside, the waiver names and the meaning of those names vary considerably from destination country to destination country, consumer market to consumer market, and company to company. So here's a prime directive: figure out what these waivers mean. But first things first. Let's not forget about the insurance that's included in the basic rental rates. The included insurance almost always excludes countries and regions from the domain of its coverage. Typically it also excludes off-road driving and, more generally, any driving off paved/sealed/bituminized/tarmacked/macadamized roads. Moreover it certainly involves a litany of other exclusions and limitations — including driver age restrictions (minimum and often maximum).
In many cases the insurance included in the basic rental rates amounts to only the legal minimum of public liability insurance — alias, third-party or third-party only insurance (sometimes confusingly denoted TP protection, which acronym is usually reserved to denote theft protection), also called "green card" insurance in Europe. Liability insurance is the kind which covers the damage that your operation of a vehicle might cause to the bodies (bodily injury, BI) or properties (property damage, PD) of people who are not being transported in (or, perhaps, on or towed by) the vehicle.
In many domains (e.g. in the United States) the people in (or, perhaps, on or towed by) the driver's vehicle (i.e. the driver and passengers) may be covered in terms of two aspects that might feature in the driver's own automobile insurance policy. The first, uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury (UM/UIM) or the like, covers the driver and his/her passengers for bodily injuries caused to that driver and/or his/her passengers by a motorist who has no relevant insurance or who has relevant insurance that is under said injured person or persons' relevant coverage limits and who is at-fault in the accident. In some jurisdictions fault is generally or per the particular consumer's choice not an issue in this regard; i.e. the relevant insurance is necessarily or by the particular consumer's choice "no-fault" insurance and an individual injured in an automobile accident is limited in their ability to seek recovery from other drivers or vehicle owners involved in the accident; one's own insurance (i.e. the "first-party's") pays primarily and regardless of fault. If, however, the no-fault scheme does not apply and if an at-fault driver does have automobile liability insurance, the bodily injury component of that insurance would pay for injuries consequent of the said fault, up to the maximums of said insurance. The second coverage that might feature in a driver's own auto insurance policy is personal injury protection (PIP), which starts paying the medical bills for the insured and his/her passengers regardless of who is at fault.
The division between liability insurance on the one hand and UM/UIM and PIP on the other is largely considered necessary because without that division a driver and passenger could scam the driver's insurance company by manufacturing a minor accident and claiming injury or injuries to themselves. In a few jurisdictions a driver's liability insurance does go to cover injuries sustained by a passenger or passengers due to his/her fault as a driver — but not if the passenger resides with the driver.
If you own an automobile and you own auto liability insurance, uninsured/underinsured motorist cover, and perhaps said personal injury protection as well, all or some of these insurances may extend in total or in part to certain types of other vehicles you might operate, including certain types of rental vehicles. Check with your personal insurance agent. In some countries such extension of personal auto liability insurance is typical, in others it is not. Usually, though, if such extension does apply, it is limited in terms of its domain; hence it might not extend to situations which occur abroad. Of course insofar as one is not covered by personal injury protection, one's own medical insurance will likely apply to the cost of one's injuries from an accident. Typically, however, personal medical insurance, too, has limits in terms of domain; hence it might not extend to situations which occur abroad.
Auto rental companies might offer additional liability insurance (ALI), sometimes called statutory liability insurance (SLI) or extended protection (EP).
A personal homeowners policy might cover the theft of personal property in a rental vehicle. Auto rental companies sometimes offer personal effects cover (PEC) in this regard, although it typically excludes the likes of jewelry and expensive electronics.
Before further discussing the waivers and insurances offered by the auto rental companies, let's address the prime alternatives. Chief among these are the coverages extended by credit card and charge card companies. To engage this type of coverage, you must use the card to pay for the car rental; simply having the card is not enough. Read the card agreement carefully and call the card's customer support to learn precisely what the benefits are in relation to the domain and type of your planned travel. The benefits vary geographically. Moreover sports cars, luxury (alias elite, exotic, prestige) cars, motorhomes, off-road vehicles, motorcycles and other "specialty" vehicles are typically excluded from this coverage. Sometimes such coverage applies to collision damage only, i.e. it doesn't cover vandalism, natural disaster, theft of part or all of the vehicle, "loss of use" (i.e. the amount of money the rental company might claim when a vehicle is out of their fleet for repairs). Usually such coverage requires you to decline the collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW) or the like offered by the car rental company. However, in connection with some rental companies — especially certain depots of certain companies in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand — the card cover cannot be engaged because the rental company includes in its basic rental rate a damage or loss waiver of some sort, usually offering just a relative modicum of protection. Such waiver cannot be declined, and thus the card cover cannot be engaged. Conversely, some card coverage applies only relative to deductibles (i.e. excesses) remaining after you have purchased a CDW or LDW or the like!
Card coverage typically entails a rental-duration limit of 14 or 15 days for personal domestic rentals and 30 or 31 days for business or international rentals; you'd typically have to return the car and commence another rental to effectively extend the coverage. If you're covered for, say, 14 consecutive days, you might mistakenly void the insurance by agreeing to a 15-day rental.
Ask whether the card coverage is "primary" or "secondary." Primary insurance is preferable, for it lets you file directly with the underwriter of your credit card insurance. Secondary coverage, in contrast, requires you first to obtain a letter from your personal auto insurance provider stating what they do and do not cover with respect to the incident in question. You must then forward this letter along with all the other relevant documents to the underwriter of your credit card insurance. The secondary coverage will cover the charges that are not covered by your personal auto insurance. It's a hassle. Regarding either primary and secondary coverage, determine if the card company will let the auto rental company bill your account directly for any damages that occur. If so, confirm that the status of such a billing will not require you to pay the charge and will not eat into your available credit unless ultimately the underwriter of the card's policy denies your claim. The monetary amount that a rental company equates with certain damages could approximate the value of the entire vehicle. As such, using your credit card to effectively pay up front for damages could cost you substantially if as a result you exceed your credit limit or must pay a finance charge or both.
The policies of credit and charge card and rental companies can change overnight. Shortly before you embark on your trip, confirm that your card still entitles you to the coverage you think it does. Take especial note of the card company's requirements for filing car rental loss and damage claims. Usually they require you to do so within 48 hours or as soon as reasonably possible following a loss. If such notification is not received, coverage may be denied. Written proof of loss, including completion of a claim form provided by the card company, typically must be received by the card company within 60 days of the date of loss, or coverage may be denied. Among the items typically required to document the loss: (a) copy of the drivers license of card member or authorized driver; (b) copy of card members auto insurance coverage; (c) itemized repair bill; (d) claim form; (e) copy of the rental agreement; and (f) police report if the damage exceeds a certain amount (e.g. US 500).
Travel insurance is available which covers international auto rentals.
Regarding all auto rental coverages, note whether they cover at-fault drivers, single-vehicle accidents, loss of use charges (again, the amount of money the rental company might claim when a vehicle is out of their fleet for repairs), damage that bumpy roads may cause to the undercarriage of the vehicle, overhead damage (i.e. roof damage), damage caused in the process of towing something or being towed, tire damage, windscreen damage, and side window damage. Again, most coverages exclude off-road driving and more generally any driving off paved/sealed/bituminized/macadamized/tarmacked roads.
Members of certain national organizations qualify for auto rental insurance at reduced costs. For instance, several rental companies entitle members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to discounts and additional liability coverage if the member provides the company-specific AARP identification number for listing on the rental agreement. To get this number AARP members should contact the organization. Members of the USA's National Council of Senior Citizens qualify for similar benefits. Often such discounts apply to only the more luxurious classes of vehicles, and they may not apply to one-way rentals.
All auto rental companies require their customers to be of some minimum age usually either 21, 23, or 25 years. Sometimes an additional fee applies if renters are less than 25 years old but older than the bare minimum. Morevoer, many companies deal only with customers who have held a non-provisional driver's license for at least a year or two. As for the other end of the age-spectrum, most companies enforce a maximum age limit of 65 or 70 years. If because of your age or the age of your license you do not qualify, please don't take it personally. It's all about statistics. For travel in Europe, you can instead consider a European tax-free short-term auto lease: most visitors to Europe who are 18 years of age or older — there is no maximum — can lease a vehicle in Europe for as few as 17 days (actually fewer if you're willing to pay for 17 days).
Regarding international rentals, depending on the law applying at the rental depot and depending on the primary language spoken there, the auto rental company might require that the customer have an international driving license — i.e. an IDL, better known as an international driving permit or IDP. The New Zealand Automobile Association's website presents a listing of countries which require an IDP of visiting drivers. Regardless of the law of the land, if a customer's otherwise qualifying license is not primarily or secondarily (i.e. in parallel) written in the primary language of the rental depot or in English, the rental company might require that the customer also have an IDP. Basically an IDP is a means by which police in a foreign country can know — in terms of translations in nearly a dozen different languages — that your domestic driver's license is indeed recognized as being valid by the proper authorities in your country. (See the excellent article at Drivers.com.) Hence you must obtain the license while in your home country. The local office of your auto club (AA, AA, RAC, ADAC, etc.) sells IDPs for the equivalent of about US 20. If you need an IDP, take your license, two passport-sized photos and the requisite cash to the club office. (Though for about US 10 the club may snap Polaroid photos for you.) If you plan to operate a motorcycle, be sure to have the auto club certify your qualification to do so. Web searches will bring up a host of websites selling documents that conform to the model delineated in annex 10 of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (1949); but according to Article 24 of that convention, a truly valid IDP is one which is "issued .. by the competent authority of another Contracting State or subdivision thereof, or by an association duly empowered by such authority ...."
If you cannot identify or arrange proper supplementary coverage from other sources, you should buy the collision damage waiver (CDW) and/or collision damage reducer (CDR; alias excess reduction waiver, ERW) and/or loss damage waiver (LDW) and/or theft protection waiver (TP or TW or TPW or TPR) and/or additional liability insurance (ALI or SLI or EP) and/or personal accident insurance (PAI) and/or personal effects cover (PEC, covering luggage, but probably excluding jewelry and perhaps certain electronics and other sorts of items as well) — or some set of variations on these themes — from the auto rental company.
Special note: It is the opinion of IdeaMerge that damage waivers/reducers are usually a better value in connection with motorhome rentals than they are in connection with car rentals. We've formed this opinion from anecdotal evidence and because: (a) the bigger a vehicle is the more likely it will collide with something; and (b) a damage to a motorhome tends to be more expensive to repair than the same sort of damage to a car, this because the pieces involved are larger and are not as mass-produced; and likewise (c) the deductibles included in the base motorhome rental rates tend to be higher than deductibles included in inclusive car rental rates.
There's no such thing as a universal definition of CDW and the other terms peppering the previous paragraph. In most markets the rental company is largely free to define and call these things however and whatever it likes. The motorhome rental industry has developed an especially rich set of such terms, including "SCDW," "VIP," "RLI," . The IdeaMerge online car and motorhome rental booking software and our associated webpages are carefully designed to explain these terms clearly and contextually.
Often a waiver termed CDW provides certain coverages against damages or losses due to collision, vandalism, natural disaster or theft of part or all of the vehicle. However, in many cases such term is taken literally to refer only to collision damage, whereas the term LDW is used in contrast to designate the wide spectrum of losses including not only collision damage but also vandalism, natural disaster, etc. The term collision damage reducer (CDR) might be used instead of CDW to indicate more heuristically that a deductible/excess remains involved. When indeed the CDW or LDW or CDR does not reduce the deductible/excess all the way to zero, the rental company and/or broker might give you the opportunity to purchase a yet another waiver or reducer or (via another, specialist insurance company such as RentalCover.com) an insurance policy which further reduces that deductible/excess — typically to zero. Such further waivers/reducers/policies go by many names, such as peace of mind (POM) or no worries cover (NWC) or total damage excess waiver (TDEW) or excess waiver (EW) or excess reduction cover (ERC) or excess reimbursement insurance (ERI). When the CDW or LDW or CDR does not cover theft of part or all of the vehicle, a theft protection waiver (TP, TW, TPW, TPR) is typically offered. Furthermore, personal accident insurance (PAI or PI) and perhaps personal effects cover (PEC) may be offerred. PAI provides the renter and passengers with coverage for accidental death, disability or medical expenses. Personal effects cover (PEC) typically excludes the likes of jewelry and expensive electronics, and it may be unnecessarily redundant in relation to one's personal homeowners policy.
Unlimited miles (or kilometers) are common (and virtually the standard) with car rentals and with motorhome rentals in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Not so with motorhome rentals in the USA and Canada (in which cases the IdeaMerge online reservation software computes the optimal mileage solution for you, given the miles you expect to drive).
Typically there is a surcharge for picking up or returning a car rental at an airport or train station or certain other "premium" locations. Such surcharge basically reflects costs which are imposed on the rental company by the airport and/or government. By the way, in virtually all cases motorhome rentals must be picked up at the motorhome rental depot, not directly at an airport or train station or hotel.
If you will be picking up the vehicle in connection with a flight arrival, inform the rental company long beforehand of your flight arrival details (airline, flight number, expected landing time). Thus if your flight is delayed the rental depot personnel will know enough to hold your vehicle and perhaps even stay open a bit longer to meet you.
In many countries, regions, states or territories a road tax or road registration fee applies to auto rentals. Various other imposed taxes or surcharges might also apply. Some governments allow auto rental companies to charge licensing fees whereby the company can recover the cost of getting license plates for the vehicles.
One-way car rentals are quite common. Usually with European car rentals you can pick-up in one city and return to another in the same country without suffering an extra charge; returns outside the country usually entail a one-way fee. In other markets one-way car rental fees are common and costly. One-way motorhome rentals are not commonly supported in Europe (although they are available within and from Spain, within France, within Italy, within Scandinavia, and from Holland), yet they are common in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Determine whether smoking is allowed in the vehicle, and whether pets are allowed.
Most rental companies place their vehicles into a lettered or numbered category. Unfortunately, these classifications are not consistent across companies and they may vary within the companies themselves.
If you need an automatic transmission vehicle, be sure to specify this when placing your reservation. The transmission type can often be guaranteed, and in many countries manual transmissions are the norm. Another feature that typically can be guaranteed is air conditioning. In some countries — especially in relation to motorhome rentals — vehicles without air conditioning are the norm. (Motorhomes often come with engine-generated, i.e. dash, air conditioning but not roof, i.e. 120 V or 220 V, air conditioning; either kind can typically be guaranteed.)
Otherwise the car and motorhome rental industries are such that reservations may be made for particular vehicle category only, not for a specific vehicle. Which is to say, although the various images, model numbers and vehicle specifications presented throughout or via the IdeaMerge car and motorhome rental pages — especially on the vehicle-specification pages — are carefully selected to accurately and precisely indicate the vehicle that you will get, the vehicle model (and layout) you get might not be identical to what is indicated by said information. In the very unlikely event that a vehicle in the reserved category is not available upon the pick-up date, the rental company reserves the right to substitute a comparable or larger vehicle with the same equipment and the capacity to accommodate the number persons you have delineated (in terms of, say, adults and children) as being in your party. In this case there should be no additional charge for a larger vehicle. However, the higher ancillary costs associated with a larger vehicle such as ferry charges, tolls, and fueling costs are to be borne by the customer.
Employing a diesel car in Europe will cut your fuel costs there by almost 40 percent, because the diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline and the diesel engines are more efficient than their gasoline-powered counterparts. However, to get a diesel you may have to jump up a vehicle class, and this may wipe out any savings you'll realize from the reduced fuel costs. (Most motorhomes in Europe are diesels.) Try to estimate the number of miles or kilometers you'll be driving. Next, using the expected fuel efficiency of the vehicles you're considering, figure the amount you'll pay to fuel each vehicle. Finally, add these figures to the rates charged for the various vehicles.
These days over 60 percent of the new cars sold in Europe are diesels. This percentage continues to climb. Why? For one thing, diesel fuel in Europe costs about 20 percent less than gasoline. (Visit Ireland's Automobile Association (AA) website for an up-to-date listing of fuel prices.) What's more, a diesel engine runs about 30 percent more efficiently (and lasts longer, for it has far fewer parts) than its gasoline-powered counterpart. Hence you save close to 40 percent fuel-wise by going with a diesel.
By the way, IdeaMerge can guarantee you a diesel vehicle if you select one for a European tax-free short-term auto lease.
In a diesel engine, the fuel which inheres more free energy than gasoline is pressurized in a "common rail," an intake pipe leading to all cylinders. Electronically controlled injectors allow a precise amount of vaporized fuel to squirt into the cylinders. Consequently diesel engines offer great work capacity which is of course good for larger vehicles, heavy loads and mountain driving and they consume less fuel while in like measure producing less exhaust.
Admittedly, diesel exhaust long ago gained a reputation for being sooty and smelly. (As if gasoline doesn't smell too!) Yet certain other important pollutants especially sulfates have always been considerably less present in diesel exhaust than in gasoline exhaust. And technological improvements in diesel-engine efficiency and especially in the filtering of diesel exhaust have rendered the diesel engines of today considerably more eco-friendly than gasoline engines. Gone is the remarkable sootiness. Gone, too, is the darned glow plug (in contrast to spark plug); now you can start a diesel as quickly as a gasoline engine. Moreover, all these Renault diesels are turbo charged such that their acceleration approximates that of gasoline-powered vehicles.
Given the native demand for diesel engines in Europe, diesel fuel is available there wherever gasoline is available, and the diesel fuel is of a higher grade than that sold in the United States. Likewise, fuel stations in Europe provide diesel pumps on the same service islands as the gasoline pumps. Plastic gloves are even provided so you need not dirty your hands!
But BEWARE: A diesel nozzle in Europe is considerably wider than either a leaded gasoline nozzle or the even smaller unleaded gasoline nozzle and indeed will not fit into either such tank. Consequently a European gasoline nozzle will fit into a European diesel tank. Therefore, be careful not to put gasoline into a diesel tank!!! Even a liter of gasoline added to the tank of a modern diesel car can cause irreversible damage to the injection pump and other components due to its relatively low lubricity. In some cases, the diesel car so abused has to be scrapped because the cost of repairs exceeds its value. (Diesel in a gasoline engine — while creating large amounts of smoke — does not normally cause permanent damage if it is drained once the mistake is realized. Similarly, older diesels using completely mechanical injection can tolerate some gasoline, which has historically been used to "thin" diesel fuel in winter.) A green pump holds unleaded gasoline or else diesel, a blue leaded gasoline. Diesel pumps are sometimes colored black, sometimes green. Diesel pumps are chiefly signified linguistically, either with the very word diesel or with one of the equivalents: gas-oil, gaz-oil, gasolio, gasóleo, dieselolie, mazot, motorina, or nafta.
Many experienced renters make it a practice to reserve the popular and cheap economy class vehicles. This because rental outlets often run out of such vehicles, and consequently anyone who has reserved one of them gets a free upgrade. Rental companies should not charge you more if they're forced to give you a more expensive vehicle than the one you reserved. If you have no intention of driving the economy class vehicle you've reserved and if the fleet of such vehicles is not depleted, you'll probably be able to upgrade but for a charge.
Car rental companies typically offer daily, weekend and "weekly" rates. Weekly rates are usually their best deals, and in most cases they require only 5 contiguous days to qualify for a (pro-rated) weekly rate. However, if you extend a weekly rate rental you'll typically be charged the daily rate for those extra days — unless you very carefully negotiate the extension with the rental company and get the negotiated rate in writing before you agree to it, or unless you book through a service like IdeaMerge and, after giving such service several days notice, you allow that service to attempt to negotiate the rate and arrange the extension for you. Hence if you're unsure about your rental duration, consider booking a duration originally which involves a extra few days; you'll likely be able to get an early return refund if you don't need them. Yet beware: some companies charge an early return fee, and if the lesser actual duration is no longer commensurate with the weekly rate, the rental company is likely free to charge you based on a more expensive rate (e.g. a daily rate) than the rate you originally agreed to. In contrast to car rental companies, motorhome rental companies, tend to offer seasonal rate schedules, and these are usually embellished with certain and various long-term discounts for durations exceeding various thresholds (e.g. 14 nights, 21 nights, 34 nights, etc).
Rental rates vary widely depending on the country in which the rental vehicle is to be picked up. Furthermore some countries require the customer to purchase the CDW or LDW or TP. For instance Italy notoriously requires TP. Consequently, you may want to rent a vehicle in a country that neighbors the country you plan to travel in. Switzerland amounts to an interesting case in this respect. Switzerland's average car rental costs are some of the cheapest in Europe. Moreover, cars rented in Switzerland come bearing a sticker or vignette which signifies someone has paid the necessary annual tax for the privilege of driving that vehicle on Switzerland's expressways. If your car doesn't have a vignette but you want to use the Swiss expressways, you must buy the vignette at a Swiss border station, a Swiss post office, a Swiss motor vehicle service station or garage, or from a Swiss National Tourist Office. At the border you can pay in CHF, EUR, GBP or USD. You can also pay inside the Customs office onsite by credit card. The vignette costs about CHF 40 (about USD 37, or EUR 27) for all cars with maximum admissible weight of 3.5 tons or less. The sticker is valid for 14 months, from December 1 to January 31 the next year (Of course, many rental vehicles in cities nearby Switzerland, such as Milan and Munich, come with this sticker as well since their former renters tend to have ventured into Switzerland and opted to travel the expressways there.) Austria and Slovakia recently introduced similar vignette systems for their expressways. In short, consider renting a vehicle in Switzerland if you want to include Switzerland in your itinerary especially if you'd otherwise rent in Austria or Italy.
See Wikipedia's Vignette page for more about such vignettes and road taxes.
Fines for toll violations, traffic violations, parking violations and such which become attached to the rental vehicle during the rental devolve upon the rental customer. In many cases the rental company will in addition charge an administration fee for processing these fines.
In some countries the law requires certain traffic offences be settled on the spot unless the violator presents a bail bond or unless a resident of the country guarantees payment on the violator's behalf. Failure in these respects can result in the vehicle being impounded and the driver detained. Most car rental companies include such bail bonds with the rental vehicle if the law applying to the rental pick-up or return location, or perhaps more generally to part of a likely itinerary, requires such on-the-spot settlement. Spain used to be infamous for this way of handling such offenses. However, Spain no longer requires on-the-spot payment of traffic violations or presentation of a bail bond.
The company's policies or offers concerning the initial and final fueling of the vehicle are also important. There will never be a refund for unused fuel. In some cases a deposit is payable for fuel and is refunded insofar as the car is returned with a full tank. The best deal, however, is if the company fills the tank initially and agrees not to charge you for fuel unless you return the vehicle with less than a full tank; this way you avoid both the annoying task of trying to return the vehicle with some specific but less-than-full amount of fuel and the roughly doubled fuel prices that rental companies charge. This is to say, the convenience touted in a pre-paid fuel offer — according to which you can return the vehicle with any amount of fuel at no further cost — is outweighed by the cost of the offer; such offer is just a way for the rental company to line its pockets. Hence note where the nearby fuel stations are; they tend to be quite far removed from airport car rental depots.
Determine whether amendment fees or cancellation fees or no-show fees are associated with a booking. Cancellation (and no-show) fee schedules are especially considerable in connection with pre-paid bookings, such as car rentals via Priceline, Hotwire, and CarTrawler, and motorhome rentals (a very seasonal industry with small fleet sizes). Usually, pre-payment for a car rental means a markedly lower price but also entails an upfront uncertainty as to which rental company will supply the car as well as an upfront certainty — although probably not presented redundantly or emphatically — that a cancellation fee schedule will apply to the booking. For example, at last check the following is the cancellation and no-show policy enforced by CarTrawler; it is presented during their online reservation process and to book a car hire with them the customer must confirm s/he has read, understood and agreed with this policy before placing a booking.
Determine whether there is a refund for early return. Such refund is common with car rentals but typical not offered with motorhome rentals.
Determine what the costs are for late return of the vehicle. A one-hour grace period usually applies. Exceeding a grace period by even a small amount of time might result in a charge for a whole new 24-hour duration, although usually there is an hourly fee applying to the first two hours or so that a car is late. Motorhome rental pick-up and return are often accounted for on the hotel model: pick-up (i.e. check-in) is slated for the afternoon whereas return (check-out) is slated for the morning. Some motorhome rental companies, however, account for cost according to calendar days, meaning the time of day of pick-up and the time of day of return do not affect the price. Generally with motorhome rentals late-return costs are far higher than with car rentals, this because motorhome rental is a smaller, far more seasonal industry and hence the fleets are smaller than car rental fleets — meaning the specific motorhome rented to you is likely slated to be rented to another customer the same day or the day after you return it.
Pick up or return of the vehicle outside of the rental depot's standard hours of operation may be possible for a special fee.
Get appropriate authorization the rental company before you engage any repairs of the vehicle. Of course solicit and keep bills for any repairs which are done to the vehicle during the rental.
Where/when the ambient temperatures of the low-altitude regions near the depot are expected to be at or below the freezing point of water for a significant duration during a client's rental, the vehicle will be delivered to the client with its water tank emptied, its water heater drained and bypassed, and its water system in general flushed with a special, non-toxic antifreeze. While a vehicle is thus fully "winterized", the fresh water tank cannot be filled and the public water cannot be connected. Bottled water can be used to wash one's hands, face or brush one's teeth. Occasional rinsing of the drains with RV/Marine-approved antifreeze is required. When using the toilet facilities of the motorhome, said antifreeze needs to be used to flush. A dilution of maximum 50 percent with (bottled) water is acceptable. If the client re-hydrates a fully winterized system during the rental and returns the vehicle de-winterized, a fee will be charged to the client upon return. In contrast, if such temperatures will or may be encountered only at higher altitudes or otherwise sporadically during a client's rental duration the vehicle may or will, respectively, be delivered to the client with its water/waste system hydrated as usual. Regardless, in all cases the client is responsible for any damage to the water/waste system due to freezing. Which is to say, the client should be sure the water/waste system is drained of water before using the vehicle where that water system might freeze. Of course upon the pick-up occasion the vendor can provide instruction regarding the draining and rehydration of that system.
Again, unlimited miles (or kilometers) are common with car rentals and with motorhome rentals in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This is not so with motorhome rentals in the USA and Canada; but in these cases the IdeaMerge online reservation software will compute the optimal mileage solution for you, given the miles you tell it you expect to drive.
Child safety seats, luggage racks, bicycle racks, tire chains for driving in snow, and other such items are not always immediately available; you should book them in advance and determine whether they cost extra.
If winter tires are required by the law applicable to the pick-up location, an additional charge may be required either upon booking or upon the pick-up occasion.
Inform the rental company of the age and weight and height of any children that will be traveling in the rental vehicle, and ask what the applicable body of law stipulates regarding the safe transport of such children. Perhaps ask whether the you may legally use your own child safety seats in the vehicle. Don't assume that the childseat you own is legal — or even functional — in relation to car or motorhome rentals, especially international rentals.
We can more precisely address child safety seats in terms of law or, more wisely, in terms of one or another more general and more conservative (i.e. child-conserving) consensus about child safety. Nevertheless please note that IdeaMerge is neither obligated nor qualified to present to clients (i.e. customers) nor to the general public the full set of relative laws nor the letter of those individual laws; the comments below, whether about law or consensus are merely intended to indicate the nature of the general issue of child motor vehicle safety. In many cases (such as in Canada and the United States) the law applies based on the state, province or territory in which the vehicle is registered or in which a particular rental commences. The general North American consensus considers booster seats necessary for children weighing 1836 kg (4080 lbs), forward-facing safety seats necessary for children weighing 918 kg (2040 lbs), and rear-facing infant seats necessary for children weighing up to 9 kg (20 lbs). Age-wise these ranges correspond to about 4.5 years through 7 years, 1 year up to 4.5 years, and 0 years up to 1 year. In Germany, however, the high-end figure is more conservative, in the sense noted above. German law puts this figure at up to 12 years or up to 1.5 m tall (4 ft. 11 in.); moreover, children under age of 10 may not travel in the front passenger seat of a car, the exceptions being: (a) a child younger than 1 year old seated in a rear-facing safety seat, (b) a vehicle with no rear seats or seats that temporarily cannot be used, and (c) a situation in which all rear seats are already occupied by children under 10 years old. French law puts said high-end figure at up to 10 years. Generally a rear-facing safety seat should not be used in a seat equipped with a functional frontal airbag. Also generally speaking, children under 12 years old should sit in a rear seat.
For European rentals, also ask if a parking disc or "blue card" is included: many European cities require such a disk or card to be displayed on a vehicle's dashboard while it's parked in certain zones called "Blue Zones." If you plan to take a British vehicle to the continent, or vice versa, ask whether headlight conversion kits are available and, if so, whether they are free of charge.
If renting a motorhome it's especially important to determine what's included in the rental cost. Most motorhome rental companies charge extra for bedding, kitchen utensils, and the like. The IdeaMerge online reservation software is carefully designed to prompt you in these respects and to clearly incorporate the associated costs into a single, inclusive total price.
If you pre-paid for the rental, you may have paid for the vehicle and all the taxes and surcharges and optional extras. Regardless, the rental company or the consolidator (i.e. a broker such as IdeaMerge) will send you a voucher showing the rental details — including a list of the cost components that have been paid and the cost components that are due to be paid (e.g. upon the pick-up occasion), and giving detailed directions to and contact information of the actual supplier's (e.g. Hertz's) exact pick-up and drop-off address(es), this information lending ultimate precision to the general yet accurate delineation of such locations (e.g. merely "Frankfurt - Airport [DE] [FRA]") which is typical of an online order process. Print that voucher and bring it along to the pick-up occasion and to the return occasion. The voucher might be required on the pick-up occasion — and with motorhome rentals it typically is required on the pick-up occasion; and it might also be a good reference on the return occasion.
When you arrive to pick up a hire car, the counter agent may pressure or simply require you to buy a damage waiver and/or theft protection or place a large security deposit, or both. Foreign rental depots especially are keen to ensure quick reimbursement for any loss they might suffer on an international rental. If the counter agent compels you to buy a waiver contrary to your printed rental voucher, you'll naturally still have recourse to eventually get a refund from the company. You may be asked to sign a blank charge slip as a deposit. Don't do it! Always make sure your signature is associated with a specific amount.
Rental locations often do not accept charge cards, in constrast to credit cards. If you don't have a credit card, ask how you can pay the deposit. Debit cards, Euro checks, travelers checks, and cash are typically not accepted forms of placing such deposit. Typically a vehicle rental company requires that a valid credit card — with sufficient available credit — be presented upon the pick-up occasion by a member of the rental party, which member must indeed be present there on that occasion and must sign said rental contract. Otherwise the company will refuse to allow the rental and, moreover, will consider the rental booking to be thereby cancelled (i.e. by the customer), making the customer responsible for any applicable cancellation fee — whether such cancellation occurs upon the pick-up occasion or at an earlier time. More than one card cannot be used for this purpose.
Why do automobile rental locations typically require such a valid credit card upon the pick-up occasion? It's essentially an industry standard. Automobile rental companies must take extra precaution when renting to a person who cannot present to them a valid credit card, because a person without a credit card is generally considered a greater credit risk than is a person with a credit card. Remember, the automobile rental company is entrusting to the customer a piece of property worth tens of thousands of dollars (US or otherwise). One car rental executive used the following analogy recently to describe the situation: "Let's say you're going to your cousin's wedding, and you need to rent a tuxedo. You can go out and rent one tomorrow, no questions asked. You can go to the wedding and destroy the rental, and you're going to be responsible for a couple hundred dollars. When you rent a car, the net worth is around 30,000. It's really just a numbers game and we need to have some way of being sure that the risk is not higher than it needs to be when we rent you a car." Increasingly, some car rental locations (in contrast to car rental companies in general) do accept debit cards for this security purpose, but in those cases they typically must therefore perform a check of the customer's credit history.
With car rentals, the security deposit per se is usually just authorized or blocked on the customer's credit card, rather than actually charged to it.
Motorhomes are on average far more expensive than cars. Therefore in the motorhome rental industry, large security deposits are the norm. Some motorhome rental companies merely authorize or block these charges, but others actually charge them and (if all goes well) credit them back to the card after the rental. It remains almost generally true that motorhome rental companies and their various rental locations do not accept debit cards, cash or travelers checks or the like for the purpose of a security deposit.
If you pay for a rental with a credit or charge card, put the deposit on the same card: this minor precaution will simplify and expedite the processing of any claim you might have to file.
Consider asking the agent whether you can upgrade to a more luxurious class of vehicle free of charge. You'd be surprised how often this works. If, on the other hand, the agent first suggests an upgrade, ask whether it is free of charge. If offered a smaller vehicle than the one you reserved, demand a discount.
Always refuse to pay more for a vehicle that's more expensive than the one you reserved. If the agent presses you to upgrade for a price under the pretense that the vehicle you've reserved cannot comfortably accommodate your party or, say, negotiate the local terrain you're probably being subjected to the old bait and switch. The agent may know that the smaller vehicles are nearly sold out, and if you, not being privy to the same information, agree to pay for an upgrade, you've been duped.
As mentioned earlier, an additional charge may be required locally where winter tires are required by law.
Before you leave the counter, write the names of any additional drivers on the contract. If you don't add these names, you may be traveling without proper insurance when the other person or persons are at the wheel. Usually additional drivers entail an extra (but perhaps pre-paid) fee per driver; and usually they must be present upon the pick-up occasion — presenting valid drivers licenses — to qualify.
Ask questions during the vehicle orientation. Refuse to be rushed.
Of course you must inspect the vehicle. Note if all the optional extras specified in your agreement are indeed present and in working order. If there is a problem say something at the depot before leaving. Be sure you know where the jack is. Understand where the spare tire is. Note where the fuel tank opening is. Check out the quality of the tires and the vehicle. Make sure the headlights, taillights, windshield wipers, seat adjustments, and seat belts work. Especially look for cut or bulging or bald tires, inoperative brake and turn signal lights, and dysfunctional windshield wipers. Remember, if you sign a rental contract, you are likely agreeing that the vehicle is in fine condition. Note, along with the rental company employee assisting you, any mechanical or cosmetic problems the vehicle exhibits. If such flaws exist, make sure the staff either fixes those of a mechanical nature or provides you with another vehicle. Make sure any flaws that are not fixed at this point are noted on the contract. And take a bunch of photographs of the vehicle from all sides, with several of the photos unmistakeably showing the rental depot premises in the background. Note as well how much fuel is in the tank so that you can return the vehicle with about the same amount. (Take a photo of the fuel gauge.) Also determine that you have the insurance papers and and contact addresses and phone numbers in case of an accident, breakdown or theft. In Europe a European Accident Statement form should be in the glove compartment or the compartment on the driver's side door. This is the standard form in Europe on which to record the details of an accident. Note as well the business hours during which you can return the vehicle. Lastly, memorize the make, model and color of the vehicle, so you don't end up losing it in large, busy parking lot.
Categorically a vehicle rental company reserves the right on any occasion (especially including the pick-up occasion) to refuse to deliver a vehicle or other product or service, whether these are already booked or not, to any customer whom they professionally consider unfit to operate the vehicle or other product or whom they otherwise professionally consider as presenting too great of a risk (in terms of safety, security, credit, or any other sort of risk) to the company, the company personnel, representatives of the company, or the general public, regardless of whether the customer presents such risk directly or by way of a travel partner. Such denial of vehicle, product or service terminates any existing contract the customer has in connection with that vehicle, product or service, including any such contract not only with the vehicle rental company but also with any representatives of that company (e.g. IdeaMerge, CarTrawler, etc); henceforth those companies will have no liability in relation to that contract or those contracts, and no therefore no refund will be due to the customer.
You will be held liable for vehicle damage that is deemed to occur during your rental or lease. Test drive the vehicle at and near the depot where you begin your journey. If you notice anything unusual about the vehicle, especially the clutch, return it to the depot immediately.
Upon returning the vehicle, confirm with the rental agent that no damage occurred to it. Get this fact written on the contract. If you placed a security deposit using your credit or charge card be sure that the car rental counter agent removes this deposit. (Motorhome rental companies typically reserve the right to return the deposit at a later date, because motorhomes are far more complex than cars and hence damages to them are sometimes not immediately obvious, or because the customer is in a hurry and can't be bothered to remain present during a complete inspection.) On the other hand, if an accident did cause damage to the vehicle, note this damage accurately and precisely on the contract. Take photographs of the vehicle which show the vehicle from every major direction and which substantiate that the pictures were taken in the presence of rental company personnel after you returned the vehicle. Note on the contract the amount of fuel in the tank. Keep a copy of this contract; keep copies of all the documents associated with the rental. (In Germany, by the way, it's considered bad manners to leave the keys in the ignition.)
A motorhome should returned with the toilet waste receptacle (e.g. blackwater tank) and the shower/sink waste water tank (greywater tank) empty. Otherwise the rental company reserves the right to charge a waste cleaning fee.
Moreover, the motorhome should be returned clean inside and be emptied of luggage by the reserved return time. (Typically the rental company will clean the outside.) If the motorhome is not clean on the inside — i.e. not only emptied of luggage but also with clean floors (vacuumed or thoroughly swept), clean seats, clean appliances, clean bathroom, and generally clean surfaces — the rental company reserves the right to charge an interior cleaning fee.
If proper return of a rental vehicle (as described above) occurs after the reserved return time, a charge will likely be levied for each extra such hour (up to the daily or nightly rate); and the customer will assume responsibility for claims made against the rental company by the subsequent customer because the subsequent customer's pick-up is the delayed by the late return.
Upon returning the vehicle the client should report to the rental company any ticketed parking violations, ticketed traffic violations, and toll-road violations and such that the client knowingly incurred during the rental or lease, along with any documentation thereof (e.g. the ticket itself). The cost of any associated fine or fines devolves upon the client, even if the client was not directly ticketed for the violation or was otherwise unaware of the violation. Moreover, the rental company might charge to the client an administration fee for processing each such fine.
At some car rental locations such as the Frankfurt airport agencies operate separate pick-up and drop-off desks, usually in close proximity to each other but often with different hours, the pick-up desk being open longer. IdeaMerge's managing director Eric Bredesen once waited an hour from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. for the Avis desk to open at the Frankfurt airport, only to learn he was waiting at the drop-off desk and that the pick-up desk 100 meters down the hall had been open since the beginning of his wait.
Don't forget to search the vehicle to make sure you don't leave a personal item behind.
Keep the rental paperwork.
When you return home check your credit card statement, this to make sure no unexpected charges have been made to the card in connection with the rental, and to make sure any security deposit which was actually charged to the card (in contrast to being merely authorized or blocked on the card) has been wholly or partially returned to the card as expected.
With respect to manual transmission vehicles, it is the client's responsibility to know, or to learn how, to drive a manual transmission. The rental company (i.e. the vendor) will likely refuse to deliver such vehicle unless all the drivers listed on the rental contract are expressly or evidently proficient in the operation of a manual transmission vehicle. There are no refunds in such cases.
Almost all the motorhomes and campervans available for rental in Europe have a manual transmission rather than an automatic transmission.
Vehicle models and layouts are not guaranteed. Some vehicle accessories, such as an awning or a bike rack, are not guaranteed, because some of the vehicles are delivered from the factory to the motorhome rental or car lease company so near to the pick-up date that there is no time to install such items.
Where and when road or weather conditions, and perhaps laws or ordinances or such, dictate the wise or requisite use of specific tires or specifically embellished tires (e.g. tires fitted with snow chains or socks), it is the driver's responsibility to abstain from driving until such tires are installed on his or her vehicle. It is nevertheless the client's responsibility to return the vehicle with the initial (i.e. original) set of tires installed or co-present; otherwise the client will be billed for those initial tires. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden, for example, have laws which dictate the use of winter tires. It is the client's responsibility to research and understand such laws in relation to his or her itinerary.
Unless otherwise indicated, the tires included with a French short-term, tax-free car lease are multi-season tires. By "multi-season" we mean tires that are not specifically designed for muddy and snowy conditions (which tires bear the code "M+S") or for snowy conditions in particular (which tires bear the international symbol of a snowflake); i.e they are not — we repeat, not — the sort of tires which are colloquially referred to as "winter tires" or "snow tires".
You can study the UK Automobile Assocation website to learn more about winter tire requirements and other compulsory equipment per European country.
Regarding snow chains, it is vital that you check and if necessary maintain the tension of the chains frequently, and certainly after every short journey. Also, with the chains fitted do not drive faster than about 35 miles per hour (60 km/h).
IdeaMerge suggests that our clients do not plan to rely solely on any one guide nor even on any collection of such guides (whether they be in book form, software form, or online) to determine the location or quality of appropriate hotels and campgrounds. Such a guide — especially if it is provided free of charge by the vendor or another entity — should not be considered suitably thorough and up to date, although in many cases they are very useful. Even if a vendor's policy is to provide such guide with every rental vehicle, they occasionally run out of supply because too many clients lose or abscond with the guide, or for other reasons beyond the vendor's control. IdeaMerge therefore suggests a sort of rule of three: use at least two published guides (in book form, software form, or online), and rely on your own on-the-ground research (e.g. following local signage, questioning local people, and so forth) to complete the picture. Market forces usually take care of the rest because they result in hotel and campground locations per the general demand and thus near where you are most likely to desire such location.
Neither IdeaMerge nor the vendor is responsible to assist in locating or recommending hotels or campgrounds to clients. Any assistance IdeaMerge or the vendor does give in that respect should not be interpreted as sanctioning or signifying the suitability of the services or products provided at the hotel or campground.
For motorhome travel soft-sided, collapsable bags are the best sort to use, because they can be stored within the vehicle without taking up much room. See our relevant Locations page for information about whether or not the rental depot will store luggage for you.
Unless otherwise specified on the IdeaMerge website or by the relevant IdeaMergevendor, clients should not plan to park their own vehicle at the rental depot. At some motorhome rental depots such parking is possible, but only if upon the pick-up occasion there happens to be room on the depot grounds. Typically rental depot personnel can direct clients to optimal parking solutions nearby the depot.
Drive carefully. The security deposit that you leave with the rental company upon the pick-up occasion will be debited for vehicle damage.
Please carry a mobile phone with you so the vendor can easily contact you if necessary and in case of emergency. Please confirm that your phone service provider and contract allows you to call toll-free numbers.