Car Rental Guide

Thinking about renting a car for your next trip but not sure where to start? We get it. Between finding the best price, understanding what’s included, considering insurance options and staying up-to-date on changing policies, it’s a lot. Lucky for you, we’re here to help. Our Car Rental Guide has everything you need to get started.

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Car rental lingo and FAQs

It’s easy to book a rental car with KAYAK. Simply search for the dates where you’ll need your car, choose an offer and a location that works for you, click through to the provider, and follow the instructions on their page. On the day of your rental, you’ll need to bring some documents with you to pick up the car like your drivers’ license and a method of payment (usually a credit card). Keep in mind you might need a second piece of identification if your drivers’ license is your primary ID. Once you’ve signed the rental contract with the agency, they will provide you with the car keys and you’ll be ready to go. Don’t forget to check the car for any damages that the car’s previous drivers may have inflicted before leaving the agency – that way you’ll avoid being liable for them when you return the car.

When you pick up your rental car, you’ll need to provide the rental company with your drivers’ license and some sort of record of insurance – either through your primary insurance, the credit card you use when paying for the car, or a third-party insurance policy you add to your rental. If you want to add additional drivers to your rental, you’ll need to add them to the rental contract. Depending on the company you rent with and where, this may incur an additional charge.

Most car rentals are round-trip, meaning you drop off the car at the same place where you picked it up. One-way car rentals are ones where you drop the car off in a different location. Keep in mind that many companies charge extra fees for dropping off the car in another city.

Depending on the company you’re renting from and the contract you agree when booking your rental, you may have a limit to the amount of mileage you’re allowed to drive your car. Some companies express this as a maximum mileage amount, others as a “daily mileage” limit, but they still work out the same – it’s the total amount driven that counts. If you’re planning to drive a long distance or want to be more flexible with your plans, make sure to look for an offer labeled “unlimited miles”.

A car rental with unlimited mileage means you can drive as far as you like without having to worry about any added charges. Keep in mind that many companies still charge fees for crossing state lines or international borders.

The answer is maybe – some rental companies may be able to track where you are or where you drove using GPS or other installed equipment in the car such as OnStar. Usually they would do so to only to recover a stolen vehicle, but as some rental agreements limit you from crossing certain borders or taking the car to certain locations, it’s always safest to read the rental agreement carefully when you book the vehicle.

While many car rental companies do allow you to cross the border from the US into Mexico, there are many rules and regulations that will usually apply. Most agencies only allow you to take cars from certain locations in the US into Mexico. They may also limit the car models you can rent, as well as the distance over the border you may drive the car. In addition to this, you will almost certainly have to add an extra insurance policy when renting the vehicle. As agencies tend to update their allowances on a regular basis, it’s worth checking in advance whether you’ll be able to bring a car into Mexico from the pick-up location you have in mind.

Supplemental liability insurance, sometimes shortened to SLI, covers damage caused to others, be it their vehicle, belongings, or injuries. Check out our rental car insurance guide for more information.

A Loss Damage Waiver, often shortened to LDW, is an optional insurance policy that provides coverage in case your vehicle is damaged or stolen during the period of your rental.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) protects the rental car against damage, theft, or accidents. The level of protection can vary depending on the insured amount and what scenarios it covers. Check out our rental car insurance guide for more information.

Some car rental companies offer different options for refueling your car. On a full-to-empty policy, your car is supplied with a full tank which you pay for on collection of the car. You are not required to refuel the car before returning it, but you won’t be refunded for any fuel left in the tank, so you should return the car empty, or as empty as possible. A full-to-full policy means you’ll need to refuel the car just before returning it. You’ll need to drop off the car with the same level of fuel it had when you picked it up, or else you will be charged a hefty refueling fee.

Read more tips on how to save money on a rental car.

If you’re thinking of taking your rental car on a ferry, you’ll need to first check the specific regulations of the company you’re renting from. Some companies will be fine with it, but some won’t allow you to take your car on a ferry, even if you’re staying in the same state or country where you picked up the car. It’s also worth checking your insurance policy, as some policies don’t cover you in case the car is damaged during a ferry crossing. It’s worth doing some research before you book your car to make sure that you book with a company who will allow you to take it on a ferry. You can also let the agents at the rental counter know of your intentions to make sure to avoid any nasty surprises later on.

If you’re renting a car in North America or Europe, you should assume that smoking is prohibited inside the car. When you return the car it will be inspected, and any evidence of smoking like smells, ash or burn marks will likely land you a cleaning fee, or even charges for damage to the car’s interior. Also, keep in mind that in some US states like California and New York as well as countries like Canada, France and the UK, it is illegal to smoke if you’re driving with a minor in the car. Outside Europe and North America, policies and laws may vary, so to be sure you should check the terms of your contract with the rental company.

Most car rental companies allow dogs in their cars, as long as you return the car in good condition. Keep in mind that most companies don’t provide any equipment for pet owners, so you’d have to bring your own. It’s probably worth bringing a blanket to reduce dog hair, pet odors or mud inside the car which could get you hit with a cleaning fee. To be 100% sure, you can always double check with the rental company before your trip whether they accept dogs.