Driving by car is one of our absolute favourite ways to travel. You have the freedom to pull over anytime you want, eat where you please, and not be trapped in the nightmarish herd that is bus sightseeing tours.

While driving is an ideal travel form for many, the costs of booking can be a serious money drainer. Here’s our best tips to ensure you have maximum savings and minimal losses when booking your next car rental!

On the note of thrifty transportation: you may be interested in my other articles on how to relocate an RV for $1/day and how to book the cheapest flight possible.

1. Use a broad search engine

You’ll find different prices on every car rental website for every destination, so do a broad search first to identify the cheapest car rental companies at your destination. Booking Buddy does this best, as it prepares the same search across many different sites, letting you easily compare rental prices. Best of all, almost all of the sites it searches offer free cancellation and free amendments to your booking. This is ideal since it allows you to place-hold a low rate in advance, then cancel for free if your plans change or you find something cheaper.

If we feel like being extra thorough, we will also search VroomVroomVroom, which sometimes shaves another $10 off the cheapest price we’ve seen on other sites.


2. Determine if it’s cheaper to book directly

Once you’ve figured out which car rental companies are cheapest, hop on the company websites to seek discount codes or specials, as these don’t always show up in a search engine results.

Next, do a quick Google search for company coupons. Type the company name and year, e.g.”Avis car rental coupon code 2015″. RetailMeNot and Coupons.com are most likely to pop up, and these are both good coupon hubs with regular postings for major rental companies.

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RetailMeNot – probably our favourite coupon site as it quickly lists success/fail rates of discount codes

3. Don’t pre-pay for fuel

A new trend in car rental booking is to offer customers a “discounted” tank of gas at the time of booking so that you don’t have to return the tank full. Basically, you pay in advance for a tank so you can bring it back empty. This is NOT worth doing!

For starters, no one actually brings a completely empty tank of gas. Who drives their rental back with the “FILL TANK NOW” alarm blaring? No one, that’s who. More likely than not, you’ll have at least a quarter tank that you paid for, in addition to the full “discounted” tank you agreed to buy.

Finally, take note that the rental company’s cheaper fuel rate is usually only pennies less than the gas stations. In a nutshell: do not pay ahead for fuel!


4. Avoid buying rental company insurance

Car rental companies make a mint on insurance, which often overlap in what they cover. Rental companies will always try to pressure you to also buy theirs. Unless you have to, don’t!

There are 4 ways that you can be covered for car insurance without buying it from a rental company:

  1. Your credit card – check if it does, if so make sure you book with that card to validate it, and understand the policy beforehand
  2. Regular (at-home) car insurance sometimes covers rentals too, call to check
  3. Travel insurance sometimes covers rentals, call & check
  4. Independent car rental insurance (see below)

Independent rental insurance companies offer annual insurance policies much cheaper than rental agencies. With annual policies from ~$42+, this can easily be more cost-wise especially if you are making multiple bookings over a year. ICarHireInsurance and Insurance4CarHire are two recommended options recommended by The Guardian.

5. Decline add-ons like GPS

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Unless you enjoy overpaying for a GPS device that you won’t get to keep, be thrifty and use a maps app in your phone such as Google Maps, buy a GPS device ahead of time (which is much cheaper to do these days), or install an equivalent navigation app on your smartphone. All these options are cheaper than paying $15+ per day for a device that’s not even yours!


6. Decline upgrades

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Compact, fuel efficient cars = travel savings! (Yukon, Canada)

Now, if booking the cheapest car rental possible is not your objective, upgrade away! If savings is what you’re after though, book economy or compact cars and avoid upgrades (whether free or offered), as this usually means you’re getting a less fuel efficient car.

7. Read the fine print

Look for hidden fees, taxes, or “Does not include…” phrases to make sure that the price on your booking is the true final cost. We’ve e-mailed or phoned companies directly to confirm the price of the online receipt. Better safe than sorry!

Other fine prints to watch for:

  1. Are there mileage restrictions on the booking? We’ve been burned by exceeding mileage limits and were charged a dollar amount per excess kilometres. Ouch!
  2. Are there hidden taxes or fees, or is it clearly stated “all taxes and fees included” on your booking receipt?

8. Do a thorough inspection on pick-up

No one wants their own horror story of false charges made against them by a rental agency. To avoid this, take the following steps on pick-up:

  • On the inspection sheet, write down every last scratch and nick you can find both on the interior and exterior of the car. Check that wheels are inflated, windshields are chip-free, and check the bumpers, sides, and seats for damage. Get the inspection sheet signed before leaving.
  • Double check that the fuel tank is full (one time we were given a car with 1/3 a tank on pick-up – good thing we checked)!
  • Ensure the mileage written down matches up with what the dashboard says. This is especially important if you have mileage restrictions on your booking!

9. Double check your credit card statement

After your booking, be sure to check your credit card statement to ensure you weren’t charged extra fees that you didn’t ask for.


What tips do you have to ensure you snag the cheapest car rental?