Discover all my tips to choose the best car rental companies for you.
It depends on the location, country, your priorities...
All my pieces of advice to compare car rentals and reduce the stress of renting a car.
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Best car rental companies
The truth - there is no answer
Internationally, there is no way to have one company over another.
I don't trust any website ranking those giant companies.
The experience you get at one office in one country can be very different in another.
Plus, there are no best car rentals companies overall but the best one for you and what is important for you.
However, well-known international brands have standards and rules that apply everywhere, so it can give you peace of mind.
The only rule
The only rule to keep in mind is: if you want the cheapest price possible, you cannot expect the same level of service as a more expensive one...
The most recognized car rental brands around the World
You can find some great local brands in each country (e.g. Cicar in Lanzarote), but if you are worried and/or overwhelmed, staying with recognized international brand can be easier. They are:
Doing research to find the best rental car company for you
The best solution, in my opinion, is to use a car rental comparison site and do your own research based on your need and expectations.
My favorite comparison website is DiscoverCars.com.
And in the next section is my detailed process.
8 steps to choose a car rental company - comparison process
Step 1 - Get an overview comparison with a car rental platform
Price is often one of the main factors when choosing car rental.
So, it is best to first look at a platform comparing various brands to have an idea of prices and options.
My favorite platform is DiscoverCars.com:
- Enter location and date
- Change residence and age under if incorrect
- and search
- Use the filters to narrow down options: automatic, fuel policy, price, number of seats,
The clear display on DiscoverCars.com allow you to compare the main features quickly:
Depending on what is important for you check out:
- Fuel policy
- Automatic or manual
- Cancellation policy
- Mileage (unlimited or limited)
- Pick up location (in airport terminal or shuttle required, or can be dropped by company
- Insurances already included
- Air conditioning
Step 2 - Check special conditions
Before you start looking further down into reputation and all, you may have specific conditions to check out and narrow the list even more.
For example - geographical requirements
- If you are taking a ferry to an island with your car (e.g. between islands in New Zealand or in the Canary between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura...), does the company allow it - are there extra fees involved
- If you are planning on crossing a border, does the company allow it? Are you still covered by the insurance?
On the platform DiscoverCars.com, click on rental conditions and then on geographical restrictions
For example - driver's age
- If you are a very young driver, renting a car can be really difficult
- In some countries, there can also be limitations or fees for older drivers
On the platform DiscoverCars.com, click on rental conditions and then on Drive requirements
Step 3 - Cost of extras
If you need extras such as:
- additional driver,
- baby seats
Have a look at the prices and compare prices with extras included.
On the platform DiscoverCars.com, click on the button "View" and scroll down to see the price of the extras.
Step 4 - Make sure there are no hidden fees
On all offers and platforms, read all the information.
Remember that if you want really really cheap rentals, there can be a lot of extra fees you may discover the day of pickup: e.g. out of hours pickup, mandatory insurance was not included in quote...
Make sure you understand all the conditions.
Step 5 - Check ratings
Before checking comments online, a best way to first sort out the companies is by the rating.
On DiscoverCars.com, there is a rating left by previous customers based on a 1 to 10 scale.
In my opinion, a renting over 8 should not cause any problem.
Car rental companies have rarely over 9 ratings.
Remember that if you want really really cheap rentals, you will often have to go with much lower customer service.
Step 6 - Check reviews
If you are still worried, you can go read the reviews online.
Make sure you check those of the company + location. Not the overall comments about a brand.
Customer service can vary greatly between offices.
However, don't fall into the rabbit hole of car rental reviews.
All rental companies have bad reviews.
You have to analyze them to see if there is a big problem or just the usual complaints.
First, sort by the latest (not need to read 4-year-old reviews...)
Second, understand the usual complaints with all rental companies and don't focus on those:
- the cost of the security deposit when you don't take the rental company's extra insurance - this is a classic one that gets people riled up, but that's how it works with all
- the fact that they're all trying to sell the insurance at full price. They don't have very big margins on rentals but they do on insurance, so they all push.
- use the credit card associated with the name.
Third, what to really pay attention to:
The biggest problem to check in the comments (filter by most recent) is if there are any car problems or if they are trying to charge for damages on top of that. More than 2 comments along those lines recently and I'm worried.
Step 7 - Make your choice
Don't spend forever choosing.
All those reviews can be overwhelming.
Decide what is the most important criteria for you and choose the company.
Step 8 - Be nice, know the rules and do your check
The best things to do to have a good car rental experience:
- arrive with a smile and a positive attitude. If you are expecting issues, you will get them!
- don't get annoyed by their sales pitch. This is not the fault of the poor counter worker. They have to offer the insurance.
- know the rules in terms of deposit and insurance before arriving, so that you are not surprised and can make decisions quickly
- check your car and take photos
This last step is the most important for peace of mind.
A thorough check is important to avoid any conflicts.
If you are in a dark underground parking, use the flashlight on your phone.
- Check all the exterior of the car for dent and scratches
- Don't forget to check the roof!!!! It is often forgotten, but they might check it when you return
- Don't forget under the bumper at the front (where people damage on stairs)
- And don't forget the back of the mirrors
- Check the interior for any damage
- Don't forget the interior of the trunk door
- Check the state of the tires
- Check the state of the fender (mud wing above the wheels)
- Make sure the spare tire is in place and in good condition
- Check that gas level and milage match the record
Which car rental to choose? 6 Tips
Once you have chosen the rental company there is still the question of the car.
Which type of car to pick?
Below are a few criteria to keep in mind when choosing the type of cars (and remember that the company can give you an equivalent, not always the exact car):
Tip 1 - Price
Of course, smaller cars are cheaper.
Tip 2 - Size vs travelers
Consider the number of people in the car and their height.
Can they sit comfortable?
Tip 3 - Size vs type of travel
Consider also your type of travel
- Length of driving each day
If you are driving just 1h each day you don't need the same comfort as if you will be driving 3 to 4 hours.
For longer drive, consider upgrading to the size above.
- Road trip vs fixed base
If you are settling in one accommodation for the entire trip, you won't have to drive with your luggage for a long time.
But if you are doing a road trip, changing accommodation every day or every few days, you will often have your luggages in the trunk. Therefore you need a large enough trunk so as not to get annoyed, and to hide everything out of sight and avoid tempting the thieves.
Tip 4 - Size and power vs location of travel
Next are the places where you are going to drive.
Keep in mind:
- Don't choose a very large car if traveling in Europe through old villages - they tend to have very narrow roads
- Choose a car with enough power if driving in the mountains - driving will be easier with turns and slope, if you don't choose the smaller engine.
Tip 5 - Automatic vs Manual
Know that in Europe, many cars are manual. Therefore, there is an extra cost for renting automatic.
And it can be fun to learn to use the gear shift!
Tip 6 - The question of 4WD
More and more SUVs and 4WD appear at rental car agencies.
You may want to rent them for comfort.
But know that if you are renting them to go off-road, almost all companies are fine prints where it is written that you cannot take any rentals on unpaved roads (even 4WD). If you still do, insurance will not work.
Things to remember to improve your car rental experience
How far in advance should I rent my car?
For the best price and largest choice, book as early as possible.
Some locations, especially islands, will have their price go very high during peak season because they have a limited supply of cars.
Are some days cheaper than others for picking up a car?
It depends on the location.
If you are renting where mostly business people are renting, then Monday will be the most expensive.
For tourists locations, the first day of the tourist week will probably be the most expensive. It normally coincides with the most expensive flights.
Is it cheaper to rent a car for a week?
Sometimes it is.
Rates fluctuate greatly. The best option is for you to compare price for 6 days and price for a week.
With the comparison platform such as DiscoverCars.com, it is very easy and fast to do.
Is it worth paying for rental car insurance?
Many levels of insurances are available. And their wording is often not very clear.
Here is a high-level overview of the different types of insurances - which are not really insurances, but waivers to limit your liability:
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) - It limits the customer’s responsibility during the rental period and sets the maximum amount of money the customer will have to pay in case of damages -
- Theft Protection (TP) - this waiver limits your liability up to the vehicle’s deductible/excess amount in the event the car is stolen (proof required are a police report and the car keys). TP is frequently included in the car rental price.
- Third Party Liability (TPL) - also known as Supplemental Liability Insurance, Extended protection, liability protection... - it covers personal and material damages caused to other people’s cars, property and even medical expenses. They have different limits.
- and many others...
First, you need to understand what the mandatory insurances are in the country where you are renting.
Second, you need to consider the deductible for the various levels of insurance:
for each one:
How high is the risk?
How much will have I to pay if something happens?
How much do I have to pay in insurance to reduce that amount?
Which one I am more comfortable with?
Should I join a car rental loyalty program?
Yes, if you are always renting at the same place and enjoy the company.
Yes, if you tend to be a creature of habit who does not want to do much research and comparison, if you are happy to use the same company everywhere
Not really, if you are renting from all over the World and always searching for the best option
Most loyalty programs are free to join, but I think keeping up with all of them can be annoying.
Is Hertz better and Enterprise? Is Enterprise better than Alamo?...
There is not clear cut answer to any of those questions.
Experience will vary depending on what is most important to you and on the office you are renting from.
Worst car rental agencies
I don't like to dwell on negative.
First, there won't be a worst overall. As I wrote several times, it depends on the location.
In my experience, the worst car rental companies are often some very local ones with crazy cheap prices. Read the reviews and you will see they are not trustworthy or have very poor customer service. You can't have crazy low price and crazy high service!
And you will see that they are not good based on their mark on the various platforms.
Location specific car rental tips
Need help renting a car in a specific location?
Check out my specific tips, including:
- license requirement
- specific things to check (e.g. mandatory equipment)
- local rules to know
- potential local scams...
Location specific articles
- 36 tips for renting a car in Spain
- How to rent a car in Corsica
- How to rent a car in Crete
- How to rent a car in Lanzarote
- How to rent a car in Madeira
- How to rent a car in Mallorca - 36 tips
- How to rent a car in Portugal
- 36 tips for renting a car in Santorini
- 36 tips for renting a car in Scotland
- How to rent a car in Slovenia
- 36 tips for renting a car in New Zealand
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