- The insurance hard sell. Expect to be pressured to buy a loss damage waiver to limit your liability. But at $60 to $250 a week, is it necessary?
"Consumers may already be covered on their own auto insurance policy if it includes collision and/or comprehensive coverage," notes Consumer Reports. "Some credit cards also provide protection. Just make sure the personal policy covers rentals and business travel and that it pays the 'full value' of a loss, administrative fees, towing and 'loss of use.' "
Your defense: Call your insurance and credit card company ahead of time to see whether you can avoid an unnecessary purchase. If you're not covered already, get the rental add-on policy.
Also beware of rental companies asking for huge deposits if you decline the insurance, or threatening to not rent to you at all — that's illegal in many states. If you get these threats, speak to a manager.
- Who made that dent? After turning in a car and going on your way, you may learn you've been charged for dings and dents you didn't cause. But if at pickup you signed a form saying there was no damage, you're going to have trouble making an "it wasn't me" protest.
Your defense: Take photos or video with a digital or camera phone when you first get the car — and again when you return it. Be sure to get close-ups of all existing blemishes, dings and scratches. Pay close attention to bumpers, windshield and undercarriage.
- Fuelish omissions. Recent surveys revealed that car rental companies at 13 airports were charging up to $9.29 per gallon, more than twice the rate at the pump, to fill the tanks of cars whose renters had promised to return them full. And some agencies tack on an additional surcharge for the "service" of filling the tank.
Your defense: Find out where there's a gas station near the rental agency and always, always fill up the tank on the way in.
And think twice about any "fuel option" by which the rental company charges you a market-based price for the tankful of gas that comes with the car, and then lets you return less than full with no charge.
The catch: The agency gets any leftover gas and you get no credit on your bill. To make this system pay, you've basically got to be running on fumes when you turn the car in. And who wants to risk coasting to a stop a mile from the lot?
You may also like: Car rental benefits for AARP members. >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.