Catherine Hiles
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Things to Do Before Leaving the Rental Car Lot

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Airport sign directing passengers to the rental car desks
Photo: Michael Gray via CC

Once you have the keys to your rental car in your hands, you’re free to get in the car and go. But before you do, it’s important to make sure you do a few things that could help save you unnecessary charges later. Once you get in the car, you are responsible for it (and whatever happens to it) until you return it, so taking a few moments to make sure you have everything in order is a smart choice.

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Here is a checklist of things you should know, check, and do before leaving the rental car lot.

4 things to know

blue sedan with severe collision damage to the rear left-hand side
What should you do if you’re in an accident in a rental car?

There are several things you need to make sure you know before driving off the rental car lot, including the following.

1. What to do in case of an accident or breakdown

If you find yourself stranded on the side of the road, who do you need to call? In an accident, after you’ve made sure everyone is okay and called 911 if necessary, you’ll need to contact the rental car company. You may have paid for insurance through them, but if not, you should call your own insurance company to make a claim. Ask the rental agent and read the small print to find out what steps you need to take if you’re in an accident or if you break down.

2. Local driving laws or unusual conventions

If you’re traveling to a neighboring state, the driving laws are probably pretty similar. But even in the U.S. there are different driving laws and conventions in different states. Some states, like Michigan, make you turn right at a major intersection and do a U-turn rather than turning left. And some states use roundabouts a lot more than others. Driving in another country is a whole other ballgame, so make sure you read up on the rules of the road before you head off on your trip.

3. All car controls

This includes how to use the cruise control, windshield wipers, headlights, and radio. You’ll also need to make sure you know how to open the trunk, hood, and fuel tank cover. Depending on the make and model of car, your rental might be very similar to your daily driver, or it might be vastly different.

4. Recommended fuel type

Most rental cars are likely to take regular unleaded gasoline. But if you get upgraded you might need to use premium gasoline instead. Alternatively, you could end up driving a diesel-powered vehicle (especially in another country where diesels are more common), and putting unleaded fuel in a diesel car can be a very costly mistake.

3 things to check

How much fuel does your rental car have when you pick it up?

To avoid paying for issues you didn’t cause, it’s important to check the following things before you drive away in your rental.

1. The condition of the car

Do a thorough walk-around and note any existing damage to the car, including small scratches, dents, or chipped glass. These are things you could be held responsible for once you drive off the lot if they aren’t noted as pre-existing. Make sure you show the rental agent any dings you find so they can confirm that they were there before you drove the car.

2. The fuel level

The car should come with a full tank and is expected to be returned with a full tank. The rental company could charge a hefty premium to fill the tank when you return it, so make sure they know if it’s not full when you receive it.

3. The interior

Make sure there’s no damage to the interior, just the same as the exterior. If there is, inform the rental agent so they can make a note of it in the file. If you don’t do this, you may end up paying for damage you didn’t cause.

3 things to do

25 MPH speed limit sign taken from below with blue cloudy sky in background
Make sure you obey speed limits and other road rules
Photo: getbrett via Pixabay

Distracted and unsafe driving is stupid in your own car, but it is extra extra stupid behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car. That’s why it’s important that you do the following things before you leave in your rental car.

1. Make adjustments before leaving

Adjust your seat settings, mirrors, and tune the radio before leaving the lot. Driving an unfamiliar car is already a distraction, so you should make sure you’re all set and ready to focus on the road before leaving.

2. Drive safely

Drive extra safely and obey speed limits. Obviously, you should always do this, but no one wants the extra hassle associated with handling a ticket or accident in a rental car. It’s especially important to be extra cautious in an unfamiliar car as you might have a delayed reaction time in case of emergency.

3. Enjoy your trip!

Above all else, make sure you have a good time! Don’t stress too much about driving your rental car; if you follow these tips and make sure you focus and drive carefully, you’ll be sure to have a fantastic time!

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