THE BLOG

6 Important Steps for Renting a Car

03/19/2015 09:02 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

Now that the country is starting to thaw out after what has felt like a never-ending winter, the first thing I want to do is get out of the house and enjoy the newly arriving warm weather. I know many Americans - especially those in the coldest parts of the country - feel the same way. And many people use the springtime to travel to a new destination. After all, Spring Break isn't just for students.

Traveling to a new destination means you're likely going to a place where you don't typically drive or may not be familiar with all state-specific driving laws. If you took a flight to this destination, it also means you'll have to rent a car, so you'll be driving a car that is not your own.

When renting a car while on vacation, your first thought might be how many passengers you will have or if you will share the driving with someone else. Then, you might take into account the refueling options and the return times to avoid penalty fees. However, you should also consider other factors like weather, safety, insurance, and how the car fits you as a driver. These factors will directly impact your driving experience and, if ignored, can make your vacation unnecessarily stressful. So, as you plan your next travel or vacation, follow the steps below before you drive off in your rental car:

1. Consult Your Insurance Agent
Many car rental companies provide insurance packages. In turn, many insurance companies include rental cars in their packages. Prior to booking your rental car, check with your auto insurance agent to see if your policy includes coverage when driving a rental car. Additionally, be sure to list all possible drivers on the rental agreement.

2. Review Basic State Driving Laws
Driving activities legal in your state might not be legal in the state to which you are traveling. A good example of this is cell phone usage. Others include reporting a crash, turning right on a red light, and even headlight use. Before your trip, consider reviewing the driving rules of your destination state with a quick visit to their DMV website.

3. Rent a Car You Know You Can Drive
Double check that the company has the vehicle you want. Rental companies often offer small vehicles, such as compact sedans, at lower rates. Many of these vehicles might not include four-wheel drive or navigation systems, car features to which many drivers are accustomed. You will need to make the decision if the bargain price is worth the reduced features, especially when it comes to safety.

4. Consider the Weather
Are you traveling to a city known for its rainy conditions or early nightfall? Don't be too enticed by the cheapest rental model. Think less of style and more of practicality if you have a choice of color. Recall, cars that are brighter and lighter in color, such as white or gold, are easier to spot in the dark and during heavy rainfall.

5. Check Your Rental Vehicle before You Drive
Before you drive off the lot, do a 360-degree inspection of the vehicle. It's also a good idea to take photos of the vehicle before your first trip. Make note of any preexisting dents, scratches, or issues with the vehicle and share this with your rental agent to include in the paperwork. If you notice significant damage, it might be best to request a different vehicle.

6. Fit the Car to the Driver
Just as you adjust your own vehicle for maximum comfort and visibility, you must do the same for your rental car. Even just a few inches in seat-height difference can make a significant change in your visibility. There are three important aspects of how your car "fits" that you should check every time you get behind the wheel. First, properly adjust your side and rearview mirrors to minimize blind spots. Secondly, adjust your seat for good foot positioning on your brake and gas pedals. You never want to have to reach for the pedals with your toes, as this can result in leg fatigue and slowed reaction times. Finally, position your seat so that you have at least 10 inches between your chest and the steering wheel. This space cushion reduces the risk of serious injury in the event of a collision or airbag deployment. If you want to learn more about creating a safer fit in your car, AARP Driver Safety's free CarFit events and resources can help.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driving refresher course, such as the AARP Smart Driver course, available online or in a classroom setting near you, in both English and Spanish. You may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course. AARP membership is not required to take the course. For more information, please visit www.aarp.org/drive.