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How to return a rental car

Written by  Spreet Aulakh Friday, 21 December 2018 00:00

Man holding rental car keys

Handing back your rental car can be a nerve-wracking experience. The last thing you want is to be hit with a bill for additional charges that could have been avoided. There’s plenty of things you can do before picking up your rental vehicle to help cut costs, like securing independent car rental insurance and paying upfront online, but it’s good to be aware of things you can do when returning the car to prevent extra costs. We’ve pulled together information about what you can do to avoid running up extra charges on your rental.

What time do rental cars need to be returned?

When you collect your rental car, you should arrange a drop off time with your provider. This is particularly important if you’re renting for a short time period, around a day or two.

If you think you will miss the time you set with your provider, let the company know as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary charges. If you’ve been renting for a few weeks, an hour or two might be okay, but late drop-off charges vary from company to company so check with your provider.

Can you return a rental car early?

Most rental car companies will allow you to return your rental car early without any extra charges. If you need to do this, call the company and let them know when you’ll be dropping the vehicle off, so they can be prepared.

Can you return a rental car after hours?

Major rental car providers will let you leave your rental car in their lot after hours when you are returning it, processing the vehicle the next working day. If they find any issues with the vehicle, they will contact you.

You are likely to remain liable for damage that occurs up to the point that the vehicle is processed.

If you’re returning the car after hours because you are late, the rental car company may charge you a late fee for an extra day’s rental.

Rental car fuel policies

To avoid hiked up fuel prices, check your provider’s fuel policy before signing the rental agreement and make sure you follow it before returning your rental car.

Full to Full Fuel Policy

This is the most common type of fuel policy from rental car providers. Essentially, it means that you need to return the vehicle with the same amount of fuel it had when you collected it. You’ll have to fill up right before dropping it back with the rental car company.

Pre-Purchase Policy

The car will be provided with a full tank, which you’ve already paid for. You’ll have to buy anything you need on top of this, but you won’t have to return the vehicle with a full tank of gas. This can be a good option if you’re driving long distances.

Free Tank Policy

This is the simplest option, but it’s quite rare. You pick the car up with however much fuel is in it and fill up as and when you need. You do not need to fill up before you return the vehicle.

To avoid being charged inflated prices for fuel, pay close attention to the which of these policies applies to your rental car.

Can someone else return my rental car?

Someone other than yourself can return your rental car, but to do so they must be a named driver on your rental agreement. Adding extra drivers to a rental agreement can bump up costs, so talk these through with your rental provider and decide if they are really necessary.

Do I need to wash my rental car before returning?

Usually, the answer to this question is no. Rental car companies are set up with car cleaning facilities, as they know washing the vehicles is part and parcel of the business.

One area where you might need to clean up after yourself is inside the rental car. Clear out wrappers, crumbs, and leaves from footwells and other places they tend to accumulate and brush away any collected dirt and dust.

If rental car providers have to do much more than a quick wipe down and vacuum, you may find yourself hit with charges.

Providing they have multiple outlets; most providers will allow drop-off in a different location to the one where you collected the rental car. Choosing to do this, however, is likely to incur a drop charge.

If possible, try and plan your trip either in one area or in a loop, so you can drop the car off where you collected it, avoiding unnecessary charges.

Drop charge car rental

The drop charge is the fee you’ll face if you do choose to drop your vehicle at a different outlet to the one you picked up at. Drop charges are sometimes referred to as ‘inter-city fees’.

These can add a substantial sum to your final bill, often as high as $250, so avoid when possible.

Can you take a rental car out of State?

Most major providers will let you travel out of the state where you rented the car but check carefully before signing the rental agreement.

Some providers will charge a higher day rate for inter-state travel, so be clear if this is what you intend to do. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be able to cross state lines unnoticed. Many rental cars are now equipped with GPS tracking technologies, so companies will know if you’ve traveled somewhere outside of your agreement.

Can you take a rental car out of the country?

This depends on your rental car provider and the country you plan to travel to. Some major providers will let you travel to other countries, but you need to tell them your plans beforehand, and often it involves extra insurance.

Can you take a rental car to Canada?

Most rental companies will let you take a rental car to Canda if they are told about it beforehand. There are a few things you’ll need to make sure you have before you make your trip:

  1. Passport
  2. A clean US driving license – DUIs are counted as felonies in Canada, so if you’ve had one in the past you will not be allowed to travel
  3. Canadian non-resident insurance card

Your rental car provider should be able to advise you about how to get your non-resident insurance card before you travel.

Can you take a rental car to Mexico?

Driving into Mexico can be more of an issue than crossing our northern border.

Some major providers will allow you to do this if you let them know in advance. If you do find a provider who will allow cross-border travel between the US and Mexico, they will require you to purchase Mexican Automobile Liability Insurance at a US rental location.

By and large, the providers that do offer travel to Mexico only do so at branches close to the border. If this is a service you need, discuss it with your rental provider. If you try to do so without their permission the penalties can be severe.

Follow this guidance to avoid unnecessary charges when returning your rental car. Give the vehicle a thorough once-over when you drop it off, and make sure you pay any congestion and toll charges that you’ve been issued with during the rental period.