Why You Should Say No to These Rental Car Sales Pitches

Renting a car is simple and cheap. But those counter employees sure make it tough to decline the up-sells and upgrades. Here’s why you should.

My uncle called me from the Denver airport recently. He was about to rent a compact car for his trip to Vail, and the staff at the rental car company insisted that such a car would have trouble driving in the mountains.

I assured him that such advice was nonsense, and recalled that my parents had received the exact same warning the last time they rented a car in Denver.

What’s going on?

Rental cars can be ridiculously cheap. I recently rented a car at the Miami airport for a mere $22 a day – less than the cost of renting a bicycle.

Rental car companies buy their vehicles from manufacturers in bulk at ultra-low prices and sell them off a short time later. In the meantime, a car standing still earns nothing. By offering cars at low rates, rental companies seek to make their profits at the counter by aggressively up-selling options and add-ons. In Denver, multiple companies are pushing the fiction that only a larger car can drive uphill, but I’ve seen other techniques too…

1. Insurance. Technically not insurance, rental companies call this coverage “damage waiver.” More than likely, your existing insurance covers you in rental cars, so this popular up-sell is often an unnecessary expense. Some credit cards also offer this coverage at no extra charge – check your policy and plastic before you leave home. Why do the counter agents push it so hard? They might be receiving a bonus for the sale. To figure out how profitable this stuff is for rental car companies, simply multiply the daily rate by 365 and compare it to what you normally pay for car insurance. For example, Budget sells their Limited Damage Waiver (LDW) coverage for up to $25.99 a day – $9,486 a year!

2. Class upgrades. In Miami, our family was shown an economy car with a big sign on it recommending that we would need an upgrade to carry much luggage. We did have a lot of luggage, but I still declined the upgrade. We were then given the keys to a full-size car. Even though I always reserve and pay for an economy car, I always decline the upgrade – and I almost never receive a compact! Rental car companies simply don’t have many compacts on hand and often upgrade for free.

3. Accessories. It’s amazing that a company will rent you a car for $22 a day but charge you another $12 to rent a GPS that you can buy for under $100. The same is true of $13-a-day child safety seats that could be bought for under $50. If you need one of these accessories, take it with you.

4. Fuel service options. My uncle was told that the fuel station across from the rental car center sold fuel for much higher than the prepaid option. This is true, but as in all cities, the gas station near the airport caters only to lost tourists desperate for a quick fill-up before returning their car and catching their flight. Just a few miles down the road, on the way to the airport, were plenty of reasonably priced stations.

I don’t begrudge the rental car companies for trying to increase their profits, so long as they do so honestly. As a savvy consumer, you should recognize these attempts for what they are and make the most economical choices with your travel dollars.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Same airport in Denver, 13 months ago. I was moving to Denver and rented a car from the airport. The rental car guy advised to take the toll road and pay $15 for plate-pass service (this did not include the actual toll fee). He said the other option was to drive through Denver with a lot of traffic it would take me over an hour to get to Broomfield. As I found out later, this is total BS! There are other highways to and from the airport I could have taken. He told me the only highway was the tollway

  • Anonymous

    I have full-coverage insurance, from a major insurance carrier; however,  I have purchased the loss damage waiver because my insurance company rep told me that my car’s insurance does not cover the time the rental car is out of service for repair, if it is involved in an accident.  I was told that those charges would be my responsibility and since a rental company has no reason to rush a repair job, I could be on the hook for a lot of money if I am involved in an accident.  Any thoughts? 

  • Anonymous

    After reading your article I am going to check back with my insurance Co.  I have full coverage insurance with a major nationwide company.  I called a few years back regarding this exact situation and was told, by my agent, that they would cover the repairs if my rental car was damaged; however, they would not cover the charges for loss of use (the daily rental charge) that the rental company would charge me. I assume there is no reason for a rental company to rush a repair job if a customer is on the hook for the equivalent daily rental charges.

  • It gripes me to no end when the rental car companies want to add $10 a day to the agreement to add another driver.  This is insane!  I am already paying to rent the car for the time period, and now they will only let one person drive??

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