Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
When renting a car, you might think that getting into an accident is the only thing that could cost you money. But while accidents are sometimes unavoidable, there are other mistakes that can cost you money when driving a rental car.
They include failing to take pictures of your car before and after your rental term, failing to plan for an extra driver and failing to understand the economics of rental cars.
When a picture’s worth a thousand dollars
“Always take pictures of all sides of the cars and inside the car to document any damage before pickup and after drop-off,” says Michael Stalf, managing director of Myonecar, a German car rental company.
Why take vacation photos of your car? Because your rental car company probably won’t. If it finds damage to your vehicle, it will hold you liable. By the way, if you find a ding, dent or scratch on your car when you pick it up, make sure it’s also documented in your paperwork. Or better yet, ask for a different vehicle.
Additional driver, additional fees
Renters also tend to forget that car rental companies charge hefty fees for additional drivers. For example, Hertz charges $13.50 per day, a maximum of $189 per rental, for each additional driver. Julie Demaret, a director at the car rental firm Rhinocarhire, says you need to think about the extra driver before you rent.
“If you want to share the driving, try to find an offer with a free additional driver,” she says. “It’s always cheaper to book beforehand than on arrival.”
Find cheaper rental coverage online
And look out for upsells. For example, insurance can add $20 or more per day to the cost of your rental. But you can get car rental coverage for about half that from a traditional travel insurance company. Allianz Travel Insurance has a product called Rental Car Damage Protector for $11 a day. The insurance site iCarhireinsurance.com, which is operated by Halo Insurance, even sells a policy that covers you up to $1,200 for misfueling your car.
Ways to find a vehicle when cars aren’t available
Make sure you understand the tricks of the trade, too. Car rental companies get busy during the summer. Nicole Gustas, a frequent traveler from Boston, couldn’t find a rental car in Los Angeles recently, so she used a strategy that became popular last summer: She rented a U-Haul truck for two days. Then she found an SUV through Enterprise at a remote, off-airport location.
“We wanted an economy car,” says Gustas, a marketing director for an insurance company. “But beggars can’t be choosers.”
Don’t be surprised by high costs
But perhaps the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to your rental car is underestimating your budget.
“Be prepared to spend money,” warns Robert Walden, editor in chief at VehicleFreak.com, a car maintenance site. “Due to shrinking fleets, deferred maintenance on vehicles and many other factors, rental cars are at a premium today.”
Walden says higher prices aren’t the only thing to worry about. Vehicles will be in short supply, a sequel to last summer’s car rental shortage. That means some of us won’t even have the chance to make these common car rental mistakes.