Christopher Elliott, whom we quote fairly often, has just published an updated version of his comprehensive 2021 article:
It's well worth reading,
particularly if you rent cars on your own dime like we do. Elliott not only writes about travel, but his Elliott Advocacy mediates disputes between travel companies and consumers, so he knows whereof he speaks. We already
follow much of the advice Elliott offers here, but we'll incorporate more photography
into our pickup and dropoff routines.
We rent either directly through the rental firm's website or through Costco, which gives us the same status as if we'd rented directly.
We decline the company's coverage and use a credit card that offers primary rental car insurance coverage.
We never add options and we never use the prepaid fuel option.
As with hotels and flights, we check regularly to see if better rental rates have appeared.
Now to the photos. We're going to take more when we pick up the car. Elliott writes:
At a bare minimum, you need shots of the front, back and sides of the car. I would recommend two close-up shots of each side, the front and rear windshield, the front and rear of the car, and the roof. Don’t forget the interior: the dashboard (showing the odometer and fuel gauge readings), front seats, back seats, and trunk. Also, make sure the license plate is visible in at least one picture, and capture the VIN placard (on the pillar behind the driver’s door or in the lower-left corner of the windshield). If you want to be extra careful, take snapshots of the wheels, under the two bumpers and roof. Believe it or not, motorists have been billed for damage that’s invisible to the naked eye at the time of the rental. You can’t be too careful.
We've never thought much about taking photos of the rental car when we return it, but it makes obvious sense and that will now become part of our routine. Elliott writes:
Whip out your camera, and photograph the inside and outside of the vehicle. Take as many images as possible. Note any dings, dents or scratches. Pay close attention to the windshield; that area is the number one source of damage claims. (Essentially, you should repeat the entire process you went through at pickup, including shots of the license plate, VIN, and dashboard, showing mileage and fuel level.)
Renting through the rental outfit's website as signed-up members often allows us to skip the counter completely and pick up our car directly. Avoiding a rental counter rep's upsell attempts at the end of a travel day is always a pleasure.
After all that, we'll rent our car with some peace of mind but still keep our fingers crossed.