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What to know before you rent a car in the US

rent a car in the us - it's so simple

Roadtrippin’ the States is probably one of the best ways to spend your holidays actively, but also one of the most amazing honeymoon ideas. Our West Coast road trip was just unforgettable! There is no more comfortable way to explore this spectacular country than by car. How to rent a car in the US?

What to know before you rent a car in the US?

Car rental companies in the US

If you’re planning to rent a car in the US, you should book it online at least a few weeks in advance. We spend a couple of days tracking prices and available cars on different websites and waited for the right moment when prices were the lowest. Browse regularly rental companies search websites, such as economycarrentals or priceline or rentalcars. Companies like Thrifty, Dollar, Budget are much cheaper, but they have worse cars as well. National, Avis, Alamo are more expensive and often offer almost brand new cars. Finally, we decided on Alamo and we really recommend this company.

Tip: If you want to save a bit when renting a car, check the internet for coupons. They are very popular in the USA and you can find a discount coupon for every item you can think of. You can easily find 10% discount coupons eg. if you sign up for the newsletter. We found a coupon that gave us a higher class car free of charge 🙂

What to check before you rent a car in the US?

  • mileage limits (look for the one with NO limit),
  • free shuttle bus to the airport,
  • car drop off in the other location,
  • gas policy when returning the car
  • additional fees for drivers under 25 years,
  • fees for additional drivers (if you plan to switch on the road),
  • necessary documents to rent (usually driving license from the European Union, passport and credit card are enough).

Renting a car in the US

Which car to rent?

Many people dream about roadtrippin’ in a convertible car. We also initially thought about renting top-free Mustang, but then two things crossed our minds. First of all – the California is so hot in the summer that you can fold the top only just before sunset. The second issue – trunk. When you fold the roof, there is not much room for your suitcase left. Mustang with folded roof and a pile of suitcases in the back seat simply doesn’t look cool. Unless you plan to stay in one place for a long time but change motels every day, a convertible car isn’t really a good solution. Eventually, we decided on a standard Dodge Charger (all standard Mustangs were taken already) and that was a great choice – a large, spacious car with a huge trunk.

Tip: Remember, when booking a convertible online, you have no certainty that you will actually get Mustang or Camaro. You may also end up with eg. Chrysler 200. You just book some convertible or some car in any other class (eg. economy, standard), not a specific model. If you want to be 100% sure that you’ll get a Mustang, search for “exotic car rental” companies. They specialize in particular cars like eg. Mustangs only. In a “standard” car rental company like Alamo, you just go to the big parking lot, where you choose the car from the group you booked. I was so disappointed when I saw only Toyota and Hyundai there… The last Charger was taken! However, the rotation is very quick, after 20 minutes another Dodge came and we immediately took it.

Car rental in the States renting mustang in the US

What about 4×4 cars? In fact, such a car is only needed if you want to explore unpaved roads in some national parks, such as these in Death Valley. In fact, there is also an unpaved road in Monument Valley, but not challenging at all. If you dream of a camper tour – the prices are very, very high (from about $ 200 per day for a small camper van, a professional RV costs $ 400 per day). 

Car insurance in the USA

Now it’s time to insure your car. Insurance is usually not included in the rental price of the car and you have to pay extra. There are basically two types of insurance, it is worth to find out directly with the rental company, how they work:

  • CDW (Collision Damage Waiver)/LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) which waives liability for any damages of the car from you,
  • Liability Insurance covers 3rd party liability, eg. if you destroy someone’s else car, check exactly the conditions with your rental company,
  • Some credit cards (eg. American Express) also has a bonus car insurance added if you book a car with the same card (it works – we checked this in Aruba,
  • Check what exactly is covered, sometimes you have to pay additionally for windows and tires insurance.

car insurance in the us

Road trip car essentials

I don’t recommend you renting a GPS (about 10-15 USD per day). Take your smartphone with Google Maps App instead. We always downloaded the offline map of the desired area the day before. WiFi is available without any problems in any hotel or restaurant. It’s also convenient that you can directly add pins with specific locations to Google Maps. You don’t need to write down the addresses to type in GPS later.

Due to the fact that your phone will be heavily used, it is a good idea to bring the USB charger suitable to be used in your car. You may also use it to play music from Spotify in places with no radio coverage (probably 80% of your itinerary).

car hire in the states

Driving in the States

You know now how to rent a car in the US, but what about driving?

  • Plan in advance how many hours per day you want to drive, take into account all lunch, coffee, and photo breaks but also available accommodation – sometimes it’s hard to find free rooms next to popular attractions,
  • Gas prices in the US are budget-friendly comparing to Europe. One gallon (about 4.5 liters) costs about $ 2-2.5 in California. Always refill in the morning before you hit the road – there are not many gas stations between large cities,
  • Roads and freeways on the West Coast are free of charge. Fees apply only in selected locations, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco,
  • You have to pay for admission also if you wanna drive the roads leading through national parks. Some roads, eg. in Yosemite, are closed after the first snowfall (already in October) and in Sequoia National Park during controlled forest fires. Check accessibility on the park website,
  • On the highways, the left lane is for carpooling. If there are at least 2 people in the car, you can use it (it’s much faster!)
  • You usually have to pay for the parking in the city centers. Surprisingly even in downtown San Francisco we had no problem finding a parking spot
  • If you are stopped by the police, keep calm and don’t make any rapid moves.

hiring a car in the states

How much does it cost to rent a car in the US?

When it comes to renting a car in the US, the cost to quality ratio is definitely better than, for example, in New Zealand. We paid about 700$ for a rental fee and full car insurance for a Full-Size car (free upgrade from Standard) for 15 days. We drove around 4000 miles. Find out how our West Coast itinerary looked like. Dropping off a car is also hassle-free. You just go to the gigantic parking lot with hundreds of other people and hand over the keys to Customer Service. Easy! I sincerely admit that after these 15 days we were really sad to leave our Dodge behind!

hiring a car in the us

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How to rent a car in the US? Check out our tips what to know and what to check before your American road trip!How to rent a car in the US? Check out our tips what to know and what to check before your American road trip!


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