Money at 30: 4 Things I Learned About Rental Cars as a First Timer

Apparently being 31 doesn’t mean you’re too old to hit some new auto-related milestones as, just this week, I booked my first ever rental car. Yes, despite having traveled numerous times both for business and pleasure, I’ve always relied on mass transit, Ubers, and my own two legs to get me around cities I was visiting. However, with this latest trip requiring me to spend time in both Orange County and Los Angeles, getting back and forth between the two would have been a bit of a pain without a car of my own. Thus it was finally time to try renting a car.

While my first time out has gone fairly well so far, I did learn a few things along the way that I think other newbies like myself could benefit from learning. That’s why I’ve compiled my list of 4 things to know before renting a car.

Earning Loyalty Points

Before renting my car, one of the first things I did was sign up for Hertz’s Gold Plus Rewards Program. While I don’t expect to be renting many cars in the future, the program is free and the points apparently don’t expire. However the loyalty points I was more concerned about when booking were my frequent flier miles. By adding my Delta SkyMiles account to my Hertz rental, I’ll be able to score a few extra miles. Granted these won’t help me in the way of earning status but could edge me a little closer to a free flight or gift card.

Going Small

One of the reasons I had never bothered to rent a car before was because I wasn’t sure I’d feel comfortable driving a vehicle I wasn’t familiar with. Part of this anxiety comes from the fact that I’ve only ever owned smaller sedans and don’t really know what’d it be like to have a sizable front end. Although that’s partially what led me to book a compact car for my travels, it wasn’t the only reason.

Despite the option to upgrade to a larger model for just a few dollars more (seriously, like $3 for the week), I opted to stick with the compact in order to save on gas. I feel this is something that most people renting a car might not consider as much when making their selection. Of course most cars these days will likely offer you decent gas mileage, but if you’re going to be traveling a lot in your rental, this could actually be a factor — especially with California gas prices. Speaking of California, the ability to fit into nearly any parking space is another often overlooked perk of going small.

Understanding the “Fuel Purchase Option”

Everyone knows that failing to refill your rental car’s gas tank could lead to some extremely expensive charges. Of course worrying about finding a station to top off the vehicle right before returning can also be a pain in the neck. That’s why the prepaid fuel purchase option that Hertz offered while picking up my car sounded like a decent idea… but there’s a catch.

At $3.10 a gallon, the fuel purchase option was pretty reasonable considering those aforementioned California prices. However something that first-timers might not realize about this feature is that you’ll need to pay for a full tank at this price. Furthermore you won’t be refunded for any gas you don’t use. In other words, instead of worry about filling your tank, you’ll want to return your car as empty as possible (without breaking down) in order to get your full money’s worth.

To be fair, they do make this pretty clear when you’re renting but I’ve still seen people complain about it online. One thing I will say to watch out for is the Hertz app, which had me opt into the fuel purchase option as part of my Gold Member preferences. This meant that I automatically accepted the feature without knowing it. Calling Hertz customer service they said I’ll be able to remove this when I return the car, but we’ll have to wait and see about that one.

Adding the Insurance?

Although I may have accidentally accepted the fuel purchase option (for now!), one thing I did manage to skip is the extra insurance option. Funny enough it was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about how different types of insurances were a responsible use of your money, but that may not be the case when it comes to rental car coverage. The main selling point seems to be that, if you were to get into an accident, you’d be completely covered. However, if you already have comprehensive insurance of your own, this is likely just wasted money. In fact, at a cost of $17 a day, the $119 I’d spend isn’t too far off from what my auto insurance deductible would. Because of this, I’ll take my chances.

All in all, renting my first car wasn’t quite as intimidating as my nervous little brain was anticipating. That said I did still manage to avoid making a mistake or two along the way with what I believe were some smart moves on my part. Hopefully my experience as a newbie will help other (probably younger) first-timers save money while navigating the world of rental cars for themselves.


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at

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Different car rentals have different policies that we should always be familar with to make full use of our money’s worth.

Thanks for the tips. Be going on a business trip next month and planning to rent a car which will be also my first time.

Had a few experiences with car rentals, some good and some are not. It’s always a good idea to research and ask before deciding which to choose.

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