10 questions you need to ask when renting a car

When looking to rent a car it is easy to get pulled in by attractive headline rates, but there are often hidden costs that can result in a much bigger bill than you are expecting, if you do not ask the correct questions upfront. 

Be sure you have investigated these 10 points before you sign the rental agreement!

1. What is the insurance excess?

All rental cars will have basic insurance, but the level of excess (i.e., the amount you would have to pay in the event of any damage to the vehicle) can be $3,000 or more. It will vary between rental companies and can be reduced by paying a small additional fee upfront. If required, insurance for medical fees and personal possessions will cost extra.

2. Who can drive the car?

Most rental companies in Australia require the driver to be over 21 years of age and have held a full driving license for at least 12 months. Drivers below 25 years of age typically have to pay a surcharge. Additional drivers must be declared for insurance purposes and will also attract a surcharge.

3. Is the mileage limited?

Check the mileage you are allowed under the terms of your rental. If it is capped then additional fees will apply if you exceed the limit. Unlimited mileage usually costs only a little more than capped mileage--a lot less than any additional fees for exceeding your limit.

4. Is breakdown cover included?

The level of breakdown assistance varies between rental companies, like Meteor Car & Truck Rentals. Check if there are additional charges for non-maintenance issues (e.g., lost keys) or location exclusions (e.g., off-road), if applicable.

5. Are there any surcharges applicable to the booking?

Car rental companies often apply surcharges for airport collection/drop-off or one-way rentals. Other charges, such as GST and vehicle registration, may or may not be included in the headline rate.

6. Does the car have a built-in GPS?

If not, and you require one, you can usually rent one for an additional fee.

7. Can I take my pet in the car?

Not all rental companies allow pets in their cars, and those that do may charge an additional cleaning fee when the vehicle is returned.

8. Do I need to return the car with a full tank of fuel or not?

Rental cars usually need to be returned with a full tank of fuel.  You will be charged higher-than-pump prices to refill an empty tank, unless you opted for the pre-paid fuel option at the time of collection.  Be aware if you did opt for pre-paid fuel that you will not receive a refund for unused fuel left in the tank, so you should return the car as close to empty as possible.

9. When do I need to return the car?

The rental period starts at the exact time you collect the car. Be sure to check what time it is due back on the return date. Fees may apply if you return it more than 24 hours early and will certainly apply if you return it even an hour late.

10. Is there any damage on the car already?

Check the car carefully for damage before you drive away. Any previous damage should be recorded on your rental document, otherwise you will be liable for it on return of the vehicle.

If you consider all these points in advance, you should know exactly how much you are paying before you begin your car rental so there are no nasty surprises when you get the final bill.