On a road trip in the USA
In April 2018, we spent three weeks in the US where we got to drive a heeeeel part. In total, we drove over 3,100 miles, which corresponds to approx. 5,000 kilometers .
In other words, we really got to test the American highways – and we also got to try a few different cars.
We rented the first car for 4 days and drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 1 .
From here, we rented another car and drove to Las Vegas with stops in Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon on the way.
From Las Vegas, we drove around in a camper for 11 days, which was clearly different from a road trip in a regular car.
The last day in Las Vegas, we rented another car for a single day before heading to the airport.
The point is that we have been through a lot of experiences in terms of renting a car in the US, and if you have not tried it yourself before, we hope that our experiences can be beneficial.
In this guide you can read about the benefits of renting a car yourself, what to do in advance, how to pick up the car and how to return it without getting an extra bill on top.
Everything you need to know about renting a car in the United States:
- Benefits of renting a car in the United States
- Good to know in advance
- Pick up of the car
- On the road
- Delivery of the car
Benefits of renting a car in the United States
There is no end to the benefits of renting a car on a vacation in the United States.
First and foremost, the United States’ infrastructure is built around roads and cars.
Everything is easier when you drive yourself, and you are not dependent on public transport, which can be sporadic and cumbersome – especially outside the big cities.
When you rent a car, you get the freedom to experience things at your own pace .
And then it’s even pretty cheap to rent a car in the United States.
The smallest models are large in the Danish context and cost as little as 150 kroner per day . If you travel as a family or a group of friends, it can even be cheaper to rent a car than to drive around by public transport.
Whether you should rent a car in the US, however, primarily depends on what your plans are.
If you only go on a city trip in New York or San Francisco , parking can quickly become an expensive pleasure. But as soon as you get out of the cities, the easiest thing is to clearly get behind the wheel and drive yourself towards the great experiences.
Good to know in advance
Like airline tickets , the prices of rental cars fluctuate a lot and it may well be advisable to start looking well in advance of departure.
In principle, you can wait to order until you leave, but then the price will most likely end up being more expensive .
Car rental is also seasonal and demand increases during the summer months.
THE SIZE OF THE CAR
Besides the timing, there are many other factors in the final price of a rental car.
All car rental companies have different price structures and rules , but it can generally be said that the larger a car you order, the more expensive it will be. It is actually very logical but still worth remembering.
The smallest models are much cheaper than the larger petrol guzzlers, and as mentioned earlier, a car in the economy class will often correspond to an ordinary 5-seater car in Denmark.
Many of the larger classes can hardly be seen on the roads in Denmark.
Which size car you choose is of course up to your personal preference, but if you want to keep the price low , we would recommend that you rent the smallest possible model.
DATE AND TIME
When you book a rental car, you choose both pick-up day, delivery day and times .
For the most part, both the date and time can be changed right up to the pick-up day, so it is not crucial whether you have booked exactly – but if you want to make it as budget-friendly as possible, it pays to think about it in advance.
If you want to pick up the car a few hours earlier than agreed, it costs extra (sometimes the same as a day’s rent), and you unfortunately do not get a discount or money back by handing in the car too early.
It is our experience that it pays best to order pick-up and drop-off at 24-hour intervals to get the cheapest price.
A price example
If the average price per day is hypothetically 100 kroner, it will cost 300 kroner to rent a car from 20 June at 12.00 to 23 June at 12.00.
If you instead choose to pick up the car at 12.00 and hand in the car at 14.00, the price will be closer to 400 kroner, as it counts as an extra day (3 days with 24 hours + 2 extra hours).
Basically, all rental cars come with air conditioning , automatic transmission , radio and an unlimited number of miles . This means that during the rental period you can drive as far in the car as you want.
There is no end to the optional purchases that are offered when renting the car. We will basically advise you to say no to everything .
It is common to be offered to rent a GPS , but the prices are astronomical compared to most people being able to use their phones instead.
You can also often buy AUX cables, iPhone chargers and mounts for the phone in the car . It can be convenient to say yes to these things if you have not brought them yourself – but there can be a lot of money to be saved by buying the equipment yourself in a CVS or RadioShack.
Most rental cars have a USB input that can be used for both charging and playing music. Alternatively, you can get a small adapter for the cigar plug .
Be aware that it can be more expensive to rent a car if you are under 25 or if you want to be two drivers .
You can not just say no to insurance.
It is alpha and omega to be well covered in the event of an accident – and it is also important to be aware of which insurance is included in the price from the start, and how much you have to buy afterwards.
The differences in the offers can be large, and it is worth knowing whether you yourself have insurance from home that covers.
Insurance is boring, but it’s far more boring not to have coverage if the accident is out.
However, it must be said that many car rental companies try to sell a lot of extra insurance that one does not necessarily need. Keep your tongue straight in your mouth and know your conditions and needs.
WHO SHOULD YOU ORDER A CAR FROM?
We have far from tried all the many car rental companies that are in the US, but through Expedia’s search engine we found the best prices at Alamo several times .
Our experience with Alamo was simple and painless in every way .
Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Sixt, Budget and Europcar are some of the other major car rental companies. The experience with the companies is generally the same.
There are several search engines online that compare the price of car rental in the United States. Expedia was the best for us – but try a few different ones before you book.
Pick up of the car
If you order a pick-up of the rental car from the airport in the USA, you will most often be rented into what can best be described as a large car rental system .
The counters from the various companies are close by, and the process is a bit like checking in at an airport.
You have to find your company (for example Alamo) and then either line up for personal service or use one of the screens that may be set up for the purpose.
With the documentation in hand, you now go through a process that is basically about confirming and accepting the agreement – and then the company will of course try to sell a little extra in the meantime.
As previously mentioned, you are basically not forced to buy anything extra, and you can in good conscience say no to all the acquisitions.
However, there may be special rules regarding insurance.
When the process is complete, you walk towards the parking lot (sometimes in a large car park), where an employee explains which rental car you can take.
Typically, you can choose a car from the class, and there will be between 3 and 10 car models in different colors.
We experienced twice being upgraded and being able to choose a car from a larger class for free than the one we had ordered.
It is a good idea to check the car for damage and scratches . Feel free to take pictures if you discover something you do not want a bill for later.
From here you just get into the car you want to rent. The key is already in the car.
You then drive to a kind of check -out , which must see documentation that you have rented the car – and then the adventure can begin.
On the road
Virtually all states in the United States have special traffic rules , so it is a good idea to do a simple search on the traffic rules of the state to visit. In many states, for example, it is legal to turn right for red.
When refueling, it is important to be aware of whether you are driving a petrol or diesel car .
If you refuel the wrong type of fuel, it can be a costly affair to have to refuel the tank.
If you can not remember which fuel the car uses, and you can not find the information in your papers, it will usually be indicated on the cover of the tank.
In the event of an accident on the roads, no matter how you may be involved, it is important to contact the car rental company as soon as possible.
You have to pay parking fines and the like yourself, and it is not possible to just slip away from them. If you are so stupid to try – and so lucky to get out of the country before it is discovered – at least do not expect to return to the United States without problems.
Delivery of the car
When the rental period is about to expire, it is time to hand over the car.
Some rental companies have a so-called grace period , which gives up to 59 minutes extra time for delivery. But check carefully the terms and conditions if you want to bet on this.
If you hand in late, you will probably have to pay a hefty ” fine ” – for example, a full day’s extra rent if you hand in two hours later than agreed. So remember to deliver on time.
The submission process itself is simple. Drive the car in at the rental company, and an employee will register the delivery and how much petrol is left.
It is important to deliver the car with as much petrol as it had when it was received. Car rental companies charge up to $ 10 per gallon – instead of the $ 3-4 it costs per gallon on a gas tank.
The car does not need to be specially cleaned upon delivery, but check with the company in advance.
Remember all your things from the car – and remember to return the car key !
We hope you enjoy the opportunity to start by renting a car in the United States.