What Are The First Things You Do When Renting a Car?

This 2013 Cadillac SRX was rented at a National Car Rental facility in Atlanta. Photograph by FlyerTalk member mistaleft. Click on the photograph for a ride and road trip report written by mistaleft.

“While checking for dents and scratches I eyeball the tires to see if any of them look really low.”
Those two pieces of advice posted by FlyerTalk member Westcoaster — inspecting the interior and exterior of the car for damage and ensuring that the tires are properly inflated — are amongst the most important things you should do first when you rent a car but before you drive it off of the lot with contract in hand…
…and speaking of the contract, take a few minutes to ensure that the terms of the contract are indeed correct before commencing with the rental of the vehicle you are about to drive. Is the rate correct? Are you getting the discount you requested? If you are earning frequent flier loyalty program miles from this rental, has the airline and your frequent flier account number been noted? This simple action of double-checking your contract could potentially save you a substantial amount of time, effort and money if a dispute over the terms of the contract arises during the rental period or after it concludes — especially if you suspect that you are being scammed by the rental car company.
In the continuation of a theme started four weeks ago when I posted an article asking you about what are the first things you do when entering a hotel room — and two weeks later, I then posted an article asking you about what are the first things you do when boarding an airplane — I thought I would conclude this loose series of articles by sharing the first things other FlyerTalk members do when they rent a car in this discussion launched back in 2005; and most of them are still relevant today, which include but are not limited to the following:
  • Ensure that the interior of the car does not smell like cigarette smoke if you are a non-smoker
  • Figure out how to open the fuel filler door and check to see if the cap is tightly sealed — if it is there at all, as people have been known to steal them
  • Look underneath and around the car for fluids, which could be a sign of at least one leak
  • Check to see that the keys include a electronic fob for remote entry to the car and the trunk as well as one-button access to the alarm system in case of emergency
  • Place luggage and belongings in the trunk
  • Familiarize yourself with the controls — such as lights and windshield wipers
  • Clean the inside of the windshield
  • During the winter, see if the car is equipped with a window scraper and brush to remove snow and ice from the vehicle
  • Activate electronic equipment — such as a global positioning system device — and adjust accordingly, such as entering directions and checking for traffic of the route on which you intend to drive
  • Adjust mirrors, seat, steering wheel, climate control system and entertainment system equipment to suit your preferences
  • Attach seat belt once seated in the car
  • De-activate the emergency brake, switch gears, look for oncoming traffic and drive

Add checking the fuel gauge to that list of very important things to do when you first rent a car, as it could save you a significant amount of money — regardless of the fuel options to which you choose to agree
…and remember this simple piece of advice for knowing on which side of the vehicle you must pump fuel.
Sometime during the process, you may want to greet the personnel at the rental car facility. My experience suggests that a smile goes a long way.
I reset the trip odometer. If there are two of them, I like for one to record how many miles I have driven during the entire rental period; while the other can be used for specific trips. More rental vehicles these days are equipped with electronic monitoring systems. I especially like the ones which inform me as to how many miles are left in relation to the remaining amount of fuel in the tank; although I do not completely rely on them because I am unsure of their accuracy.
Important to me — especially for long trips — is to ensure that the vehicle has the proper equipment for my music. I usually bring a portable electronic device with cables and a charger for the car; as well as a compact disc I recorded with music from my computer to increase the chances that I will be able to listen to the music I brought with me.
As a member of the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards frequent renter loyalty program, my most recent car rental included a Hertz NeverLost system at no additional charge. I must say that I am far better with navigation — people have relied on me in the past as the “human map” who never gets lost — than I am figuring out how to use the stupid thing; and I do not consider myself technologically deficient. I simply do not use global positioning system devices, as I have never needed to ask for directions — even before those devices existed. Those few times where I was not exactly sure where I was specifically located — well, I always manage to find my way with no problem; and then I like to look at a map afterwards to see where I was and how I got from my origination to my destination.
I know: I tend to work backwards; but why fix something that ain’t broke?
Previously mentioned in this article is checking the interior for damage — but you might be surprised at the treasures I have found during my searches over the years. For example, I once found a film canister filled with five dollars worth of quarters…
…and to ensure that I did not miss anything, I fully inspect the vehicle again just before I relinquish it at the rental car facility.
For additional information, here is some useful and detailed advice which I first posted in an article back on November 28, 2012 on what to do to protect yourself when renting a car from a rental car company.
Now it is your turn: what are the first things you do when renting a car — and why?

  1. THe last point here says: “•De-activate the emergency brake, switch gears, look for oncoming traffic and drive.” That will result in a crash for me! Every rental I get, I have to BACK IT UP out of tis parking space FIRST (and this supposed to be a column about what to do FIRST), so there’s no ONCOMING traffic to look for, rather I have to pay atention as I’m backing up. If I search for ONCOMING traffic as I back up, I’m sure to be in a crash!

    1. You got me there, sdsearch — thank you for catching that!
      What I attempted to do on that last one was compile what other FlyerTalk members have posted; and I failed.
      I am going to leave it alone for posterity to my error and hopefully provide a laugh.
      That could explain all of the damage I have allegedly caused to parking garages all over the United States over the years…

  2. Before I get to my car, if the one assigned isn’t to my liking I scope out the exchange lane. Then, once I ‘m in the car I reset the trip odometers and connect my phone to the Bluetooth.

  3. When doing the initial walk-around to check for pre-existing damage with the rental company employee, I always check to make sure the car doesn’t have an expired tag.

  4. I always check to make sure the registration is current, especially in states where it is enforced.

  5. i refuse vehicles with out of state plates
    More chance getting pulled over on lonely “Kansas” Highways

  6. A lesson I learned from a friend who rents a lot more than me: take a picture of the back of the car and the license plate!
    With so many rentals looking the same and me already travelling with my head full of other things, having a reminder of the Make, Model, Color and Plate has kept me from wandering around the parking lot with the key fob trying to set off the alarm. 🙂

  7. If ya wanna scare yourself, you can check the oil. For light scare value you could check the windscreen washer bottle is full. Beware that many rental companies no longer put any detergent in the windscreen washer bottle. That is, if they fill it at all.

  8. I would add checking the return date. A co-worker of mine had failed to do this and as it turns out, the return date the rental agency had listed was about 10 days later than what it was supposed to be. Upon returning the car 10 days “early”, she was slammed with some additional fees and a higher daily rate due to the rental being gone for just 5 days instead of 15. After hearing her story, I always verify the return date and time.

    1. That is something about which I would have never thought, outwrdbound, as that has never happened to me.
      Thank you for the useful advice!

  9. Pairing my phone to the in-car Bluetooth is on my pre-departure checklist. With so many states now enforcing hands-free cell phone laws, this is a mandatory step in many of the places I frequently travel.

  10. 1) Check lights work and fluid levels (especially fuel and oil) are correct.
    2) Check condition of important things like wipers, tire pressure (I carry a pressure gauge), thread-wear (visual).
    3) Load luggage and stuff into vehicle (if haven’t done this already).
    4) Reset all settings to default if possible and adjust settings to my preference, including seats, mirrors, steering wheel, lightning settings, climate control, sound, and enable DRL if available. I usually delete other people’s Bluetooth profiles before pairing my phone.
    5) Put driver’s license/IDP and rental agree in accessible area. You don’t want to go and ask the cop if you can get out and look in trunk for your ID.
    6) Reset trip computer to zero and set off!
    7) Upon return, I usually reset all the settings to default if possible especially navigation waypoints, and if the car has Bluetooth, delete my profile.
    I usually do #1 and #2 for my own cars, so it’s a habit.

  11. +1 socalduck
    I couldn’t believe I read that far in the comments before someone mentioned pairing their phones. Built in Bluetooth is one of my selection criteria. At the Executive Aisle, it it usually a CTS, Pony, Challenger, or Camero. Bluetooth required. Sirrius XM preferred (if the car is less than 6 months old).

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