On the Road and on Your Guard: 6 Rental Car Safety Tips

Rental cars are a wondrous invention. Think about it: You can fly clear across the country and get a car for a day or a week or even longer, so you can drive around at your leisure, free to come and go as you please—and free of the hassles of unfamiliar mass transit.

People use rental cars when on vacation, on business, scoping out a new neighborhood prior to a move, when their own car is in the shop, even when cleaning out a storage unit in another state. (Yes, done that!)

Even with the rise of Uber and the increasing complexity of public transportation in big cities, the convenience of rental cars can’t be replaced for they fill a very particular need. However, that doesn’t mean they are without risks.

If you’re using a rental car this summer for any reason at all, keep in mind these 6 tips to ensure that temporary mode of transportation is as safe as it is easy.

Tip 1: Know your auto insurance coverage for rental cars
I don’t know about you, but I am wary of the nickel and diming that goes on all around me, adding a few dollars to a bill here and a few more dollars to a bill there. It all adds up and I do wonder how many of these “add ons” are simply adding on to a company’s profit. I have this same suspicion when renting a car. It sounds naïve to drive a car off the rental lot without insurance, but if my personal auto insurance already covers a rental, why should I waste $25 on something I don’t need? Know if your insurance covers you when renting a car ahead of time, so fear (and unknowing) don’t cause you to waste money on something unnecessary.

Tip 2: Ditto for roadside assistance
If you have AAA or another roadside assistance, find out about your coverage while away from home or renting a car. If something should go wrong, you could save yourself a pretty penny by calling the service you already have!

Tip 3: Carry proof of insurance
Recently on a trip to look at colleges with my daughter, a rental car employee told me I had to have proof of insurance with me in the rental car. My proof of insurance was on the opposite coast, in the glove compartment of the vehicle I drive, and no way was I going to lay hands on it before I got behind the wheel of the rental car. So I did what people in an age of smart phones do: I asked my husband to text me a picture of it. That lesson learned, I plan to photocopy my insurance card and keep a copy of it in my wallet at all times. (No, I haven’t done it yet, I confess!)

Tip 4: Travel with a small flashlight
At our house, we have a spare flashlight in each of our vehicles, just in case. When traveling, it’s a good idea to travel with a flashlight as well, and to have it handy in the rental car. You never know when an ill-timed breakdown might leave you stuck on the side of the road, or when you’ll need a flashlight to find the wallet that must have fallen out of your pocket. Many people have flashlight apps on their phones and consider that a good substitute, but keep in mind that app drains the battery. If you have to use your phone as a flashlight, what happens when the battery dies and you can no longer use it as a phone?

Tip 5: Get to know the car before you drive it
Once you’re behind the wheel, don’t think “I’ve got this.” You have a few more safety steps to follow first. The biggest one is to get familiar with the car before you leave the lot. Figure out how to adjust the radio, turn on the lights and windshield wipers, and set the heat or A/C. Get your seat adjusted to where you want it and your rear view mirror too. If you try to tackle all of these unfamiliar settings while driving, you will be more than a distracted driver: You’ll be a dangerous one.

Tip 6: Know where you’re going before you go
Have you ever driven out of a rental car lot and merged into fast-moving traffic only to suddenly realize you have no idea where you’re going? Get familiar with where you’re going before you leave the lot, even if you’re using a GPS system to guide you. You’re already driving a car you don’t know. Have some sense of where you’re going before you leave the lot and you’ll be a safer driver.

These last two tips might seem like commonsense but remember that when you get somewhere new, you’re usually already a little distracted. Decrease the chances of that distraction leading to a dent in your travel plans by following all of these tips but especially these last two.

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