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Car rental alternatives

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    Article Highlights

    There are times when you may need to rent a car; maybe you need to get around while you’re on vacation or out-of-town on a business trip. Sometimes you need a rental vehicle while your car is in the shop getting repaired. Whatever the reason for renting a car, it’s important to know that it comes with certain financial obligations. 

    To rent a car, you’ll typically need a credit card for the deposit required. For people who don’t have a credit card with a sizable limit, renting a car may be an issue. And if you’re in an accident or cause damage to the rental vehicle, you may need to pay for some or all of the cost of the repair yourself. Fortunately, there are car rental alternatives which may give you more control or options.

    Some rental car alternatives are cheaper and provide more flexibility when it’s time to choose a vehicle — it’s nice to know what type of vehicle you’d be getting in advance, instead of taking a chance with whatever standard economy vehicle a rental car company has available. Next time you need a car for a day, a weekend or longer, consider the following alternatives to car rental companies.

    Rideshare Programs

    Rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft make catching a ride effortless and safe. All you need is the smartphone app to schedule a trip. Unlike a regular taxi, you’ll know exactly how much it will cost you to go from point A to point B. You may schedule a pick up time, or have a driver pick you up in a matter of minutes. 

    Using Uber or Lyft as car rental alternatives can save you time and money. You don’t have to worry about getting lost or being responsible for a car accident — the driver’s rideshare car insurance has got you covered. And if you need to get around in a busy, metro area, think of all the money you’ll save in parking fees and tickets. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

    Car subscription services

    If you need a car for periods of 30 days or longer, a car subscription service requires less commitment than a lease. Several car manufacturers and rental car companies allow you to sign up for a monthly subscription. Depending on the service, you’ll have access to a virtual garage full of new vehicles to choose from. 

    In most cases, car insurance is included in the monthly cost. Best of all, you can cancel from one month to another and switch out cars throughout the month. Changing subscription vehicles comes in handy when you need a larger vehicle for a couple of days but don’t want to drive the same one for a full month.

    For business executives who prefer to have a higher end vehicle from a specific brand, no matter where you travel throughout the country, a car subscription service from companies like Audi or Volvo can give you a guaranteed luxury experience.

    Traditional rental cars

    Although alternatives exist, there’s a reason a traditional rental car is so popular. Rental cars are widely available and relatively inexpensive — if you know how to get the best deal. If a rental car is your only or preferred option, consider the following tips:

    Shop around

    The first way to find the best deal on a rental is easy: shop around. There are plenty of travel aggregator sites that can compare car rental rates for you, all in one place. Get several quotes from different travel and rental car websites to find the most competitive rate. And before you commit to the best deal, read the fine print. Some car rentals come with limited miles and charge you a per-mile fee for overages. Other car rental companies may charge you additional driver fees or hit you with an upcharge if you’re under 25 years old. 

    Be flexible

    You can rent a vehicle for as short of a commitment as one day. But to get the cheapest rate, consider renting a car for a week or over a weekend. Don’t wait until the last minute to book a reservation, if you can help it. According to Sixt Rental Cars, the cheapest time to rent a car is three months in advance.  

    Choose economy

    You’ll usually find the best deals when you choose an economy vehicle. Because it’s usually the cheapest tier available, it’s also the most likely to get you an upgrade. Most people rent an economy car, creating an inventory shortage during peak times. If this is the case at the time of your pick up, the car rental agent may upgrade you to a larger vehicle for free. And if they don’t, it never hurts to ask.

    Stick to your own insurance

    Car rentals offer you the chance to buy coverage at pickup so you’re not responsible for the cost of any damages to the rental vehicle. The insurance offered is charged as a daily fee, which could end up blowing your car rental budget. If you have car insurance, your rental car may be covered under your personal policy. Check with your insurance provider before you rent to confirm. 

    Loyalty wins

    Sign up for a membership with your favorite car rental company to see the greatest likelihood for savings. You’ll have access to exclusive, members-only perks and discounts such as express check-in or free upgrades. In addition, you’ll also earn points on your car rentals, which can be redeemed in the future for free rental days.

    As with all vehicle considerations, it’s important to consider the advantages and drawbacks of each:

    RideshareAvailable last minute
    Inexpensive for an occasional ride
    No deposits or financial commitment required
    You’ll know the cost of the fare in advance
    Only available for an occasional ride
    Multiple stops not always possible
    Only available in major cities
    SubscriptionYou’ll typically get a new or luxury car
    Insurance and fees usually included
    No long-term commitment
    Month-to-month rental option
    It may be possible to switch your car out for a different one up to four times per month
    A sign-up fee of hundreds of dollars is usually required
    Mileage is usually limited
    Monthly subscription fee can be expensive
    Not available everywhere
    RentalsLast-minute rentals possible
    Locations available nationwide
    Affordable rentals available with some research
    Unlimited mileage is usually included
    Plenty of vehicle options available
    Credit card required
    You’ll be personally responsible for damages
    Car rental insurance can be pricey
    Taxes and fees, especially at airport locations can be high

    The takeaway

    • Car rentals are a good, flexible option when you need a car for multiple days.
    • A short-term rental car alternative is rideshare service, such as Uber or Lyft.
    • If you need a car for a month or longer, a car subscription service could be cheaper, more flexible, and a better quality experience than renting a car.
    • If you need a rental vehicle, shop around to find the best deal and read the fine print to know what extra fees you should look out for and avoid. 

    There are times when renting a car is needed. But for travelers who don’t have a credit card or car insurance coverage, renting a car may be difficult or expensive. Rental car alternatives, such as rideshare services or subscription car rentals, typically cut out the expense of car insurance and the long-term commitment buying or leasing a car requires. Depending on how often you have access to a vehicle, the alternatives to car rental companies may be all you need.

    Cynthia Paez Bowman


    Cynthia splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and San Sebastian, Spain. She travels to Africa and the Middle East regularly to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development.

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