Road Trip Tips: What You Need to Know Before Renting a Car or RV

Road trips rock.

There’s something really special about getting together with friends or family and hitting the road together to explore somewhere new. Stopping in little towns, chatting to the locals, seeing new things and trying new foods along the way.

I’ve had some wonderful, memorable road trips with friends in the USA, Europe and Australia, but while in the past they’ve always been in hire cars later this year I’ll be doing my first RV road trip in the States.

I’ve spent weeks at a time in RVs before, but they’ve always been with family in Australia and dad has always been in the driver’s seat (and with ten gears on my parents’ Winnebago I’ve never wanted to wrestle him for that position).

Come August my friend Claire and I will be picking up our RV in Portland, Oregon and hitting the road. Thankfully behind the wheel of an automatic transmission so there’s no need for a crash course in all of those gears first.

Planning a road trip is exciting, but there are also a few things you need to know. So here are a few tips to get you started.

What you need to know before renting a car or RV for a road trip

 

Think Twice About Excess Reduction on your Road Trip

In the past whenever I’ve hired a car I’ve always gone for the excess reduction because I’m so worried about being hit with a huge insurance bill if something goes wrong.

The fact that rental excess can cost as much as renting the car itself definitely hurts, but fear has always had me handing over my credit card before I can take those keys.

Recently the penny dropped that if I had rental vehicle excess as part of my travel insurance then I’d be covered for that side, and so I’ve been paying money I haven’t really needed to pay. Darn it.

Of course you still need comprehensive insurance cover when you rent the vehicle, as travel insurance doesn’t provide full comprehensive motor vehicle cover. Once you get home your travel insurance provider can reimburse you, provided all policy terms and conditions have been met.

Claudio Saita, Deputy CEO and Executive Director in Australia for Tokio Marine, underwriters for World2Cover travel insurance, says if you do have an accident and have excess cover there are a number of steps to take.

“Depending on the circumstances and the value of the damage, if the police are involved you need to obtain a copy of the police report. Then report the damage to the rental company and complete an incident / accident report.” Mr Saita explains.

“The rental company will charge the applicable excess to your credit card, and then they must provide you with a copy of the repair invoice to show that the damage is equal to or more than the excess amount.

“If the damage is less than the applicable excess they must give you a refund of the difference. You can then lodge your claim with your travel insurer, providing all of the above including a copy of the rental agreement with your claim.”

 

Road Trip in an RV Window Mirror Framed

And don’t forget, before turning the keys and pressing play on your favourite driving tunes you must make sure you do a proper inspection of the vehicle.

You want to check that baby all over and if there are any scratches, nicks or bumps make sure they’re recorded with the car hire staff.

Ask the Rental Car or RV Company Lots of Questions  

There can be all sorts of holes in your rental car insurance cover and it’s best to know about them before you drive away so you can decide if you really want to go ahead.

Not being covered for single car accidents, driving on unsealed roads (even if you’ve rented a 4WD), damage to the windscreen, wheels, under body and more are amongst the unexpected exclusions that can trip some holidaymakers up.

You may not be allowed to take your rental car or RV on a ferry, or along certain roads, so if you’re planning on going somewhere in particular it’s worth asking the hire company if there are any restrictions you need to know before parting with your deposit.

It’s important to know these exclusions aren’t covered even if you go for the 0% excess option at the rental desk and that you are no longer covered if you breach the contract in any way, such as having an unauthorised person driving the vehicle, being affected by alcohol, disobeying the road rules or even using the wrong type of fuel.

Get your hands on the contract, read it properly, and ask lots of questions. And do it before you hire the car, not when you’re at the desk with a queue of people waiting in line, feeling the pressure to just get on with it and get out of their way.

And remember that even if you have top travel insurance coverage you are bound by the rules of the insurance that comes with the car and RV rental.

“Your policy only covers you for the excess applicable.” Mr Saita points out. “If the incident is not covered under the agreement it is not covered by your insurance.”

Book Early and Be Flexible

While you may be lucky and somehow get a last minute special, you’re usually more likely to get a better deal if you book ahead.

Once you’re all booked then that price is set and you can avoid that frustrated feeling that comes when go to book later and see that the prices have gone up.

Even before we knew 100% if we could both actually do our trip together Claire and I booked our RV last October, a good ten months before we’ll be calling it home, which locked in a crazy good deal.

Road Trip in a Motorhome on Moab road trip, image Cruise America

We figured if we couldn’t make the trip work we’d lose around $300 deposit, which would sting a bit but wouldn’t be the end of the world. And when we thought about how much more we would pay if we waited to book closer to the time we thought that was a good call (which it has already proved to be).

If you can be flexible with where you start or end your trip you could also save yourself some dollars. We wanted our RV at the busiest time of the year, and by shopping around to check different rates in different cities we realised we could save a very big hunk of holiday money by meeting in Portland rather than Los Angeles or San Francisco.

The fact that I’ve wanted to visit Portland for years and now get to do that is a lovely bonus.

Being flexible with the days you travel can also help, as weekends can be more expensive than weekdays.

Airports are often the most expensive places to collect a rental car, so check and see if it’s worth the effort to get a shuttle into a city depot and go from there.

And it’s also worth checking if your credit card offers special discounts or upgrades on car rentals, as there are some great offers around.

RV on Moab road trip, image Cruise America

Book Travel Insurance As Soon as You Book Your Trip

While all of the other travel insurance benefits start when your actual policy starts, the cancellation cover kicks in as soon as you buy the policy.

So if you don’t buy it as soon as you start investing money into your trip, you’re missing out on one of the great benefits of having travel insurance.

If you’re based in Australia check that the company that is underwriting the policy has an AFS licence in Australia, and if you’re not familiar with a company do a bit of research into them, or the parent brand that stands behind them.

If you’re taking a road trip you also want to check your travel insurance to make sure the limit for rental vehicle excess is enough to cover what the rental company would charge if something goes wrong.

Have Fun

Once you’ve done all that homework and planned your trip it’s time to hit the road, have loads of fun and make those memories that will last a lifetime.

And don’t forget to really belt it out when you sing along to those road trip songs.

This post has been brought to you by World2Cover travel insurance.

You should always consider the Product Disclosure Statement and Policy Wording and your personal circumstances before making any decision about whether to acquire a travel insurance product. Adventures All Around does not and cannot provide any advice, opinion or recommendation about any insurance.

Fancy more travel insurance tips? You may like to find out about some common misunderstandings with credit card travel insurance, check out my renting an RV or Hire Car tips  or find out why your bags may not be covered by travel insurance  if you leave them to be taken care of in a hotel after checking out.

Love road trips? You may like to check out some of my other road trip stories including a Deep South Music Road Trip or check out this easy tip for telling what side of the rental car your fuel tank is on.

Road Trip New England NSW

About the Author

As a journalist who loves to travel and is fond of a chat I'm oh so happy when I'm sharing travel tales and tips through my blog and on my weekly travel segment on Sydney Radio 2UE. When I'm not travelling or writing about it I can be found out and about with friends, curled up at home with a good book or watching an addictive tv show promising I'll stop after one more episode. Amanda on Google +

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  1. Good tips! I’d also suggest to read your credit card policies – many of them include some level of rental car insurance. I’ve never opted for additional insurance, and have been lucky to this point!

    Also, never pay full price for a rental car – there are so many discount codes floating around – I get mine from AAA, my car insurance company, alumni newsletters from my college, or from the airline loyalty programs that I’m a member of. And once I book a car, I constantly re-check and re-book as rates come down – I’ve gotten some sweet deals on SUV upgrades.

    • Oooh Leigh I’m liking your style! They’re great ideas, including checking in and rebooking if the prices come down. Clearly you’re a good road trip buddy to have!

  2. Booking early is a good idea so that you don’t end up missing out on the rental car you want. And, if you book too late, you could also run the risk of there being no cars at all for you. Therefore, booking early is probably the best bet!

  3. Luke McMasters says:

    I hadn’t thought about booking really early. My last vacation was a wash because we couldn’t find a car to rent at all. Booking early is especially important if you need to rent a car with 4wd or other special features. You don’t want to be driving a sports car on the snow!

  4. I like your advice to ask a lot of questions when getting a rent-a-car. My brother in law just drove from Texas to Utah just the other day and when he turned in the car, he found a ding on the back bumper. If he would have asked a bit more questions, it could have saved him a little bit of money that he had to pay to fix the bumper. Thanks again!

  5. If your driving record isn’t up to par, you could be rejected from renting a car – yes, even if you have a reservation.

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