Whether you’re going on vacation and want the freedom of driving around or need a car to drive while yours is in the shop, chances are you’re going to rent a car at some point. Car rental costs vary greatly depending on several factors, like the type of vehicle you rent, which rental car company you use and where you rent the car. Understanding how these factors affect the price will help you to budget for the expense.
Typical rental car costs
While the expected cost to rent a vehicle varies depending on many factors, the average 2021 costs were about $81 per day, according to the travel website Kayak. To calculate your exact expected cost, reach out to Hertz, Enterprise, Avis or other rental companies you’re considering to best prepare for the cost.
Factors that impact rental car costs
There are several details that affect the cost of your rental — both in and outside of your control. Save money on what you can by understanding what has an impact on price.
Type of car
When choosing a rental car, the first question most renters ask themselves is how much space they need. Car rental companies classify their vehicles according to their size. Commonly used categories include:
- Economy cars are usually the least expensive and smallest cars rental companies offer. These vehicles have room for one or two people, along with their luggage.
- Intermediate or compact cars offer more space than economy cars, usually through extra room in the trunk. Intermediate cars accommodate up to four people and a minimal amount of luggage.
- Standard vehicles with full-size back seats have room for four adults. They also offer plenty of trunk space, making them a good choice for families that have a considerable amount of luggage to bring along.
- Luxury vehicles are premium vehicles that range from sporty convertibles to full-size SUVs and vans.
In most cases, the daily rental fee increases with the size and category of the car or truck. However, sometimes rental companies offer specials on vehicles in certain categories, especially if they have plenty in stock.
For example, if the company has a limited number of economy cars available to rent for a certain weekend, they may offer a discount on standard vehicles during that same period.
As with other goods and services, prices fluctuate according to supply and demand. Many people find better deals and lower costs on car rentals if they rent from a location near the center of the city instead of from the airport.
Rental fees also vary in different regions of the country. Highly trafficked tourist areas may have lower rental fees than other locations because of the increased competition in the area. They may also have higher fees during popular seasons when demand is high.
Age of the driver
The age of the driver behind the wheel of your rental will greatly influence the cost. Typically, the younger the driver is, the more that it will cost to rent. This is primarily due to the increased risk to rental companies that young drivers bring. Many rental companies do not offer rental to those under 20 years old.
Rental companies, like Enterprise, for example, may place additional fees on their vehicles for young renters. These fees can range from $40 to $65, depending on the state. Consider these higher prices when determining the driver for your rental.
How to get the best deal on your rental car
Although a rental car’s price is based on a range of factors, there are still a few things you can do to drive away ready for your adventure with some extra cash in your pocket.
Fill up the tank
Always stop at the gas station to fill the gas tank back up to full capacity before returning it to the agency. This will ensure you avoid any additional fees for refueling.
Booking your rental car ahead of time will not only save you from future headaches — you can get the right vehicle and avoid long lines — but it also can save you money. This is especially important if you intend to travel around a major holiday.
Prior to receiving the keys to your rental, you will likely be offered a number of add-ons. Options like a GPS, toll plan, access to XM radio or even car seats. It’s best to avoid these add-ons, unless necessary, to save money.
Hidden fees and additional costs
Car rental companies also charge hidden fees that affect the cost of the rental. They build some of these fees into the cost of the rental. Others may appear on statements several months after the rental period. These fees include:
- Renting a car at the airport costs more than renting at an off-site facility. This is because the airport charges fees like an airport concession fee and a customer facility charge that the rental car company passes on to the consumer.
- Some companies place an authorization hold on the customer’s debit or credit card. This charge, which ranges from $150 to $500, gives the rental car company some protection if the renter damages or fails to return the vehicle. The company releases the funds within a few days after receiving the rental car back in acceptable condition.
- Many companies charge a cancellation fee to renters who cancel their reservations less than 24 hours before the rental. If the renter paid for the rental in advance, the company would refund the payment minus the cancellation fee.
- Renters who damage the interior or exterior of the vehicle must pay for the repairs. However, some renters end up paying for damage caused by previous drivers. For this reason, renters should thoroughly inspect the vehicle before driving it off the lot, take pictures of visible damage and alert an employee.
Although knowing about these hidden fees helps renters understand why the total rental fees cost more than the advertised rental price, there is usually little that can be done to avoid them.
Expensive rental costs should be the least of your worries when it comes time for travel. Budget for the expected cost and pay special attention to factors like the time of year, type of vehicle and age of driver to minimize costs and budget better.