Should You Rent a Car for Your Road Trip?

Nancy Dunham

Road trips are a great way to see the sights, but do you really want to see them from your family car? For some of us, the answer is no. You might not want to up the number on your odometer and there can be bigger issues related to comfort and reliability, especially if you’re traveling with family or friends. Is your car up to the challenge? Are you?

Katherine and Tom Temple, Australian-based world travel experts known as The Travelators, say there are solid reasons to rent a car for a road trip—and almost as many reasons not to.

Consider this advice from the Temples and other travel experts when deciding whether to rent a car for your next road trip.

Reasons to Rent a Car for a Road Trip

1. You have more opportunities to drive “off the beaten path.” You wouldn’t go off-roading in a passenger sedan. To do so might risk your own and your passengers’ safety, as well as the condition of your car. But you can rent a Jeep and do so with ease. Of course, even if you rent an off-road vehicle, you should make sure you are legally allowed to drive the car in off-road conditions.

“Read your rental agreement carefully as you may not be allowed to drive your rental car in certain conditions (e.g., off road) or cross international borders,” says Tom Temple. “You should also check you have adequate insurance and road-side assistance included in case something goes wrong.”

2. You can choose the right fit. Whenever you vacation in a car, space is at a premium. Renting a car means that you can choose a vehicle that is the right size for your needs. This is especially handy if you are traveling with family or friends—and their luggage. You can rent a car that has a roomy enough trunk or storage area to keep your luggage out of the way and your valuables out of sight. (You might be on vacation but thieves are not.)

3. You can mix and match vehicles as you travel. If you’re stopping in several different locations, renting a car allows you to change your transportation to suit your immediate needs. For example, you may want a four-wheel drive vehicle when traveling through the rugged terrain in Mesa, Arizona. But once you arrive in Phoenix, you may want to swap the off-road vehicle for a city-friendly car.

If you’re traveling with others for one leg of your trip, renting allows you to trade in a car that’s right for two people for one that accommodates more. Travel writer Dan Bagby of HoneymoonAlways recommends splitting rental costs if traveling with others.

4. You can seek out the best rental car companies for your specific needs. Yes, you can choose one rental car company and stick with it at the various locales you visit. But don’t feel obligated to do so. “Compare a few different car rental companies to find the one that suits your needs on vacation (and your budget!),” says Katherine Temple.” Different companies offer different types of cars, too. Hertz recently began offering their Green Traveler Collection, hybrid cars known for their high fuel efficiency.

It’s also important to hire a car from a reputable company. There are many well-respected companies, of course, but don’t avoid independent or online providers such as Advantage and www.autoslash.com.

5. You can enjoy the latest technology. The Temples enjoy trying the new technology available in the different cars they rent. In-screen satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio, seat warmers, and even rear-seat video systems are examples of technology you may want to try on your next trip. Megan MacNee, founder and editor of Traveling Nine to Fiver, praises satellite radio in rental cars. “[That’s a] saving grace when driving and you don’t have very many radio stations to choose from and don’t have to change every time you drive through a new area,” she says.

Reasons Not to Rent a Car for a Road Trip

1. You must quickly adapt to a new vehicle. You’re likely very comfortable driving your own car. You know how to turn on the wipers. You don’t puzzle over how to engage the sound system. But when you’re in a car that’s not your own, it can take time to learn how everything works, especially if the car comes with high-tech features that aren’t in your car. This can be problematic if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t really have the time, energy, and patience to familiarize yourself with a new car.

2. You might become flustered when driving. In addition to adapting to a new vehicle, you have to adapt to new roads, which can be trickier than it sounds. Even within the United States, various traffic patterns can prove daunting. It’s so bad that the Department of Motor Vehicles published a list of the worst U.S. cities in which to drive. Some drivers find it daunting to drive a new-to-the-driver car in an unfamiliar area. If you’re one of those people, you might be better off exploring a new area in a vehicle that you’re already comfortable with.

3. You might waste money. If you rent a car and never use it, you’ll have wasted money. Figure out how you’ll use a rental car before you drive off in one. The best way is to plot out the “must-sees” on your trip. If the “must-sees” are all in walking distance from where you’re staying, or you’re planning to spend the majority of time at a relative’s home, forgo the rental car, at least for part of the trip.

4. It might be wiser to take public transportation. There are cities that have state-of-the-art public transportation systems that make it easier—and cheaper—to reach prime destination by Metro than by car (e.g., Washington, D.C.). Plus, those who take public transportation don’t need to worry about finding or paying for parking, a headache even when you’re driving your own car. Public transportation can eliminate one more stressor from your vacation travel.

Clearly, there’s no straightforward answer regarding rentals car and vacations. Think about your personal preferences, your destination or destinations, and the costs involved in renting versus public transportation. Whatever you decide to drive, be sure to educate yourself before you motor through a new area. Check TripAdvisor, State Driving Law, and other guides. Also visit YouTube to watch videos of drivers in the areas you plan to visit.

Does My Insurance Cover a Rental Car?

If you do decide to rent a car, inquire with your insurance agent on whether your rental is covered by your car insurance.  If you’re a customer of The Hartford, check out our Rental Car Coverage Calculator to help you estimate coverage that may be available to you!  Many credit card companies offer rental car insurance, too. Of course, you must use that card to pay for the rental. Some people forget that!

Did we miss anything?  How do you determine whether you’ll be packing up the trusty family car or renting a car for your next trip? Share with the Extra Mile community in comments.

28 Responses to "Should You Rent a Car for Your Road Trip?"

  • D Lee | August 7, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    A couple of comments; 1) I love Hartford. I've been insured with them for many years. Zero complaints! Except.... I arrived at this "forum" via an emailed link. It is very hard to follow. Perhaps a different format would be more appropriate? 2) Reading through the posted questions I'm very surprised by the number of folks who don't know if their personal car insurance covers rental cars. These same folks may not know that most credit card companies, using their cards for rentals, provide coverage as well. If renting a car, check with your (major) insurance carrier as well as the policies of the credit card you will be using to rent. In short and in most cases, buying insurance through a car rental company is a total and complete waste of money! 3) As others have mentioned, renting a car for a road trip reduces the mileage you'll put on your personal vehicle. What I have NOT noticed mentioned here is the cost of fuel. Example: I have an older SUV that gets horrible miles per gallon (like 13 mpg). Virtually all rental cars will get 3-4 times that. Consider the cost of gas in your calculations.

  • Vicky Richardson | August 2, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    ? I am going to be in Sacramento California area August 16th thru August 21st. I already have a rental car reservation BUT I got this email and wondered, does Hartford rent cars to be used in the city where they are picked up? Thanks,

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 30, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Mike, we’re sorry you had this experience. If you have any questions regarding your glass claim or your policy coverage, please call our Customer Service Department at 1-877-896-9320 and we’ll be happy to help. Thanks!

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 30, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Michael, we would suggest speaking to your insurance provider to see if you should purchase insurance through your rental company. If you’re a Hartford customer, you can use our Rental Car Coverage Calculator to see if you’re covered or call our Customer Service Department at 1-877-896-9320. If you have auto insurance with another provider, please speak to your agent to see if you’re covered. Thanks!

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 30, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Man, your rental provider will require you to purchase insurance with them if your personal auto insurance doesn’t cover the rental. If you’re a Hartford customer, you can use our Rental Car Coverage Calculator. to see if you’re covered or call our Customer Service Department at 1-877-896-9320. If you have auto insurance with another provider, please call your agent to see if you’re covered. Thanks!

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 30, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Darren, you can easily check if your Hartford auto insurance covers you in a rental by using our Rental Car Coverage Calculator. If you need more assistance, please call our Customer Service Department at 1-877-896-9320. Thanks!

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 30, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Jack, you can easily check if your Hartford auto insurance covers you in a rental by using our Rental Car Coverage Calculator. If you need more assistance, please call our Customer Service Department at 1-877-896-9320. Thanks!

  • Yvonne Pledger | July 29, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Can you recommend a rental company with best rates and most reliable?

  • Patrick | July 28, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I have been renting vehicles for long trips for years. There are many benefits ( e.g., new technology, newer vehicles are more gas efficient, maintenance concerns, and several others expressed earlier), but one thing I always do is rent the type of vehicle I might consider purchasing as my next day-to-day vehicle. By doing this, I get to thoroughly test drive the vehicle and see if it is a real match for me.

  • Mary March | July 28, 2018 at 2:00 am

    Article did not mention renting cars from an Auto Dealership. I found that cars rented @ Dealers cost 40 to 50% less. And u get to pick out the model. Not all Car Dealers offer this service. So do the research to save a bundle!

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 27, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Joyce - 21 year old car is impressive! Good job!

  • Stephen | July 27, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks good information

  • Mike Dexter | July 27, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    We rented a car for a short trip in the PNW. Called my Hartford agent 1st to verify coverage & was told yes, full coverage. Had a rock chip the windshield during the trip and upon return called Hartford to report the loss. Was then informed Hartford doesn't cover rental car windshield loss so we were out $200+...if you're told by Hartford that you have full rental coverage, don't believe it!

  • Kay Papa | July 27, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Apparently this couple has not done proper research! "The RUGGED TERRAIN IN MESA , ARIZONA"!!! Mesa, AZ is a city !!! Extremely flat terrain. Don't think you'd need a 4-wheel vehicle to navigate the town any more than to navigate Phoenix, AZ.

  • Man Vo | July 27, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Do I have to report to my insurance when I rent a car?

  • Michael Joiner | July 27, 2018 at 4:30 am

    should i buy additional insurance from the rental car company?

  • SANDRA BARNETT | July 27, 2018 at 1:03 am

    We always rent our vacation vehicle. Enduring the stress of possible mechanical issues and bearing the expense to fix them on my own vehicles makes little sense when a rental agencies take care of all of that. The extra miles that could be put on my vehicles and fuel economy are also considerations.

  • Rosemary | July 27, 2018 at 12:09 am

    I just rented a car in Denmark because the wedding I attended was a 2 hour drive from Copenhagen and the day after I turned the car in and te last 3 days of my stay I used their metro system. It helped to purchase a metro card so I was able to get on and off easily.

  • jack cook | July 26, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    What about insurance. Does my hartford auto insurance cover me in a rental?

  • Theresa Skelton | July 26, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    Mesa is just as paved as Phoenix. You need to go further out to find something suitable for 4-wheeling!

  • Joyce Richter | July 26, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    I have been renting for trips for several years now. My car is now 21 years old, and while it is dependable transportation for my short trips in town, I do not feel comfortable taking it on the road. So, by renting for the occasional trip, I can keep my oldie but goodie and save the expense of a new car.

  • David of Hawaii | July 26, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    We always rent. The drive from Hawaii is subject to "down" pours, to say nothing of the long drive. Besides, we might get into hot water if we attempt to drive off the eastern most part of Hawaii Island now. Aloha

  • darren o hill | July 26, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    i will be renting a car in las vegas on 08/27 tp 08/29 will i be covered with my hartford car insurance

  • Extra Mile Staff | July 25, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Sounds perfect!

  • ROBERTA ROBBINS | July 25, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    I ALWAYS rent. Especially for road trips. Many employees get great rates if their employer human resources has a "relationship" with a rental company. I know we get great rates, no drop off fees and all the insurances covered. Cross country in a van is wonderful!

  • Linda | July 8, 2018 at 11:59 pm

    We rent because our vaca is not ruined if there are mechanical problems. Personal rigs end up in a shop sometimes for days. Rentals are replaced right away so we can continue our trip.

  • Extra Mile Staff | June 6, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Rosie - Enjoy your vacation!

  • Rosie Beckett | June 4, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    My family is going on a vacation this summer and we are thinking of renting a van so that we will all fit in the same car and can spend more time together. You make a great point that renting a van will give you storage space for your luggage and valuables. Also, the fact that you can enjoy the latest technology in the car with Bluetooth and satellite navigation would give me peace of mind that we won't get lost and that we can entertain ourselves and listen to music.

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