How to Choose the Right Rental Car

If you’re planning a trip anytime soon, you may also be renting a car. The car you choose is important in terms of safety, comfort, and making the most of your travels.

For example, the likelihood of being in an accident while you’re behind the wheel is higher than you might want to think. There were 6.7 million police-reported traffic accidents in the U.S. in one recent year, according to personal injury attorneys Jacoby & Meyers.

Rather than choosing the first car, you come across online or the cheapest deal, the following are things to keep in mind that will balance all of your needs when you rent your next vehicle.


There are two areas of concern to keep in mind as far as the safety of a rental car. The first is the roadway safety of the car itself. The second is making sure that the car is properly sanitized before you rent it, as the coronavirus pandemic is still going on.

If you’re going to be driving on a lot of highways or interstates in the rental car, bigger may be better from a safety perspective.

You also need to look at crash test ratings and other general safety factors before you commit to any one rental car over another.

Next is the question of whether your car is clean of coronavirus. For the most part, experts don’t think the transmission of the virus primarily occurs through inanimate objects. The transmission of coronavirus is mostly person-to-person, so rather than worrying about the car itself as a vector of virus transmission, you should think more about who you’re in the car with.

Most rental car companies have rolled out new policies in the coronavirus era, including enhanced cleaning protocols.

Car rental companies are doing the general wipe-downs and vacuuming, but also adding sanitizing between each rental.

Of course, if you still aren’t comfortable, you can do a wipe down yourself as well.

Upholstery isn’t really a big priority, but think more about those high-touch areas, including key fobs.

For the most part, the virus will probably settle outside, and the longer the time between you and another driver, the more the risk goes down.

What Will You Be Doing During Your Trip?

If you’re taking a road trip, your needs may be different than if you’re going to a bigger city and want a car to basically get from the airport and back.

Think about how far you’ll be traveling, how much luggage you’ll need, and what you’ll be doing.

You may be going somewhere with rough terrain, in which case you’ll probably want a four-wheel-drive or at least an SUV.

How many people will be in the car, and how much luggage can the car hold? The luggage is one of the reasons why a smaller car or something sporty might not work for your needs.

Are you going to have to park in tight places? This, on the other hand, may mean a smaller car is better.

Generally, rental cars are broken down into the following categories:

  • Economy cars are what you might want if you’re driving mostly in an urban area. You can get good mileage, so they’re optimal for areas with a lot of traffic, and you can park them in tight spots.
  • Compact cars are also good on gas mileage and good for city driving.
  • Intermediate cars tend to have more luggage space, which is the primary difference with this vehicle class compared to economy and compact options.
  • A full-size car is usually something like a Toyota Camry, which has more luggage space and more leg space.
  • If you want more space and generally more features in a vehicle, there’s a premium car.
  • Luxury cars are something like a Ferrari, and you may have to go through a specialty rental company.
  • The type of convertible most often offered by rental companies is the Ford Mustang.

Other Rental Tips

As you’re deciding on a car and booking it, remember the following:

  • If you decide to book a car online, you’ll have the option to prepay or to pay at the rental counter. It can be wise to prepay because it can be significantly cheaper if you do this. If you are going to prepay and you want flexibility in your trip, make sure the car company allows for cancellations within a certain window of time.
  • Read the fine print about the vehicle and also the rental contract. For example, when you rent a car in advance online, the rental company usually doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the actual vehicle shown. You should get something that’s considered an equivalent, but read what these equivalents are for the company.
  • Most car companies have member programs that are free to join. You can join right before you rent, and you’ll probably find you can save a fair amount of money. These will give you free upgrades, and eventually, free rentals if you use the service enough. You may also get a pre-assigned, newer vehicle if you’re a member.
  • Even after you book a vehicle, keep checking up to the time you head to the rental counter, to make sure the prices don’t fall any lower. If the company has a lot of inventory for the time you’re traveling, they may drop prices. You can then ask the company to lower your price accordingly.

If you’re going to be booking for a longer period of time, you might want to call the company directly. They may have better long-term rental rates than what they publish online. Also, booking directly on a company’s website can mean you find better deals than booking through an aggregate site.

Do a little research before you book anything, and ensure you know what you’re getting into as you make a decision. A good rental car can make all the difference in the convenience and comfort of your next trip.