What to Expect When Renting a Car

Updated on April 22, 2020
Devon Lemieux profile image

Devon is a business consultant who specializes in rental car operations. He has over 10 years of experience in the field.

You're ready to take that dream vacation. You've booked your flights, you've packed your bags, and now you're standing at a rental car counter living the nightmare: you don't "qualify" to rent a car. How could this have happened? Renting cars is supposed to be easy, right?

Rental Requirements

I've worked at many rental locations, from your small neighborhood, to your bustling city, to massive airport rental operations. The most common conversations I had with customers were directly related to rental qualification. I often had these conversations dozens of times per day or more.

Probably the largest point of contention between a rental agency and its customers comes down to what the rental agency means when they ask you for a "credit card." For the rental agency, "credit card" means a non-debit card which is not linked to a bank account and has a line of credit.

Most neighborhood rental agencies will accept a debit card, but they may require either a credit check or some proof of residence. Airport locations will typically require some form of proof that you actually deplaned at that particular airport. Airport locations will not accept debit cards from local renters.

Besides that credit card, you are going to need to make sure that you have a valid license. The reason I'm mentioning this is that no matter what your situation is and no matter how sympathetic the rental agent is to your situation, you will not be able to rent any vehicle without physically showing the agent a valid license. I have had people show me photocopies of licenses or written license information on a piece of paper and I've never been able to rent a vehicle to them.

For the rental agency, "credit card" means a non-debit card which is not linked to a bank account and has a line of credit.


Every rental operation I have worked at or rented from required some form of a deposit, no matter what the reason was for renting. You will typically have to put a deposit down equal to the expected cost of rental plus an additional flat deposit (can be anywhere from $100 to $300).

Make sure that you have the funds available before you attempt to rent the vehicle. If your credit card or debit card declines, you will not be able to use that card again, even if you add funds to it.

How Old Do I Need to Be?

In most states, you have to be at least 21 to rent a vehicle. Many rental operations will charge you an additional fee if you are under the age of 25 (can be upwards of $25 per day). These guidelines are pretty much non-negotiable.

There is one exception to the minimum age rule and that is in the case that you are under direct military orders that specifically state that you are to rent a vehicle.

Insurance Rentals

It's finally happened to you. You were driving to work, minding your own business, when you hear a screech of tires and your car is hit from behind by another vehicle. After making dozens of phone calls, getting appraisals, and dropping your car off at the bodyshop, you're standing at the rental counter when you're asked to provide a credit card for a deposit. Almost everyone thinks the same thing at this point: "But the accident wasn't my fault! The insurance company should be paying for everything!"

While the insurance company might be paying the rental cost for you to be in the vehicle, they do not cover things like gas, detailing, or any other cost that comes from the usage of the vehicle. Fuel can be extremely costly for a rental company and many people won't refill the vehicle if they don't have some form of deposit at risk.

As long as you return the vehicle in good shape and with the designated fuel levels, you should be able to get your full deposit back.

Every rental operation I have worked at or rented from required some form of a deposit, no matter what the reason for renting was.

Avoid the Stress

Renting a car can add a lot of stress to your day. Many people only rent on rare occasions and are unfamiliar with the process. There are many requirements that can differ quite a bit from rental agency to rental agency.

At the end of the day, no matter what reason you are renting, the best practice is simply to call the rental company in advance and make sure that you are completely aware of what their requirements are. This will help you avoid the heartache and embarrassment at the counter.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      20 months ago from UK

      Prius were ahead of their time when they first came out. Now they are looking a little dated. My husband's problem hiring a car in France was getting used to driving a left hand drive car with all the controls opposite way on.

    • Devon Lemieux profile imageAUTHOR

      Devon Lemieux 

      21 months ago from Gardner MA,

      Yes, driving someone else’s car can certainly be nerve-racking. Probably the biggest stressor I always saw for renters was driving a car they just weren’t familiar with at all. We used to rent the Prius when it first came out and I think it was the first, or one of the first push button cars. At that time, it was such a shock for people to figure it out and most people did not want to get into that car.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      21 months ago from UK

      This is an interesting guide to car rentals. We tend to avoid car rental wherever possible. I still have vivid memories of renting a car in France. My husband was so worried about anyone scratching it that we had to find 3 parking spaces. One for the car and a space either side of it.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander Reno 

      21 months ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      These are great tips to keep in mind when renting a car. Doing things online certainly helps expedite the process, but you still need to show up with your drivers license and credit card.

      Thanks for writing.



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