I Need a Cheap Car Rental!

Later today, I’m going to be taking in my automobile to have the transmission looked at.  While I don’t expect this to be a big problem, I am prepared if it is.  After I drop my car off to have it carefully diagnosed, I’ve decided to rent a car so that if the repairs do take a while, I’ll be able to get to where I need to go.

The five most well known rental car companies around are Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Budget and Dollar.  We’ve all seen the commercials and many of us probably know the slogans and jingles.  Advertising aside, determining which rental car company best suits your needs can be tricky.  Different locations will have different rates due to a variety of variables like car availability, geographic location and state insurance rates but let’s see if we can compare all of these rental car agencies using the same criteria to see if any stand out.

We’ll assume you’re flying into LAX (Los Angeles), picking the car up on a Monday at 10 AM, and returning it two days later at the same time. We’ll also assume that you are over 25, and that you won’t be using any coupons or memberships that provide discounts, such as AAA and that you’ll carry no additional insurance or services. Finally, we’ll be reserving a compact car and are willing to accept the most affordable rental rate within that category.  Miles and gasoline are not included in this comparison as that will be unique to the driver.

Dollar - Founded in 1965, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group currently trades on the NYSE under the ticker symbol DTG.  With over 650 global locations and 150,000 cars at their disposal, Dollar Rent-A-Car has become a premier rental car company.  Dollar also comes in with the lowest rate on our list.  $140.83 spent will net you two days of driving around Los Angeles in a Ford Focus.

Budget – Founded in 1958, Budget has three times as many car rental locations as Dollar Rent-A-Car with for more than 1800. Budget Rent A Car System Inc. is part of the larger Avis Budget Group Inc. (You’ll read about Avis in just a bit).  Budget finishes in a very close second place on our list and two days of drive time in a Hyundai Accent would cost $144.52.

Enterprise – In 1957, the year before Budget was founded, Enterprise served the public by offering rental cars.  With 7,000 locations, Enterprise tops our list in terms of brick and mortar sites.  Reserve a compact rental from LAX for two days from Enterprise, and you’ll wind up driving something less like the Cobalt and more like the Nissan Versa or Toyota Yaris. The total cost between rate, taxes, and surcharges is $151.96.

Hertz – The oldest and most respected of car rental agencies, Hertz was founded in 1918 with a fleet of 12 cars.  Now, Hertz has more than 6500 locations with a fleet of 550,000+ cars and trucks.  Toward the back of the pack, Hertz offers the same two-day rental of that Chevy Cobalt will cost you $218.41 and that’s if you pay at the time of the reservation, rather than waiting to pay at pickup.

Avis – In 1946 Warren E. Avis founded Avis Rent A Car Systems.  Currently, Avis has 4,200 locations in over 160 countries and is the second largest general use car rental business in the world (Hertz #1).  Unfortunately that doesn’t help much with prices as Avis comes in with the highest rate in the group.  For a two-day rental of a compact Chevy Cobalt, you’ll pay Avis a charge of $241.94 which includes the base rate, tax, and surcharges.

Keep in mind that these numbers are subject to change based on availability and location and we haven’t added any perks or additional features.  Renting a car will also require more work than just finding the best price.  Included in your search to find the right rental car should be the following:

  • Compare the same size vehicle -  Rates for compacts, full-sized sedans, SUVs, and pick-ups all vary.
  • Keep an eye on the options that come with a standard rental – For the most part, rentals come with an automatic transmission, stereo system with radio and CD player, air conditioning, and power windows and door locks.  If any particular options are important to you, check just to be sure they are included in the model you’re renting.
  • Check the price of a full reservation for the entire time you’ll need the car – While one rental agency might have a lower daily rate, another may charge much more in mandatory surcharges.
  • Ask about purchasing additional insurance – Basic rental car insurance may not cover you for common things like accidents and theft.
  • Children cost extra – Rental agencies frequently charge an extra daily rate for car seats and boosters.
  • Be prepared to pay for directions -  Most rental car agencies will make GPS systems available, for an extra daily charge.

Knowing everything you need ahead of time and making sure you compare prices for exactly the reservation you need, is the best way to ensure you get a good rate.  Always plan ahead and do your best to reserve early. Some of the major agencies offer substantial discounts if you pay ahead of time. Of course, if your trip is prone to cancellation or postponement, you’d be wise to consider paying upon pick-up.

Keep your eye open for special deals and make sure before you sign on the dotted line, you take a look at all of the major rental car companies out there.  Staying loyal may privy you to a solid rewards program but sometimes, that loyalty comes with a price.  To get started in your search, you may want to visit CarRentals.com, which can help you compare all rental car companies in just a few clicks.  I think I’ll be going with Enterprise, so I’ll let you know if they’re services are solid.

Published or Updated: September 12, 2011

Comments

  1. I usually go to the airport to find the cheapest rentals

  2. Porridge says:

    Personally I prefer to go to holidayautos.com

  3. Money Obedience says:

    I recommend checking travel sites like orbitz.com, kayak.com, hotwire.com, priceline.com, etc. Theses sites consolidate the offers of many car rental companies. It is much easier to compare prices when you check travel sites.

  4. Hedy says:

    I’d also strongly suggest checking out Priceline and Hotwire.

  5. I actually used Priceline last time and got a 3 day rental for $95 with taxes and everything. I offered $15 a day and it was snatched up – the fees were the big part. And if you want to cancel, too bad. You only have a 50/50 shot of getting a rep that will take pity on you and grant a refund of everything but one day of what you bid (so $15 in my case when we got bumped from the flight and drove instead).

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