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Make picking up your next rental painless

Wednesday, January 22, 2014, 9:23 AM

You've got your road trip planned, everything is booked, now it's time to pick up your rental car. The agent behind the counter hands you a big stack of papers to sign, and tries selling you a few extras. Then what? What if there's damage, or it gets stolen? Here's how to get the best experience and avoid any unexpected costs.

What to bring: When you arrive to pick up your car, to bring two things: a valid driver’s license and a credit card with room for a security hold. If you want to use your own insurance, you'll need to bring a copy of the policy as well.

Consider buying the insurance: The insurance offered by the rental company may actually be a good idea, even if it's a bit pricey. Depending on the type of vehicle, major rental companies usually offer a zero deductible plan. If anything happens to their vehicle, you just walk way.

You can use your own insurance provided it covers non-owned automobiles. Your own deductibles do apply and accidents may raise your rates.

Some premium “gold” credit cards do offer coverage for rental vehicles as well.

Extras to Avoid: Some rental companies offer a deductible package if you use your own insurance. They will pay a portion of your deductible if you have to put a claim through. While cheaper than the full insurance package, claims may still affect your rates.

Prepaid fuel doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you plan on returning the tank empty. You may end up paying the same as you would at the pumps, as the price is often quoted without tax.

RELATED: Make booking your next car rental easy.

Pay attention: Before you sign anything, ask the rental agent to break down the price and explain the rules.

During the inspection, go over any damage with the car attendant and make sure it’s noted. Some people like to take photos for a little extra protection. Don't sign off unless you’re comfortable with it. When you return, go for another walk around. Pay attention so you don't get trapped paying for something you didn't do.

Take care of the vehicle: To save yourself from added costs, be gentle with the vehicle and don’t return it excessively dirty. Pet hair, cigarette smoke, and sticky foods are difficult to clean and may result in fines.

Call if you'll be late: It's both a courtesy to the next renter and a way to avoid surprise costs.

Top up the tank: Return with the gas topped up to avoid paying big fuel charges. These fines especially can be quite steep. If it's not full when you pick up, you can either ask to get it topped off or simply return it to where it was.

Don't return overnight: If you’re returning while the agency is closed, just be aware that you are responsible for the vehicle until the store opens the next day. If it gets damaged or stolen, you could be on the hook for it.

Be nice if there's a problem: Being a rental agent can be a stressful job. Polite customers get the best service.

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