5 Examples Of When You Should Ask For A Different Rental Car

by SharonKurheg

Sometimes you travel to another city and you don’t need to rent a car. Maybe the city has great public transportation. Perhaps it’s small enough that you can walk everywhere. Maybe you’re going to stay in the same place and as long as you have a ride from the airport and back, you’re good.

Other times you may not be so lucky and renting a car is going to be the best way for you to get from Point A to Points B (and potentially Points C, D, E and F, too).

Of course, if you’re going to rent a car, you should become a member of the rental car company’s loyalty program (here’s how to do it for each major car rental company and the free perks you get if you do). As you can see in that article, if you sign up to become a member of National’s Emerald Club, you get to pick your car. But for most other car rental companies, you may have some choices (i.e., “Would you rather have a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry?”) but other than that, the car rental agent will tell you that the car they assigned you is in Row C, Spot #9, and that’s it.

When you go to pick up your car, it will hopefully be in good working order and won’t have any issues that could potentially bite you in the butt while driving or upon return. However, there are things you can look out for to avoid that aggravation. So to save yourself some heartache (and possibly a bill you didn’t expect or deserve), if your rental car has any of these issues, it’s probably best to ask for a different car:

The car has lots of scratches, dings and marks

Unless the car is brand new (that’s happened to us exactly one time – we once got a rental car with 17 miles on the odometer. It even had a “New Car” smell!), other people have driven it. Chances are good that it’ll have a ding here, or a scratch there. Or maybe there’s a scrape on the dashboard that can’t be rubbed out.

If it’s just a small handful of mark ups, you shouldn’t have a problem – there should be a drawing on the rental agreement that allows both you and the rental company to mark where all the blemishes are. If you take pictures of all the marks, and of each side of the car when you rent it, and then of each side of the car again when you return it (to show you didn’t do anything to add to the scratch on the rear bumper and the ding on the passenger door), you should be fine.

But if the car has lots of marks, you may want to consider getting a different vehicle – if there are that many, it’s potentially going to be difficult to prove that you didn’t make some of those. Better safe than sorry.

If the inspection/registration is out of date

Car rental companies are usually excellent about making sure their vehicles are up-to-date on their annual inspections and/or registrations (Fun fact! Rental cars that are registered in Florida all have registration stickers that expire in June. Next time you’re at a tourist destination in The Sunshine State, see how many cars with Florida plates have registration stickers that expire in June). However, things happen sometimes and a car’s paperwork could be out of date. Make sure to check before leaving the lot. The last thing you need is to deal with something like that if you get pulled over.

The car smells like cigarettes

Rental car companies in the U.S. haven’t allowed people to smoke in their cars for years, but some people still try. They think if they keep the window open and then hold the cigarette outside the car except when they take a puff, no one will know.

Trust me, they know. And if you return the car and they think you were the one who smoked in it, you could potentially get a big, fat bill. Well, unless this happens (but let’s face it – chances are you won’t be so lucky).

Something is physically wrong with the car

Say you get a rental car and when you turn the engine on, one of your idiot lights is on. Check engine. You’re low on oil. Or maybe you notice that one of your tires is almost bald. Or there’s no windshield wiper fluid. Or one of the brake lights is out. Or you start driving and the alignment is off. Trade that car in before you leave the lot. You don’t want their car trouble to be trouble for you as you’re driving.

This happened to me during the trip when Joe wrote about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad travel day. While he was dealing with his canceled flight from Washington D.C. to Austin, I had just arrived in Austin that early afternoon and was renting our car. Joe called to tell me what had happened with his flight just as I was leaving AUS’s parking garage, and a minute or two after I hung up the phone, the car’s Check Engine light went on. Heaven knew I had all the time in the world before I had to pick him up (in San Antonio. At midnight. Good times.), so I turned around, went back to the airport and traded the car in.

The car isn’t what you had reserved

Obviously, I’m not talking about an upgrade. If you rented the cheapest car you could find and they offer you a Jeep Wrangler for the same price (true story! Our best car upgrade ever!), of course, take it! But let’s say you’re in Germany, you rented an automatic transmission and they give you a car with a stick shift. If you don’t know how to drive a stick, this is not the time to learn. It’s not safe. So yeah, tell them you need that automatic.

I do the same thing here in the United States. I’m only 4’6″ tall and don’t fit into a lot of cars – no matter how much I adjust the seat, either my feet can’t reach the pedals or I can’t see over the dashboard. Either way, it’s not safe for me to drive. If that’s the case, I go back and tell them I need a different car that I can fit into better, so I can drive it safely. They’ve never given me a hard time about it.

Feature Photo (cropped): Tony Webster / flickr

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Gene February 15, 2021 - 9:48 am

Your feet can’t reach the pedals… 😉

SharonKurheg February 15, 2021 - 11:41 am

True story for some cars! I drive a Jeep Wrangler at home and have pedal extenders. That’s why I married a guy who’s 6′ tall…so someone could reach the top shelf. Welcome to my world 🙂

BK July 20, 2022 - 7:19 pm

Every car rented in the US in the last 10 years smells like weed. And the employees can’t smell it because they’re the ones smoking in them!

SharonKurheg July 20, 2022 - 7:37 pm

None of the cars we’ve rented from mainstream rental car companies have smelled like pot. If you’ve had that problem, please let us know what management said when you told them that?

MFB123 July 20, 2022 - 10:49 pm

I picked up a car today in Santa Fe, NM. There was a sign at the rental car counter (Hertz) saying “due to water restrictions, our the outside of our vehicles will not be cleaned”. My only problem with this is that there is so much dirt covering the car, I’m really relying on their good name 😉 that Edward Scissorhands was not the last renter.


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