Tips for renting a car in the United States

Today we bring you some tips for renting a car in the United States and that everything goes smoothly!

We have lost count of the number of times we have rented a car in the United States, we have calculated about 18 times, but surely some of them will get lost!

We love America and we love road trips, they give you a freedom that is difficult to achieve with other means of transportation.

Add to that the amazing American roads and landscapes, such as those seen on the West Coast, and the trip becomes one of those you always remember with a smile on your face.

Here we go with 15 tips for renting a car in America!


1. Book the car in the USA in advance

As the dates approach and demand increases, prices are rising at an alarming rate, so as soon as you have the dates clear, book!

Most of the time you can change your reservation free of charge up to 48 hours before.

Cancel it, add or remove days, or upgrade, but always make sure and read well the conditions of the reservation.

In general, the sooner you book a rental car in the United States the cheaper it will be.

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in New York

2. Documentation for renting a car in the USA

To rent a car in the United States you will only be asked for your Spanish driver’s license, passport and a credit card in the name of the driver.

Without one of these three things you can’t rent the car. Make sure your card is a credit card and not a debit card, the latter can be declined.

Our advice when renting a car in the USA is to always carry your international driving license.

It is true that they have never asked us to do this, but they could do it and it does not hurt to wear it all the time. In Spain it costs about 10 euros and you can request it at any Traffic Headquarters.

At some rental companies like Dollar it is no longer a requirement to have a credit card to rent a car if you show your return ticket to your country, but find out!

Rent a car in the USA

3. Car rental insurance in the United States

Most rentals in the United States include a comprehensive insurance without deposit in the rental price, at least in Autoeurope and Rentalcars which are the websites we always use.

Most of the time this insurance does not include road assistance and loss of keys, but we can always arrange it when picking up the car.

Sometimes the acronym for car rental insurance looks like Mandarin Chinese, but every day they make it a little easier for us to understand everything we have that is not covered in our car rental.

In this aspect, Auto Europe is much clearer, indicating without detours which are the coverages that we are hiring in our car rental in the United States.

Forrest Gump Point, Monument Valley : West Coast Route

4. Additional drivers

If the car will be driven by more than one person, we have to check if our car rental includes an additional driver free of charge.

Some car rental companies in the USA charge a daily fee for additional drivers, please note this and read the conditions carefully before booking.

If an accident happens and the car is driven by a person who does not appear in the contract, the insurance will not pay for it.

5. One way charge

The “one way” charge is the fee that some companies charge for returning the vehicle to a different office than the one where it was picked up.

This charge is unusual if you pick up the car in Los Angeles and return it in, say, Las Vegas or San Francisco.

But for example, to take it in Chicago and return it in Los Angeles to do Route 66 they charged us $500 +TAX, more than they cost every day to rent the car. Very careful!

This charge is always paid when you pick up the car and must be specified in your reservation.

6. Fuel tank

In our last experiences in 2019 renting a car in the United States, the fuel policy has been “full – full” and although there were others before, we will focus on this one because it seems that the others have disappeared.

When you pick up the car you will be asked if you want to pay the deposit and return it empty. This option is usually not very profitable for two things:

The price of the gasoline you are charged is usually higher than at the gas station (even if they say otherwise).
It is normal that you do not return the car completely empty and you will have paid the full deposit. Some rental companies do give you a refund on the excess amount, but very few do.

Better to fill the tank at the nearest gas station and have a good price.

If you return the car at the airport, don’t wait to fill it up at the last gas station because the prices are usually high, taking advantage of all the people who return their rental car.

EYE! Keep in mind that in the United States they measure in gallons, the price you’ll see on gas station signs is not by the liter, it’s by the gallon! 1 gallon = 3.78 liters

7. Categories in car rentals in United States

Depending on our trip and the kilometers we will be doing, sometimes it is worth paying a little more and having a bigger car.

For example, to do the route along the West Coast or Route 66, we always recommend renting a “medium” category car (at least), because it is many kilometers long and you will appreciate being more comfortable.

Cars in America are automatic. This means that they have no gears or clutch and are much easier to drive than Europeans.

Mini tip if you are going to rent a car in the USA: If you have never driven an automatic car be careful not to step on the brake thinking it is the clutch! Try to keep your left leg as far back as possible (at least at the beginning) so you don’t accidentally step on “the clutch” 😉

8. Mileage policy

Make sure you book a rental car with unlimited kilometers, or else make sure you don’t do more kilometers than the maximum indicated in the rental contract.

If you are going to do a route through the United States it is best to book a car with unlimited kilometers to go more relaxed.

Crossing the Brush Creek Bridge on Route 66

9. Car rental companies in the United States

The main car rental companies in the USA are: Hertz, Alamo, National, Dollar, Sixt and Avis.

The last times we have rented a car in the United States we have done it through AutoEurope, this website compares the prices of all the rental companies and offers a lower price than making the reservation directly with the rental company in question, you can check it.

We have also rented many times with Rentalcars, it is also a very reliable website for car rentals in the United States.

There are usually very interesting offers to rent a car in the USA in both websites, besides we leave you some discounts:

10. Minimum age for renting a car in the USA

Unlike Europe, in the United States the minimum age for renting a car is 21.

The rental companies charge a bonus if you’re under 25.

11. Language

If you are not 100% clear in English, ask a Spanish-speaking person to attend to you, you will not have any problem in the United States, there is always someone who speaks Spanish.

Mini tip if you’re renting a car in the US: All supermarkets sell cork coolers (about $4 the smallest) that are great for taking in the car and keeping your drink cold. In every (or almost) hotel in the USA you will find a free ice machine. In the morning you fill it with ice and it lasts almost all day.

12. GPS

At the time of collection you will be asked if you need GPS (of course it is not free). Our advice is that if you have a GPS in your mobile, for example Sygic, it is worth buying and you already have it for other trips.

Many car rental companies in the United States already include it in the price, the last cars we have rented since 2018 already had it incorporated.

Another option is to have internet in your mobile, in the last trips we have used Holafly’s SIM cards, they have unlimited internet and we landed in the United States with internet in our mobile, it is the most comfortable thing.

This way we can use Google Maps, check directions, schedules…etc, as long as we have coverage.

You get a 5% discount on your Holafly SIM card from our link.

We recommend 100% that you bring a GPS because you will need it.

Rent a car in USA, Ocean Drive : Miami

13. Rent of PLATE PASS

When you pick up your rental car you will be offered to rent the “Plate Pass”, this is a device that has the car built in to pass through the toll fast track without the need to stop.

The device has a cost per day of rental, apart from when you return the car you pay all the tolls you have gone through.

I’ll tell you right now that to do the route on the West Coast or Route 66 is not necessary, just pass through a toll arriving in San Francisco and you can pay right there.

Car rental in United States : Big Sur Route

14. Other charges when picking up the rental car in the USA

One of the big doubts that always remain is if when you pick up the rental car you will be charged for something that you did not count on.

We go over some things that you can be charged for when you pick up the car and that we have mentioned before:

Additional driver, GPS rental, gas tank, one way charge and Plate Pass rental.

They will also offer you the road assistance and loss of keys insurance which is the one that is not usually included in the rentals, it does not go up much and it is optional to hire it.

We never take it, in case something happens we would have to take care of the crane to the nearest workshop.

Of all the charges we discuss, none is mandatory and if it is, such as the “one way”, it must be specified very clearly in the rental reservation of Auto Europe or the company you are booking with.

Normally they block a tank of gas on the credit card as a deposit in case you return it empty (about $100). When you return the car with a full tank, you get it back.

They also recommend that you keep your last refueling ticket. We have never been asked for it when returning the car, but sometimes when picking up the rental car in the USA we have been recommended.

15. Some tips for driving in the United States:

It is forbidden to park where there is a fire hydrant, even if there is no sign specifying it, the same applies to garage exits, there does not have to be a prohibition sign.
It is forbidden to park in the opposite direction, I mean, if the street is two-way you can’t park in the opposite direction to the lane you are in, you always have to park on the right side, in the direction of the road. EYE! They give a lot of fines for this.
You can always turn right (even if the traffic light is red) unless there is a sign indicating otherwise.
There are some roads with carpool lanes, on these lanes only cars with two or more people can drive, they usually have less traffic jams and are faster!
On multi-lane roads, be careful because you can be overtaken on any lane, although this is not entirely allowed, it is a common practice on American roads.
The traffic lights are on the other side of the intersection, it’s a bit weird but you get used to it.
At four-lane intersections without traffic lights, a “STOP all way” sign appears, all cars must stop and the first one to arrive has priority.
On our last trips to the United States in 2019, we found it difficult to pay with our cards at the self-pay gas pumps, we had to go to the cash register and have the gas station personnel pass it through the POS, they told us this was happening with all foreign cards. Although it’s not a serious problem, it didn’t happen before and we hope it will change soon.

Travel insurance for the United States

This is not a tip for renting a car in the USA but a tip if you are going to travel to the USA soon.

Don’t forget your travel insurance! Healthcare in the United States is private and very expensive, if anything happens to you you will have to face a good bill, and I don’t tell you anymore if it is an operation… it’s not worth risking it!

Travel insurance for a few days in the United States will not increase your travel budget much, but it can be very useful.

We always recommend Iati Seguros, we have used it three times and they have always responded to the first one, it has one of the highest medical coverages in the market and the best thing is that you do not have to advance a single euro, they take care of everything from the beginning.

You also get a 5% DISCOUNT on your travel insurance from our link.

So much for our tips on renting a car in America!

We hope this post will help you and when you go to rent a car in the United States, everything will be fine!

If something is not clear to you, leave us a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible! 😉

*Article updated in January 2020

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