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Which rental car fees should you pay and which can you avoid?

When making a rental car reservation or picking up a car at the rental counter, you’ll be bombarded with questions about optional fees that don’t always have simple answers. Should you get the extra collision insurance? Do you need to add a second driver or a car seat? How about a GPS or satellite radio?

All of these extra car rental fees can be confusing, and it’s often difficult to know what you should agree to pay for. Here’s an explanation of what these fees do and do not cover, as well as how to determine which ones you can safely decline when booking your rental car.

Should you purchase rental car insurance separately?
If you have auto insurance for your own car, you most likely already have some kind of rental insurance coverage. However, in order to determine whether the rental company’s insurance is a good investment, you must first understand what is and is not covered.

“Keep in mind that the limits on your current policy typically carry over to the car rental, so it’s important to know whether there are gaps,” says Benjamin Preston, Consumer Reports’ automotive reporter. “If you don’t have full coverage (collision and comprehensive, for example), or if your deductible is very high, you might want to consider a supplemental plan.”

Your credit card may also provide some coverage for rental cars, but you must look into the specifics to confirm the details.

“Not all credit card companies cover rental cars, so do your research ahead of time and read the fine print,” Preston advises. “However, in general, some will provide primary insurance, which kicks in if you don’t have car insurance, and others will provide secondary insurance, such as deductibles or towing costs.”

If you’re looking for a new travel credit card, consider the rental car insurance coverage benefits, as well as the rewards for travel, dining, and entertainment.

“Rental car insurance isn’t the most glamorous perk in the world, but you might realise it’s a far more valuable perk than earning 3% on dining,” says Sally French, travel expert at personal finance company NerdWallet.

According to Daniel Durazo, Director of External Communications at insurance company Allianz Partners, securing insurance for your rental ahead of time can save you time and money. In addition, if you’re purchasing travel insurance for a trip, some policies include rental car coverage.

“If you travel frequently, an annual travel insurance policy with rental car coverage may be your best bet,” Durazo says.

Is it a good idea to prepay for gas and tolls?
Most experts recommend that travellers avoid prepaying for gas and instead fill up the car before returning it.

“The short answer is never do it,” says All the Hacks podcast host Chris Hutchins. “It never makes sense unless there isn’t a single gas station within 100 miles of the airport, which I’ve never seen in my life.” Apps like GasBuddy and Waze can help you find gas stations near your destination.

When it comes to the purchase of prepaid fuel, rental car companies have varying policies.

“Sometimes they charge you to refill the full tank of gas, even if you only used a half or quarter tank,” says French of NerdWallet. “That can be very, very expensive. I always refill the gas myself because I don’t want to deal with reading the fine print, and I have a credit card that earns great gas rewards on top of it.”

Of course, knowing your own travel style is essential. If you’re always running late or dread the thought of having to find a gas station, the higher cost of prepaid gas may be a price you’re willing to pay.

“This really depends on the driver and their itinerary, as well as the prepaid fuel rate,” says Lucy Bueti, Priceline’s Vice President of Rental Cars. “If you have a tight schedule and stopping for gas could cause you to be late for your flight, then prepaying for a tank of fuel may be well worth it.”

In terms of tolls, consider where you’ll be driving and whether adding a payment option for tolls is truly necessary.

“You should always bring your own toll transponder if it works where you’re going,” Preston of Consumer Reports advises. “If not, try to avoid toll roads as much as possible.”

What to think about before investing in GPS, satellite radio, and other high-tech accessories
If you have a smartphone, you probably don’t need any tech support items.

“Most cars you rent these days are new enough that you have some way to connect your phone, whether Bluetooth or a USB port, that you don’t really need to spend money on streaming audio or GPS if you have a phone,” says All the Hacks’ Hutchins.

What about fees for additional drivers and car seats?
If both parents want to drive the rental car during a family road trip, it may be worthwhile to look for ways to avoid this surcharge. Rental companies may not be allowed to charge additional driver fees for spouses or domestic partners in some states in the United States, for example. Joining a car rental company’s loyalty or rewards programme can also help you avoid extra driver fees.

If you have a child who still requires a car seat, this is an unavoidable extra cost unless you bring your own. A car seat rental costs about $13 per day on average, according to Consumer Reports.

This fee may be waived in certain circumstances. AAA members, for example, who rent through Hertz receive one free car seat with their rental. Peg Perego car seats are provided at no additional cost by Silvercar; renters must request a car seat at least one day before the start of their reservation, and availability is not guaranteed.

Of course, transporting your own car seat on your trip is not difficult. There are also some portable travel car seat options available, ranging from inflatable booster seats and travel vests to foldable car seats. However, only you can decide which of these options is best for your family.

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