It behooves you to know what you are getting into before you hit the road. Every country has different car rental laws to adhere to, as well as different traffic laws.
In this article, we have compared the rental rules in three countries to highlight the nuances of car rental laws. But first, let’s dive into the fundamentals of car rental.
Factors to Consider Before Renting a Car
Is There an Age Restriction?
Many countries restrict travelers in the age group of 18 – 21 years from renting a car. In some places, they even restrict senior citizens above 75 years of age. Although car rental companies may allow drivers aged under 25 years to rent a car, usually they cover their additional risk with extra fees and harsher restrictions.
What Are the License Requirements?
Most countries require an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), along with the driving license and passport issued by your country of residence. The rules vary widely. For example, a Canada Driver’s License is valid in the U.S., but European countries typically demand an IDP along with a state license. IDPs can be issued only in your home country, so beware since scammers have ripped off tourists with fake IDPs abroad.
Know the Auto Insurance Requirements
Your domestic auto insurance is not likely to cover you when you are driving abroad. Sometimes, your credit card may offer additional car insurance coverage. If not, short-term auto insurance policies are widely available in most countries. In most cases, your preferred rental car company will provide you with a basic auto insurance coverage plan, and extra coverage can be included at additional cost.
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Read Up on Driving Culture and Road Safety
Before you book a car rental, make sure that you understand the local road conditions. Some countries are notorious for the unpredictable behavior of their drivers.
Be Aware of Traffic Rules
In some countries, you will be required to drive on the left side of the road, while in others, you will be driving on the right side of the road. Know the common traffic rules to avoid unnecessary encounters with the law. Often, major cities do not allow cars within their city centers in order to prevent traffic congestion. Research your route to check if it is car-friendly, and whether it makes sense to rent a car if most of your driving is likely to be in and around the city center.
Parking can be a major hassle, especially in metro cities with limited parking space. In most places, you’ll spend a significant amount of time and money on parking. Once again, if the majority of your time will be spent in a densely populated urban area, consider whether or not renting a car is worth the hassle.
Do not overlook road tolls, fuel surcharges, and car-drop charges. This is when you drop a car at a different location than where you picked it up.
Automatic or Manual Transmission?
Usually, cars with automatic transmissions are more expensive to rent. Irrespective of the costs, rent out a car you’ll be comfortable driving.
Compare Other Modes of Transport
Renting a car is not always the most affordable option, with the hassles of planning your route, paying for fuel, tolls, and parking fees, and risking road accidents. Often, trains and long-route buses make travelling cheaper and more enjoyable.
Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Most travel mishaps occur without warning. While on the road, you cannot rule out the risk of accidents. What if your basic auto insurance doesn’t cover the cost of extended hospitalization? What about your liabilities towards the other people involved in the accident? You need a comprehensive travel medical insurance or travel insurance policy for complete peace of mind.
Car Rental Regulations
Rental laws differ across countries, and sometimes, even across states. Read on to know more about the general rental laws in different countries, and associated risks while renting a car abroad.
Car Rental Requirements in Spain
Age Restrictions: Although the legal driving age in Spain is 18 years, most car rental companies require a minimum age of 21 years to rent a car. Young drivers under 25 years of age can expect to pay anywhere upwards of a €20 surcharge per day. There is no maximum age limit to rent a car.
Documents Required: You need to provide your state driving license, the International Drivers Permit, and your passport.
Auto Insurance: Legally, unlimited third-party liability insurance is necessary for all rental vehicles. Your rental contract will usually include third-party liability along with fire insurance. You can buy additional coverage like theft protection and collision damage waiver at an extra premium.
Traffic Rules to Be Aware Of While In Spain
- In Spain, you will drive on the righthand side of the road. Remember, you will always have to give priority to traffic approaching from the right unless otherwise indicated by a sign.
- Driving fines can be imposed for several reasons, but some of them can be a real shock for tourists. For example, you can be fined for having too many passengers, not giving way, using the horn inappropriately, driving without a t-shirt, driving in flip-flops, or driving with one arm or hand outside the window.
- Speed limits for the open road are 90 kilometers per hour, on a motorway it is 120kph, and within city limits it is 50kph.
- On-street parking is mostly forbidden around the city centers. Where allowed, they are usually controlled by ticket machines in the blue zones. Be aware of certain zones that are meant only for residents. You may find free parking during certain hours of the day and on Sundays.
- You will need to carry certain safety equipment in your car. For example, all car drivers are required to possess two warning triangles and high-visibility jackets or vests to be used when stepping out of the car on an intercity road. You are also required to carry an extra pair of glasses if you wear them.
- Tourists in rental cars should carry the logbook, ITV card, and proof of car insurance at all times while on the road.
Car Rental Requirements in the U.S.
Age Restrictions: As of 2021, only New York and Michigan have state laws allowing drivers of age 18 to rent a car. All other states set their own standards, which typically allow for car rentals at 25 years old. You need to hold your license for at least a year before renting a car. Most rental companies impose a graduated daily surcharge on drivers under 25 years of age. Those between 18 and 21 years old are subjected to the highest surcharge levels.
Auto Insurance: Your rental contract will include basic coverage, but rental companies often insist travelers sign up for the collision damage waiver. Be forewarned that this can almost double your rental fees per day.
Certain credit cards also offer extra car insurance if you pay for a rental using that card. If you plan on using a credit card, call up the customer support line of your credit card company and ask about the inclusions. Canadian travelers may use their domestic car insurance when in the U.S. Check with your insurance service provider before leaving the country.
Traffic Rules In the U.S
- While steering wheels are typically on the left side of the car, you will be required to drive on the right side of the road.
- At crosswalks, you have to always yield to pedestrians.
- At intersections without traffic lights, follow the rule of “first come, first served.”
- Horns are mostly used for emergencies or when you feel threatened.
- Every state has its own rules on speed limits. Highway speed limits can range from 45mph in urban areas, to 85mph in rural areas. Some areas even impose a minimum speed limit.
- There are a few weird driving laws in the U.S. that you should know. For example, it is illegal for a woman to drive in a housecoat in California. In Colorado, it is forbidden to pass the same traffic signal more than three times within a three-hour window. While it is extremely unlikely that these would result in a traffic ticket, it does highlight the importance of being aware of local traffic laws.
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Car Rental Requirements in Australia
Age Restrictions: You need to be above 21 years of age, and have at least a year-old driver’s license to rent a vehicle. The rental companies subject those under 25 years of age to a daily surcharge. Also, they may get limited vehicle options while booking. Some rental companies may impose an upper age limit of 75 years to rent vehicles.
Documents Required: You must have a valid driver’s license, along with your passport. If it is in English, that is all you will need. If not, you must carry an IDP printed in English. Rental companies usually do not accept probationary licenses or photocopies.
Auto Insurance: It is mandatory to have third-party liability along with fire insurance, collision damage waiver, and theft protection. These will typically be included in your rental contract. However, it will be subject to a deductible, meaning you may have to pay a part of the damage incurred. You can include excess coverage at a premium.
Some credit cards, like American Express, do not offer car rental insurance in Australia, so be sure to check with your service provider before relying on it. Off-roading might invalidate your insurance.
Traffic Rules to Be Aware Of While In Australia
- Australians drive on the left side of the road, while most cars will have the steering wheel to the right.
- Speed limits within cities and residential areas are often around 50 – 60kph, while on country roads and highways they can go up to 110kph.
- It is forbidden to turn left at a red signal unless a sign explicitly mentions that you can.
- It is illegal to make a U-turn at an intersection unless otherwise mentioned. This rule does not apply in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.
- You need to carry your driver’s license, insurance documents, and vehicle registration documents at all times while on the road.
- Be aware of flash floods, which are common in the north during the rainy season, and animals on the road.
- Some railway crossings may not have barriers. Approach with caution.
- In Australia, rental cars are usually supplied with a full tank of fuel, and you are expected to refuel it before returning.
Things to Look Out for While Renting a Car Abroad
- Always choose a reputable car-rental company to avoid getting scammed. Some prominent rental companies include Enterprise, Hertz, Alamo, and Avis.
- Inspect your car before taking the keys. Take pictures of scratches, dents, and seat conditions to avoid paying unnecessary fines later.
- Be aware of hidden costs related to pickup and drop-off times and location. Often, car-rental companies add extra charges if you delay the drop-off time by over 30 minutes. They may also require you to pay extra fees if you choose a different drop-off location.
- There are some cities that are notorious for car theft. Ensure that you have parked your car in a safe place, and double-check all locks. Keep your keys hidden out of sight.
- Get a GPS-enabled navigation system to stay up-to-date on local traffic conditions and avoid road closures. Your smartphone is likely to have one; make good use of it.
- Book your car rental online before you reach your destination, so that you can avoid last-minute hassles. Advanced bookings are usually offered at a discounted price.
How to Find the Cheapest Car Rental Abroad
There are several reliable car rental companies that offer great online discounts. Here are a few tips to save money while looking for a car rental:
- Start your search on aggregator websites with a meta-search engine, like Kayak, Skyscanner, or Expedia. They will list the companies with the cheapest rental option.
- Visit the individual company’s page to check if they are offering any special deals. Booking a car three months in advance may save you a lot of money.
- Explore the price on weekday booking versus booking during the weekends. In some countries, like Spain, weekend bookings may be relatively cheaper.
- If you are comfortable with it, opt for a manual transmission and stick to the cheapest economy model. Ditch the expensive upgrades like getting a GPS device, when your phone already has one.
- While booking, look for coupons, current promotions, and membership discounts. Use your frequent flyer miles where possible.
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