This post originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.
Are you anxiously awaiting your annual winter getaway? Whether it’s a family visit or a much-needed vacation, you will likely be spending a chunk of your time off in a car.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that during the winter season, namely the Monday after New Year’s Day through the last day of March, as many as 88 percent of trips are traveled in vehicles, while only 8 percent travel to their winter destinations by air and just 3 percent by train or bus.
This data isn’t all that surprising when you consider the holiday debt hangover many shoppers experience after New Year’s Day. As a compromise, travelers are choosing to rent a car, hoping to save on plane tickets and wear-and tear on their personal vehicles; however, such a move isn’t as wise as it might seem.
3 Reasons Rent-A-Car Services Aren’t Worth It
Beating up your own car with a harrowing long-distance drive might not seem ideal when trying to prolong its lifespan, especially for those still paying auto loan installments. However, the consequences of car rental mishaps might be more of a burden than you realize.
Renting a vehicle online through one of the many car rental agencies in the market is fairly commonplace, unfortunately, so is being talked into purchasing collision damage waiver coverage from the rental company upon pick-up.
At about $10 to $30 more per day, car rental agencies will do their best to persuade you into buying this extra protection. However, in the event of a collision or damage, your liability far exceeds simply paying for the extra insurance, filing a claim and then forgetting that the whole incident ever happened.
Customers often fall into this trap because most drivers don’t know the details of their existing auto insurance policies and credit card benefits as they pertain to rental cars.
The reality is that there’s no catch-all insurance coverage that protects all rental drivers from every accident at any cost. If you get into a fender-bender and file a claim, your insurance company (assuming you have collision coverage that extends to car rentals) will cover a portion of the cost. While the additional coverage sold by car rental agencies acts as secondary coverage.
Why wouldn’t you pay more for the secondary protection, then? Because if you used a credit card to place the rental order, you might already have rental coverage that overlaps with the rental company’s add-on protection.
At this point in the process, the solution seems simple: opt out of the rental agency’s insurance to avoid the extra cost and just go through the protections already offered by your primary auto insurance policy and your credit card issuer. But even with these two coverage options, gaps in insurance coverage might arise at your expense, and depending on your credit card’s terms, card coverage might act as secondary protection, which means that your premium could increase.
Keep in mind that at the end of the day, car rental agencies and insurers are out to run a business and pay out as little as possible in the event of an accident.
2. Excessive Fees
No one likes extra fees, but they’re everywhere — including the car rental business. One example of hidden fees that you could be responsible for paying are loss-of-use fees.
Should you get into a collision and the rental car has to be decommissioned for repair, the rental agency can charge you money for every day the car could not be rented out to another customer. This fee could cost hundreds of dollars, like the nearly $1,000 that San Antonio resident Kimberly Esquivel was charged when she unknowingly relied on her Discover credit card to cover all charges for her car rental claim.
“It was very, very frustrating,” Esquivel told creditcards.com. “They say, ‘We’ve got you covered,’ but that’s not true. I’d been a customer with Discover for almost 20 years. That was the first time in 20 years that I really needed them, and they let me down.”
But this is just one of the multiple fees you could face when you rent a car. Forgetfulness will cost you hundreds on your car rental, for instance, if you forget to fill up the gas tank before returning the vehicle. Consumerist states that some car rental agencies charge as much as $9 per gallon, plus a convenience charge in these instances, totaling more than $216 for a 20-gallon tank.
Other fees tacked onto your car rental bill include early return fees (yes, you read right), multiple driver fees, under 25 penalty fees and more.
3. Headache-Inducing Claims Process
The inconveniences of renting a car don’t solely exist during extraordinary circumstances, like when an a collision occurs. Damage claims can be reported by car rental agencies long after you’ve returned the vehicle, and they can be legitimate accusations or not.
In these scenarios, rental companies will often send you written notification that they detected damage on the vehicle you rented, and demand that you absorb the cost. This type of message is often followed by another email or letter containing photos of the alleged damage, in addition to a bill.
If you know you were not responsible for the damage, you’re within your rights to contest the claim. However, be advised that the rent-a-car claims process can drag on for months, and as the person being accused, you bear the burden of proving that you aren’t liable for any damage caused.
Car Rental Alternatives
When you rent a car, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to these financial pitfalls. Driving your own vehicle can save you the expense of pesky surcharges and time wasted on drawn-out claims. Instead of shouldering this extra risk, the best alternative is to drive your own car or carpool with a friend or relative.
If this isn’t possible, the winter season provides travelers with great domestic airfare deals. With the average cost of an economy-level car rental costing anywhere from $45 to $65 per day (not including taxes and other fees), traveling by air might not be such a lavish expense after all.