Depending on the reason for your journey, travel is fun, exciting, productive – and sometimes stressful. That's true whether you're enjoying a solo adventure, road tripping with friends or family, or traveling for business. Choosing the right rental car for your trip should never be a problem, and as long as you pay attention to the details, it won't be.
You don't want to drive off in an economy model when you need ample passenger or cargo space, or pull away in a full-size SUV when you're alone and want to conserve gas. No matter where you're headed or who you're traveling with, ask yourself these questions to pick the perfect rental for your journey.
Who's Riding with You?
Size is the primary consideration when choosing a rental car. Tally up the number of passengers, including any that you anticipate transporting on a limited basis. For example, if you're taking a trip with your spouse and two children, then a vehicle that comfortably seats four passengers and has ample trunk space is probably sufficient, but if you're traveling to a destination where other friends or family members may want to ride with you, keep that in mind when choosing your rental. Rental cars are typically categorized by size, with the different sizes accommodating a specific number of passengers.
- Economy/Compact: Two adults, two children
- Mid-Size: Four adults, one child
- Full-Size/Premium/Luxury/SUV: Five adults
- Hybrid and Electric: Two adults, two children
How Much Luggage Are You Taking?
Cargo space is another important factor when choosing a rental car. A quick business trip on your own requires far less luggage than a cross-country trip with your family of five. Take time to consider everything you're taking with you to get a basic idea of how much space you need. Keep in mind that a car's luggage capacity doesn't account for oversized items. In general, the common rental categories accommodate the following number of suitcases:
- Economy: One large, one small
- Compact: One large, two small
- Mid-Size: One large, two small
- Full-Size: Two large, three small
- Premium: Three large, two small
- Luxury: Four large, two small
- SUV: Five large
- Hybrid and Electric: One large, two small
Where Are You Traveling?
Your destination is another important variable in the equation. If you're mainly driving in the city, then choose the smallest rental car that comfortably accommodates your passengers and luggage. Smaller cars are easier to maneuver in tight spots, and they typically have better fuel economy for driving in traffic.
On the other hand, if you're heading to the beach or the ski slopes, consider a crossover or SUV, which provides ample luggage space for extra gear. When renting a car in Europe, keep in mind that European rentals tend to be smaller than American rentals in the same categories. Research the sizes of the vehicles offered to see if you need to choose one a size larger than you would need in the U.S.
What's on Your List of Must-Have Features?
If you're renting a car for a driving vacation, then you may want the vehicle to come with certain comforts to make the journey more enjoyable. On a business trip, you may need the ability to connect your smartphone to the dashboard's interface. In many cases, you can check the company's website to see which bells and whistles come as standard features versus those that are options. Examples of features that might be important to you include GPS navigation, internet hotspots, satellite radio, and child safety seats.
Where Will You Pick Up Your Rental?
Even if you're flying into an airport that has onsite car rental, you might want to consider renting away from the airport. Depending on the location and date, off-airport locations often have a better selection available, and you seldom have to wait in a long line. Researching offsite locations also gives you a backup option, if necessary, even if you plan to rent at the airport. AAA members are often eligible for rental discounts, regardless of the pickup location.
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