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Car Travel
Being Safe on the Road | How to Handle Rental-Car Breakdowns | Car-Rental Basics

  Being Safe on the Road

Even if you're a regular Mario Andretti, if you'll be traveling by automobile, there are several matters you'll want to keep in mind to ensure your safety.

Before driving off the rental lot, ask if your car is equipped with driver or dual air bags, which are designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts. Please note that children under the age of 12 should always ride in the back seat.

Drive defensively and remember that the law does not assign right of way to anyone; it only specifies who must yield right-of-way. To help avoid accidents and roadway unpleasantness that could spoil your trip, resist being provoked by traffic crunches or bully motorists, especially when driving in crowded areas.

If another driver bumps you or attempts to make you pull over by honking or yelling, keep driving. Proceed to a populated, well-lit area and then check out the situation.

If you will be driving a rented car, ask your rental agency for a car that does not have any agency decals or other distinguishing marks that identify it as a rental car, being driven by out-of-towners. Also, ask for a map and directions before you leave the rental location.

Store all valuables and belongings out of sight, preferably in the trunk of your car or, better yet, in the lobby safe of your hotel.

Lock all doors and your trunk, whether your car is parked or you are driving. At night and on any occasion when you are alone, you should also close the windows.

When you pick up your rental, find out if the car has anti-lock brakes. Chances are good that it will, as many car-rental companies have autos with this feature. If you're not familiar with anti-lock brakes, it's a good idea to practice braking in a remote area while driving at a moderate speed. Do not pump the brakes--this will disengage the entire braking system. The brake pedal will vibrate; just keep your foot on the pedal and continue steering.

If your car starts overheating, it can help to turn on your heater; this helps draw heat away from your engine, and may help you make it safely to the nearest garage.

  How to Handle Rental-Car Breakdowns

This grim possibility should definitely be discussed with your rental agent before you get behind the wheel.

Note that the larger companies--including Budget, Avis, National, and Hertz--offer 24-hour emergency roadside assistance and are likely to give you a replacement car faster than the smaller chains and independent companies.

If a car breaks down due to abusive driving or the wrong type of gas in the tank, the driver will likely be held responsible for repairs. Ditto for locking the keys in the car.

If you are many miles away from a rental office, you may have to wait for a tow truck. Worse yet, you may be asked to have the car repaired yourself and wait to be reimbursed at a later date. In this case, notify the company before any repairs are done and save your receipts!

Before hitting the streets, consider joining an auto club such as AAA. In case of breakdowns, you can usually get speedy and inexpensive service.

  Car-Rental Basics

In the United States, you must be at least 25 years old to rent a car through most agencies. (If you are under 25, it's probably a good idea to call several rental agencies ahead of time for their policies regarding age.) At the time of rental, be prepared to present a valid driver's license and a major credit card.

In most cases, your credit card isn't charged until you return the car, at which time you can settle your bill with some other form of payment. However, many agencies do place a hold on a certain dollar amount of your credit during your rental; this amount will not be available to you until the agency releases it, after your rental has ended. Be aware that some agencies also delay releasing this hold on your credit and that you may need to prod them with a phone call.

Keep in mind that many rental agencies charge no-show fees if you fail to pick up a reserved vehicle without cancelling in advance. Further, some particular vehicles, including convertibles and luxury cars, may carry a cancellation or no-show charge. To avoid fees, observe the agency's cancellation policy.

Today, many car-rental agencies complete a "good-driving" check before renting cars to prospective drivers. Each agency uses its own discretion in determining to whom it will or won't rent a car. So if your driving record is less than stellar, don't be surprised if some agencies decline your business.

Always remember that car-rental rates quoted on the phone or in advertisements do not include gas, airport fees, taxes, insurance, or extra equipment. These fees can come to as much as 25 percent of the base-rental price.

Additionally, make sure to do a quick walk around the car to check for damage. If you note a problem, bring it to the attention of an employee and mark it on your rental agreement. provides travel guide, lodging, online booking, transportation, passport and visa services, vacation planning and more.
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