Better Business Bureau- Rental car tips

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. _ We're in the middle of the busiest travel season of the year. Sometimes that means renting a car when you get to your vacation destination. But there are things you should keep in mind before you get behind the wheel.

Chris Thetford with the Better Business Bureau shares what you should know.

The fine print on a rental car contract can be confusing, but travelers can avoid surprises or misunderstandings on vacation or business trips by reading contracts carefully and looking for conditions or exceptions to advertised rates, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises.

BBB processed more than 7,201 complaints about rental car companies nationwide over the last year, including 62 complaints at St. Louis BBB. Consumers complained about unsafe vehicles, deposits that weren`t refunded, overcharges for usage and insurance coverage and disputes about damages to vehicles. Many of the complaints stemmed from not understanding the rental car contracts and limitations on the use of rented vehicles.

BBB has the following tips to help consumers avoid common rental car pitfalls:
• Ask for discounts: If the advertised price is higher than you want to pay, ask whether discounts apply if you`re a senior citizen or a member of an automobile club. Discounts also may be available for certain dates, weekends or longer trips.
• Consider location: Renting from an airport-based rental facility often is more expensive than an off-airport location, usually because of taxes and surcharges the airport charges the rental company.
• Look for package deals: Some airlines or other travel companies may offer discounted rates if you purchase more than one service, such as a flight, rental car or hotel stay.
• Weigh the value of add-ons: Renting a GPS device, a child car seat or a roof rack can add to your total bill. Consider using a cell phone GPS or bringing your own car seat.
• Compare gas rates: Some companies offer to sell you a full tank of gas so you don`t have to fill up the tank before you return the car. Compare the full-tank charge to the prevailing cost of gasoline in the area where you`re renting. In some cases, the convenience of not having to refill the tank can be worth the extra money. In others, it makes sense to top off the tank yourself.
• Understand insurance: Check your car insurance policy before you leave home. In many cases, your policy will cover damage to a rental vehicle and you can skip insurance through the rental contract.
• Ask about late or early return fees: Some renters have been surprised at being charged a fee for returning a car early or late. Sometimes, the penalty may be deducted from your deposit. If you`re traveling over a holiday or have to return the car outside of regular working hours, ask whether the office will be open or if you need to drop keys in a lock box.
• Use your camera: Take a picture of the car before you leave the rental facility and when you return it. Good pictures can protect you from unfounded charges for vehicle damage.
• Ask for the final price: Make sure the rental agent explains all the charges before you sign the contract and drive off the lot. It can prevent surprises later.
• Check a company`s record: A BBB Business Profile will show whether a company has complaints and how those complaints have been resolved.

The size of the car you rent also can make a difference. If you`re trying to save money, consider renting the smallest vehicle available. But if you have a group of people to transport or lots of luggage, a bigger car may be more comfortable.

Renting a car can be a great convenience when you`re traveling to regions without good public transportation or taxi service. But it`s always wise to understand the provisions of a rental contract and any limitations on the use of a vehicle.

Before you do business with a charity or company, check its BBB Business Profile at or by calling 888-996-3887.