Whether you need a replacement vehicle while yours is in the shop or are planning a vacation, renting a car can be a somewhat confusing process.

Fortunately, if you know what to expect, you can be prepared in advance. That will help things go more smoothly and save you from any unwanted surprises when the time comes to pick up the vehicle.

What Do You Need in Order to Rent a Car?

To rent a vehicle, you’ll need more to bring more than just the money it costs to cover the rental fees. Before booking a rental car, be sure that you have the following things available:

Driver’s License

You will need to provide a valid state-issued driver’s license to the car rental company in order to prove that you’re legally allowed to drive. Additionally, the driver’s license will serve as proof of your age as car rental companies will not rent to drivers under the age of 21 and may charge additional fees for drivers up to the age of 25. Call ahead to check with your car rental agency as some require the driver’s license to be from the same state as where you plan to rent the car.

Credit Card

Even if you plan to pay for the car rental in cash, you will still need a credit card. The company will place a monetary hold on this card to serve as a form of insurance against damage to the vehicle. The card will need to have a name on it that matches the name on your driver’s license, so you cannot rent a car with someone else’s credit card in most cases. However, some companies will accept a debit card in lieu of a credit card; just remember that funds will be put on hold in your account until the rental period is over.

Car Insurance

If you have auto insurance of your own, it should cover damages to a rental car. However, it’s not a bad idea to opt for the rental company’s insurance coverage as well. If something happens to the car that your insurance will not cover for any reason, you will be held personally liable for the costs of repair unless you’ve purchased protection from the rental agency.

The best way to know what a rental company will require from you is to ask in advance. You can call ahead to reserve a vehicle and confirm what paperwork and documentation, if any, will be necessary when renting the vehicle.

How Old Do I Have to Be to Rent a Car?

Because young drivers are more likely to get into accidents, rental car companies view them as a higher risk and are reluctant to rent to them. In the past, you would need to be at least 25 years old to rent a car. However, this has changed somewhat; there are some car rental companies that will offer rentals to younger drivers.

Rental car companies will generally charge a premium for younger drivers. This daily fee can significantly raise the cost of a rental car. Additionally, the type of car available to you may vary depending on your age.

How to Save Money on a Rental Car

Renting a car can be expensive. Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can reduce the cost of your rental:

  • Shop around – There are more rental companies available than just the big national chains, and you may get a better deal with them. Just be sure to review a company’s reputation to ensure it’s reputable before doing business.
  • Don’t rent from the airport – Rental agencies in airports charge additional taxes that can be as much as 25 percent of the total rental cost. Arrange to pick up your car away from the airport to save this money instead.
  • Book your rental car through a discount site – Travel sites sometimes offer bundled flight/hotel/car rental packages that are much less expensive than if you purchased them individually.

Like hotels and flights, car rental rates can vary depending on a number of factors. Websites are available that can keep track of these trends and help you to book a car when it will be most cost effective.

Renting a Car While Overseas

Renting a car in a foreign country is a bit more complicated than picking one up at home. Fortunately, there are many options available at most travel destinations, and a bit of pre-planning can help you to be prepared.

First, you will want to determine whether the country you’re visiting will require you to have an International Driver’s Permit or if you can use your own state driver’s license. If you do need an IDP, you will need to apply for one before leaving the country.

Next, you’ll want to identify what car rental agencies are available at your destination. Most of the big American brands also have a presence overseas; there are also local car rental agencies that might offer a better deal.

Finally, check with your insurance company to see whether your coverage will extend to foreign soil and whether you need to do anything specific to protect yourself and the rental vehicle. You should also ask the rental company about any travel limitations, such as crossing country borders.

Once you’ve handled these steps, all that’s left is to book the vehicle and arrange to pick it up. Be sure to follow the same guidelines you would for a domestic rental, including having a credit card with you, so that things go according to plan when you arrive at the counter.