Car Rental Tips from a Traveling Journalist

Category: Feature. Written by Cara Capuano 

Between a career which has traveled me all over the U.S. and an adventurous spirit that leads me to wander off in my free time, I’ve probably rented more cars in the past five years than most people will rent, collectively, in their lifetimes.

Everyone knows the basic rules of renting a car – return it with as much gas as was in the tank when you were handed the keys… don’t light up in a non-smoking vehicle… take the free map in an unfamiliar locale, even if you think you don’t need one – but there is so much more to the process.


  • There’s nothing I love more than a complimentary upgrade. Extra spot in First Class for this frequent flier? Why thank you, I’d love a cup of coffee before we take off. HOWEVER – be very wary of a common occurrence at the rental counter during this era of a challenging economy – the “free” upgrade.
  • If you have heavy miles to rack up during a trip, don’t be persuaded away from the vehicle size you requested. That SUV might look spacious and boast a better stereo than the compact car on your reservation, but you’re going to lament those luxuries at the gas pump. The bigger the ride, the worse the mileage – and it’s your right to rent what you’ve reserved.


  • Flights are late. It’s inevitable. But what happens to your rental reservation if you saunter up to the counter several hours beyond when you were supposed to pick up your vehicle? If you have my good fortune, you could end up with a wee three-cylinder death trap that smells like a dirty ashtray instead of the clean, cozy intermediate-sized ride you reserved months ago (intermediates are VERY popular – first to fly off the lot!) What are your rights in this case?
  • Depends on both the company you’re renting from and your active participation in the process. Some companies, for example, will ask you to provide them with your flight information so that they can monitor its progress. If you have supplied the flight number and they can see it is late, they WILL save the ride you requested, anticipating your eventual arrival. However, this is not a global policy for all companies and you cannot expect the helpful ones to guess where you’re coming from.
  • It is on you to do a little research, otherwise, you can only blame yourself for rolling off the lot in a vehicle better served to be in Sanford and Son’s yard (and I’ve been there – more than once).

Check out Part 2 on Car Rental Nightmares

Cara Capuano has worked in television, mainly in sports, for over a decade, spending the last four years covering the Northwest Sports Scene for Fox Sports NW and before that on ESPN News. A dedicated storyteller, from time to time she’ll be lending some “female perspective” to

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