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Did you ever rent a car and find that things just didn’t go as well as they could have? It’s happened to me a number of times. Once I forgot what model of car I had. Another time I forgot where I parked. And of course I didn’t know the license plate either. Fortunately they were a minor moment of panic and inconvenience.
The worst experience I’ve ever had with a rental car involved money. A LOT of money. When I accepted the rental car we did a quick walk-around of the car. Not seeing any major dents or anything I signed off and went on my way. I returned the car several days later, looking just like it had to me on the day I picked it up. A couple of days went by and I noticed a charge from the car rental company for almost $300 on my card. I called and asked what it was. I was told that part of the charge was for a chip in the windshield that I had to pay for. I was sure that it hadn’t been there when I picked it up and didn’t notice it when I dropped it off either. Too bad I couldn’t prove anything. The other part of the charge was for gas. They claimed I returned the car with substantially less gas then had been in it when I picked it up. Now I’d put gas in before dropping it off so I knew that wasn’t true. But again, I had no proof of anything.
Now I know better. I always carry my phone with me. The voice of experience causes me to look for ways to use my phone to protect and help myself. I have no doubt that any one of the things that I mentioned above might have happened to you. And so I am sharing with you 10 ways that smartphones can save your butt when renting a car.
- Start by being proactive. Avoid equipment fees. Don’t pay to rent a GPS. A few days before you need the car be sure to check out some of the popular GPS apps, and find which one works best for you. By using a GPS app for mapping and directions you can save on a daily equipment rental fee. Some of the current popular free GPS and navigation apps include Apple Maps, GMaps+, Google Maps, Mapquest, Maps.Me, and Navmii.
- Speaking of apps. Use a travel itinerary app to plan your trip. Some of the popular free apps currently available to help you plan and organize your trips include Gate Guru, Road Trippers, Trip Advisor, TripIt, and Waze.
- Another app that you’ll find invaluable, particularly if you’re taking a long road trip, is an app that helps you with gas prices. Gasbuddy.com is free to use and very helpful.
- Now it’s time to pick up your rental car. When you pick up the car be sure to ask if roadside assistance is included, and if it is what it covers. Some companies include it, others may charge for it. If it’s free, great. If there’s a cost be sure to consider it carefully. You may not need it if you have other coverage that will do the same. For example, Verizon Roadside Assistance works as long as you have your phone on you, no matter if you’re in your own car, a friend’s car, or even a rental car.
- When picking up the car, be sure to take pictures of the entire car, including the windshield, before you sign for it. This will be evidence of any scratches, dents or damage that is or isn’t there when you pick the car up. Repeat the process when dropping the car off.
- You’ll also want to take a picture of the gauges, including mileage and gas tank, before leaving the car rental location. Mileage is something that you need to be aware of if your rental doesn’t come with unlimited mileage. The amount of gas the car has will let you know how much needs to be in there when you return the car.
- Take a picture of the license plate. This is helpful if you ever have to report it lost or stolen, or if you’re in a huge parking lot looking for a common make or model of a car.
- Now you’ve officially picked up the car. Open the glovebox. There’s a 50/50 chance that the owner’s manual isn’t in there. Do a quick Google search to see if the owner’s manual is online. If it is, bookmark it. This way when you can’t find the emergency flashers, you’ll know where to look to learn where they are.
- Take a picture of where you parked. This is helpful for the giant parking lots at amusement parks and such. Take a picture of the sign or landmark nearest your car. This is also helpful if you happen to return to your car and find someone has dented it with their car door and you have to file a report.
- Focus on the road and not the phone. It’s enough to have to concentrate on making your way around a strange area without getting distracted by your cell phone. Be sure to connect your phone though bluetooth and drive hands free. If you can’t use bluetooth then use an app which lets callers and people texting know that you’re temporarily unavailable. One of the current popular free apps that does this and more is DriveSafe.ly.