One reason that car-rental experiences have been inconsistent is the industry itself, which has been consolidating: Avis and Budget joined forces in 2002, and Enterprise snapped up National and Alamo in 2007, leaving fewer big players in the U.S. market. At the same time, drivers are facing rising taxes and fees, such as the local and state surcharges applied to airport rentals—which can increase the cost of an average rental by as much as 25 percent. And anyone who’s returned a car with less than a full tank (and without a prepaid plan) knows the result: exorbitant fuel charges.
And let’s not forget about those complicated insurance questions, which still bewilder travelers at home and abroad. Knowing your coverage—whether through a personal auto insurance policy or that of your preferred credit card—is the best way to ensure peace of mind and avoid overpaying at the counter.
But some industry changes are for the better, like increased competition from independent companies like rent-by-the-hour Zipcar, and a larger number of deal-finding tools online. International Web sites of U.S. rental agencies, for example, often have better rates for travel abroad than their U.S. counterparts. And aggregator Web sites Kayak.com and to easily search and compare many quotes at once, then bypass extra fees by linking directly to the rental agency.