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What to Watch for Before Leaving the Rental Car Agency Lot

By Lee Michael Katz

  • Before you drive away in your rental car, it's important to give it a few quick safety checks.

    Do you take your rental vehicle's safety for granted? When you pick up your rental vehicle, help keep yourself and your family safer by checking out your vehicle before leaving the lot. Here's what to look for:

    • Go over the basics. Inspect your vehicle's tires and test the brakes, horn and windshield wipers. Check the gas gauge. Does the steering feel wobbly? Can you handle the vehicle comfortably? The National Safety Council offers a detailed checklist. If something doesn't meet your approval, ask for another car.
    • Make adjustments. Check and adjust mirrors, lights, headrests and even the radio when renting a car, says Dave Melton, Liberty Mutual's managing director of global safety. "It's unwise to try and make all of those adjustments while you're driving on unfamiliar roads," Melton says.
    • Check for room between your chest and the steering wheel. "The minimum recommendation is 10 inches," Melton says. This distance gives enough room for the air bag to deploy.
    • Document existing damage. Even an expert like Melton learned this firsthand when a rental company charged him for damage he didn't cause, but wasn't documented on his rental agreement. "Walk around the vehicle," Melton says, "and notify the rental company before you leave the lot that the car has scratches and dings."
    • Decide on rental insurance in advance. As a Liberty Mutual Auto Insurance policyholder, the liability, comprehensive and collision coverage you may have on your own car is extended to your rental vehicle, but only in the U.S. If your policy includes both comprehensive and collision, consider declining those options from the rental company. You're still liable, however, for paying your deductible in an accident with a rental vehicle. If that's a concern, consider purchasing the rental company's collision damage waiver. If you have any questions, check with Liberty Mutual before renting.
    The bottom line when renting a car: Spending two or three minutes checking your car in the parking lot of the rental agency can save you a major headache down the road.