In this article I will tell you about all peculiarities of renting a car in the USA and what car rental classes there are, types of insurance and requirements to the driver and necessary documents for signing a contract with a car rental company. You will learn about the prices of rental cars in Los Angeles – expensive or cheap cars in America, how to save money when renting a car in America and where to book it best. Share your personal experience of getting and returning a car from Alamo and recommendations for car rentals in Los Angeles.
Why rent a car in the USA
You’ve probably heard about the famous Grand Canyon Park many times and want to admire the giant sequoias, as well as to drive for a couple of days to the gambling capital of the world – Las Vegas! To see it all, you can learn about the U.S. transportation system and travel by bus or book expensive organized tours. But it’s much better to drive yourself, and for that you’ll need a car. But since it’s time to make your dreams come true, then make your itinerary around the States, rent a suitable car and hit the road!
That’s exactly what we did, choosing the best option for us on rentalcars.com, “playing around” with dates and car classes. We even considered whether to take an SUV with all-wheel drive, but in the end we decided that for traveling through the national parks in the U.S. the sedan will be enough for us, as it costs less and consumes much less gas. In the end, renting a 2018 Toyota Camry in Los Angeles cost us about $1,200 for 5 weeks, plus it cost about $500 more for gas.
Important to know: A rental car will come in handy in Los Angeles for both families with kids and those who want to drive around the city on their own. Keep in mind that the cost of renting a car can come out even cheaper than taking public transportation (not to mention cabs), but do not forget that there are many paid parking lots in the city, where you also have to pay for your four-wheeled friend, and at rush hour you will have to stand in traffic along with everyone else.
What to Know About Renting a Car in the U.S.
Anyone who is 21 years of age or older and has at least one year of driving experience can rent a car in the US. If you are from 21 to 24 years old, you must pay an additional fee of about $25 per day (its size varies from one renter to another). In New York, you are allowed to rent a car from the age of 18, but there is an additional fee for young drivers (18 to 20 is $57 per day, and 21 to 24 is $20.50 per day). There are no additional fees for drivers over the age of 25. Among other things, only experienced drivers with more than 3 years of experience can rent a premium car.
Tip: Make sure your rental agreement has no mileage limit per day (Unlimited Mileage).
Car Rental Classes in the United States
Here are the different car classes you can buy and sell in the U.S:
- Economy – Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa, Kia Saul, Hyundai Accent, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris
- Midsize (Intermediate) Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Versa, Mazda 3, Chrysler 200
- Fullsize sedans Toyota Camry, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord.
- Compact SUVs Jeep Compass, Nissan Horn.
- Midsize SUV and Standard SUVs Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer and Escape, Toyota Rab-4, BMW X3, Audi Q3, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Passfinder
- Big SUVs (Fullsize SUV and Premium SUV) Chevrolet Suburban, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition, Cadillac Escalade, Nissan Armada
- Passenger Minivans and 4-5 person family cars Toyota Sienna, Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Flex, Nissan Quest
- Pickup trucks Nissan Frontier, Toyota Highlux, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra, Dodge Ram
- (Passenger Van) for 6-12 passengers Ford Transit, Chevrolet Express, big vans
- Convertible & Muscle Car Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Mustang GT
- Sporty Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Challenger, Porsche Cayman.
- Luxury Perfomance Sport Audi R8, Porsche 911
- Luxury Cars Expensive Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, or Audi
- Luxary Sedan Mercedes S450, Audi A8, Maserati Hilby
- Electric cars Tesla, Nissan Leaf
To determine what class of car would suit you best, it is advised to first make a route of your trip to the U.S. and see if you need a car with off-road performance. Then calculate how many people will be traveling and how many suitcases you’ll be carrying. A lot also depends on whether you are going to be camping overnight in the outdoors. For example, if you want to rent a Tesla, it is better not to drive it very far from the urban infrastructure.
The compact class is good for one person. The medium and full-size sedan is comfortable for two people. For a trip with children it is better to take a minivan, and a company of 3-4 people should take a large crossover or SUV. The scenic drive along the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco is most interesting in a convertible Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. And if you plan to drive in the national parks on dirt roads or are going to the mountains, an SUV will come in handy, especially in the winter.
Renting a car in Los Angeles – our experiences and tips
A few weeks before our flight to Los Angeles, we booked a car for our trip around the U.S. online. Since it was not the first time we rented a car, we decided not to use official sites of rental companies, of which there are quite a few in America, but directly look at the best deals in the aggregator. It is most convenient to compare the suitable options for car rental from large companies, which are usually already calculated with all the existing promotions and discounts, as well as insurance, taxes, and possible additional fees. So, you most likely will not have to pay anything extra afterwards.
There are quite a lot of car rental companies in Los Angeles. There are offices of world-famous car rentals and smaller local agencies. The price of rental cars at all varies, ranging from about $ 30 a day (the cost depends on the class of cars and the duration of the lease). Rate for 1 day is the highest, and to take a car for the weekend is more expensive than on weekdays. With a long term of rental (starting from 1 week), the tariff per day is markedly reduced.
It is useful to know about rental cars in Los Angeles:
- The cost of renting an inexpensive car in the U.S. for 1 week averages in $200-300 including all fees and taxes, as well as minimum insurance.
- Prices vary depending on the class of car. One day of renting a small or medium car (Compact, Standard, Mid-Size, SUV) will cost $50-70. For a large SUV (Large SUV), minivan (Van) or premium car (Convertible, Premium Elite, Luxury) will have to shell out $60-150 per day or $300 to $700 per week.
- Keep in mind that special monthly rates are available for rentals of 4 weeks or more, which can be much lower than weekly rates.
In our experience, it’s best to book a car in advance, about a month and a half before your trip to Los Angeles.
So, for our trip across America, we chose a car class – a full-size sedan – in advance, booked it online and printed out a voucher with the Alamo reservation number. Then we flew to California and picked up the car right at the Los Angeles airport. It was very convenient for us and didn’t take long.
- In our opinion, LAX has the best selection of new cars in a fairly large parking lot;
- The ride from the airport with our stuff in a special shuttle to the Alamo office was comfortable;
- Car prices at the airport are somehow the lowest in town. Even in spite of the airport fee, this was the cheapest place we got to rent a car;
- The queue for cars was small, and the registration of the contract took only a few minutes;
- The staff at Alamo did not impose any additional options.
- It was up to you to decide which of the cars in the class you would take from the parking lot;
- If you want, you can upgrade right on the spot and choose a higher class car for a fee.
Below I will talk about our experience with renting a car in Los Angeles in more detail.
LAX Airport Shuttles – Rental Car Shuttle
This time we flew into California and went straight to passport control, but it turned out that now we had to have our fingerprints scanned and fill out a declaration at a special terminal beforehand. The officer did not ask us many questions this time, but only asked about the duration of our stay in the U.S. Baggage claim and customs control did not take long, and in about 30 minutes after landing we left the airport terminal.
Following the signs we went straight to the free shuttle stop with a purple Rental Car Shuttle sign. This is where the buses stop, going first through all the LAX airport terminals and then on to the offices of car rental companies (National, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Enterprise, Sixt, Thrifty and others). They go around the clock and quite often.
We didn’t have to wait at all, as people were just getting on one of these buses and the driver, for a tip, helped them lift their suitcases onto a special luggage rack located right in front of the front door. Once we were seated, the bus started off quite briskly and drove around the airport (the rental parking lots are on the opposite side from the runways). It took us about 15 minutes by shuttle to the Alamo office, where we ended up reserving the car, after a couple of traffic lights.
Making a rental agreement with the Alamo and choosing a car
We were the first to get off the bus and near the bus stop we immediately took a cart on which we loaded our suitcases. After that we crossed the road and found ourselves in front of the entrance to a fairly spacious office of Alamo LAX, which, by the way, is open 24 hours a day. By the way, nighttime is the most convenient time to go shopping or just drive around the streets of Los Angeles. Some stores here are open 24 hours a day. And the roads are practically empty!
At the Alamo office
Alamo customers who come to pick up a car have 2 options for what to do in the office:
- You can go straight from the entrance to the contracting desks with a company representative (there are 3 to 8 of them in the room, depending on the time of day). There is a live line in front of the counters.
- Independently register with one of the self-service terminals, where you need to scan your documents, show your credit card and print the contract.
The second option is more convenient, but it can be used mostly by US citizens. Since we are foreigners, we had to go to the specialist to have our documents checked. So we immediately got in a small line that stretched across the hall in a snake.
In the middle of the working day all the Alamo employees were there, and almost all the counters were busy working with the clients, who came to pick up their cars. From our observations, the paperwork for rental cars was very quick and took no more than 2-3 minutes per person, so the line was constantly moving.
After a few minutes, we approached a vacant woman who asked for our reservation number. We gave her a printed confirmation (also called a voucher), which came to our email after booking a car on the website on the Internet.
Documents for car rent in the USA
You need only three documents for renting a car at Los Angeles airport:
- National driver’s license;
- Bank card. Not only a credit card will do, but also a debit card if it has enough money to pay for the car rental.
Unlike car rentals in Thailand, there is no need for an international driver’s license in the United States. It may come in handy only at a document check, or if you break the rules and are stopped by a police officer on the highway to look through the database or issue a fine.
Important to know: Since I am the only driver for us, we did not have to put a second driver (Additional Driver) in the contract. Usually car rentals ask for an additional $7-$10 per day, but many companies offer this option as a bonus. The co-driver must also present his or her driver’s license and passport at the time of the rental agreement. His or her bank card may also be required.
Paying for a rental car in the United States
There are 2 options for paying for a rental car in the U.S:
- Prepayment, which usually already includes basic insurance, is debited from your card at the time of booking on the website. The earlier you pay, the cheaper it usually is.
- Payment at the end of the rental period. In this case you drive the car as if on credit, and the cost of the rental will be deducted when you return the car.
Drawing up a car rental agreement and paying by bank card
An Alamo employee scanned all of our documents that we provided to rent a car in the U.S., and also made a slip of our bank card. She then printed out a few pages of the contract and asked us to read and sign it. After that, since we had not prepaid, she did a test bank transaction which resulted in the full rental price being blocked on the card. A few days later, this blocking of funds was removed, as the total amount is only debited from the card at the end of the rental period.
Here’s what else is important to know:
- For quite some time now, all major car rentals in the States have not been accepting cash payments, but asking the customer to provide them with their credit card. In fact, a debit card is also suitable for renting a car in the U.S., as long as there will be enough money on it at the time of the contract to check your solvency.
- If you were issued any fines while you were traveling in the USA by a rental car, you must pay them. It is better to do it yourself before returning the car. Otherwise, the renter will deduct these amounts from your bank card, with interest and fees, some time after the rental period is over.
- If you rent a car for more than 1 month, you should keep in mind the peculiarities of paying for car rental in the USA. When the 30-day rental period is over, the cost of rent for this period is deducted from your bank card and the money for the remaining period is blocked. Finally, the entire amount will be deducted from your account when you return the car.
Car rental companies in the U.S. in some cases, may require you to pay a deposit for the car – an amount specified in the contract (from $100 to $1,000), which will be returned to you if nothing happens to the car.
If the deposit is specified in the contract, then it will be blocked on your credit card until you return the car to guarantee compliance with the terms of the contract on the part of the renter.
Cash deposit may be taken from you only in special cases, stipulated in the rental agreement.
The Alamo company didn’t charge us any deposit at all, so we traveled quietly around America and only paid the full amount when we returned the car.
You can ask the rental company to install a navigator, child safety seat, and a special transmitter for automatic tolls on toll roads and bridges at your discretion. There are other toll-free options as well. Anything you have not paid (including parking tickets, traffic fines, or any administrative fees) will be charged to your card after you return the car, but with a certain fee for each transaction.
Since we did not need a child seat, and we did not need a paid GPS unit, as we brought our phone with us with maps of the States (maps.me and iGo), we did not pay any additional fees beyond those specified at the time of booking.
Insurance when renting a car in the U.S.
Under California state law, absolutely all drivers must drive a car only if they have insurance covering third-party damages. Many other U.S. states have the same rule. It is easier for North Americans since they usually have an annual insurance policy that covers car rentals. Tourists, on the other hand, have to pay extra for it.
If you are going, as we are, to rent a car at the Los Angeles airport or anywhere else, you have to at least purchase basic Collision Damage (CDW) insurance, which covers all drivers named in the rental agreement. If you buy it from a rental company, the deductible in this case is zero dollars. That is if you damage the rented car and do not violate the rental agreement, then you should not worry about any payments for repairs from your side. The insurance company will cover all losses in case of an insured event.
- In addition to CDW, check that your insurance includes third-party liability – Liability Insurance (LI). Keep in mind that it does not cover damage to your health and the health of your passengers in the event of an accident.
- Standard insurance does not cover damage to your car by third parties and any type of theft.
- Other types of insurance are optional, and they vary from one rental company to another. You can take out additional insurance, such as Extended Protection in case of a flat tire or “Roadside Assistance”, which will be valid if, for example, you suddenly run out of gas on the highway. There is also insurance in case your personal belongings are stolen from the car or damaged in an accident. We did not use this insurance in our travels in America.
Useful tip: Insurance can be a very significant part of the total cost of renting a car in the U.S.. For example, a car can cost $30 per day, and you will have to pay another $15 for insurance. So it is better to see the total price on the website-aggregator and choose a suitable option for you than to book on the official website, and then pay extra at the counter when processing the contract.
Recommendation: Keep in mind that if you will be booking a car through a broker, the basic insurance will already be included in the rental price. In our repeated experience with rental cars in the U.S., it is much more advantageous to choose a suitable option on the Rentalcars site rather than booking on official rental sites (even taking into account their special offers), not to mention the last minute rent-a-car at the rental counter.
Obtaining a car at the Alamo parking lot near LAX airport
Once the car rental agreement was finalized, we walked out to the parking lot, divided into areas by car class. The selection of cars at the Alamo is quite large, and they are all practically new. Customers walk between the open cars themselves (the key is inside) and choose the one they like best. But if none of those that are in the parking lot, do not fit, then you can wait a little while to bring up the other machines.
Since we needed the car for a long time, we were going to choose very carefully. In addition, for long trips on the highways, we wanted to take a Japanese car, since American ones use more gas. But we were lucky enough to get a car very quickly.
We had booked a Midsize car, and these smaller city sedans are in the parking lot right next to the Alamo office. And right as we walked outside, a freshly washed black 2018 Toyota Camry had just been placed in one of the available spaces in the parking lot. Since this car is higher class (Fullsize), we decided to take it without hesitation, and we were right. It has an 8-speed automatic transmission, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, a comfortable interior with good soundproofing, and a large trunk. Just what we needed for trips to U.S. national parks.
Immediately we took the key and put our stuff in the trunk and then took pictures of the car from all sides. This was important to do because the paint all over the body was a little scratched and we had to fix that before we started the rental. We didn’t find any other body defects, so we got inside and got used to the electric seat adjustments and mirrors, and then got to grips with the on-board system and climate control. Then we zeroed the meter on the speedometer, wrote down the initial mileage (about 5,000 miles), turned on the navigator on the phone and leisurely drove to the exit of the parking lot. Thus began our route through California.
Tips for renting a car in Los Angeles:
- You can pre-book a car for your trip around the U.S. online, choosing the option that you will have it delivered directly to your hotel. You will only need to show your driver’s license (Driver’s License) to sign the contract, and you will need a credit card to pay the rent.
- It is always a good idea to use a car navigator while driving in Los Angeles, so you don’t get confused with the city intersections and miss the necessary highway interchanges.
- The best way to find parking in Los Angeles (and other U.S. cities) is to use http://www.bestparking.com/.
Where to sleep after your flight to Los Angeles
Once you have rented a car for your trip right after arriving in the USA, you can leave Los Angeles right away, but it is better to spend the night in the city. If your flight arrives in the afternoon, the best option is to leave the airport and check into one of the hotels in Inglewood, an inexpensive neighborhood in Los Angeles near the Interstate (see accommodation options here). It’s also convenient because it gives you a chance to go shopping, get supplies for your trip and then get a good night’s sleep. And in the morning you can leave the city as early as possible to avoid all the traffic jams.
Recommendation: To see Hollywood, we chose a clean, inexpensive hotel in Los Angeles with spacious rooms, good soundproofing, and free parking – La Brea Inn. It’s convenient because you can leave your car there and walk down Hollywood Boulevard with all the major attractions close by. The hotel itself is pretty good and the rooms were recently renovated. All in all, if you are looking for such accommodation in L.A. to stay overnight in Hollywood with a car, keep it in mind.
Restrictions when renting a car in the U.S.
Anyone who is going to rent a car in the US should keep in mind that you can drive a rental car in any state in the US, but it must be returned in the same place where you rented it. If you want to drive from one city to another, for example from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and return the car there, be prepared to pay an additional fee for it one-way-fee (usually it is $ 100-300 dollars). In addition, you can not travel by car to Mexico. But you may travel to Canada.
It is important to know: car insurance is valid only if you drive on paved roads. CDW insurance does not cover problems on roads (accidents or damage to your car). Carefully read your contract with the renter.
Renting a car back
We ended up driving about 5,000 miles across the U.S. in a month and a half in a 2018 Toyota Camry rented from the Los Angeles airport. We visited a number of California national parks and several major cities, took a nice walk in Las Vegas, and had a great vacation in Palm Springs. We were very pleased with this comfortable car, and it never once let us down. But the contract with the rental company came to an end and it was time to turn the car in.
Useful information for those going on a road trip in the United States:
- Don’t forget to fill up with a full tank of gasoline before returning your car. Although if you don’t have time, you don’t have to worry and return it as is. But in that case, the rental company will charge you an additional amount of gasoline at the regular rates. We fill up the car ourselves to a full tank of gas about 30 kilometers before returning it.
- By the way, you can always return the car before the deadline or ask to change it in case of any malfunction or the need for maintenance.
- But if you return the car later than promised, you will have to pay a surcharge for every hour and every day of delay.
- Moreover, if you return the car in such a dirty condition, that serious cleaning and special car washing will be needed, you will also have to pay for it. So it is better not to litter heavily in the car and drive it through the mud, so you don’t have to incur additional costs to clean it up later.
We arrived at LAX 4 hours before our flight to drop off our much-loved 2018 Toyota Camry. We had spent 36 unforgettable days on the road with her and had already gotten used to her like family. The whole procedure to return the car at the Alamo parking lot near LAX took us no more than 3 minutes.
We used the navigator to pull into the parking lot near the airport, the address of which was listed in the contract. The pickup man visually inspected the car inside and out, checked that we hadn’t forgotten anything, and recorded the current mileage and fuel level, then printed us a pickup slip from the mobile terminal. Since we didn’t have any problems with the car, and we didn’t use insurance or contact the company during the entire rental period, we didn’t have to pay for any additional services.
After we turned the car in, we immediately took the free shuttle, which took us to the airport in 15 minutes. At this point our trip to the U.S. national parks by car came to an end, and it was time to fly home from America, so we could share our travel experiences with you on our website.
Helpful tip: We always check out the different car rental options here to choose the best one. For example, if you need a car for 6 days, it’s better to rent it for a week and rent it out a day earlier, since the weekly rate is lower than paying for each day.
Our review of car rentals in Los Angeles
Our experience with renting a car in Los Angeles, compared to other cities and countries, was the most positive. In our opinion, it is most convenient to rent a car at the airport immediately after arrival. And not only because that is what most auto-travelers visiting the West Coast do. It’s also because of the convenient infrastructure, as well as well-established processes for rental companies to work with clients, when the latter actually understand that paying for comfort – it is very natural, and not a luxury.
We love the fact that the traffic in America is very simple and easy to understand, even for those who have never driven before when traveling abroad. And even though there were some traffic congestion, it was easy to drive in Los Angeles, especially compared to Bangkok. And when you go out of town, you feel as comfortable on the road as in any other country in the world.
Conclusions: We were again very pleased with our trip around the U.S. this time in our new 2018 Toyota Camry rental. The Alamo company, where we rented the car for the second time, once again showed itself in the best way, anticipating our expectations and allowing us to experience on the road a car. So when we go to America again, we will gladly repeat our experience!
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