What Do You Need To Rent A Car?

If you’re renting a car for the very first time or it’s been ages since you’ve rented a car, it can feel really overwhelming. Trying to sort through the details of mileage restrictions, insurance options available for purchase, and additional fees and surcharges can make you want to just give up on your rental car and stay home. 

Don’t give up! With the correct information, you can book your reservation with confidence and get on the road in your rental car with ease. Let’s simplify the process so you’ll know what to expect and be ready to contact the rental car company.

What the Car Rental Company Needs

First, you’ll want to know what the car rental company will need, and then, you can focus on what you’ll need going into your rental.

Drivers License

In order to rent a car, one of the first things you need to be able to present to the car rental company is a driver’s license

To rent a vehicle in the United States, you must present a state-issued driver’s license as part of the requirements. This serves to provide assurances that you are a legal driver capable of driving a vehicle, and it offers proof of age.

Most people believe you must be 25 years of age to rent a car in the United States, but the minimum age requirement is actually 21 years old. However, it is true that drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 will typically incur a young driver fee through the rental agency.

Occasionally, besides just providing a driver’s license, companies will require that your license is from the same state you are attempting to rent the car in. In order to know what the license requirements are for your rental car company, it’s best to ask before you book your reservation.

Accepted Payment Method

You may have a reservation. You may have a driver’s license in your hand. However, none of that matters if you don’t have an acceptable form of payment. The most accepted form of payment among car rental companies is a credit card.

You will need a credit card that matches the name on your state-issued driver’s license. You are entering into a legal agreement when you sign a rental contract. The car rental company must do all that it can to make sure that the responsible party is the person they are entering into the agreement with. 

The credit card being used is usually required to be issued from one of the major credit card networks such as Visa or Mastercard. These companies help facilitate transaction communication. You usually won’t run into an issue if your card shows the logo on its face somewhere, but you may want to ask if you’re concerned.

Occasionally you will find that you can use a debit card, but some companies will not allow this at all. Debit card users can also face a higher rate or greater deposit. This is because debit cards force the car rental company to bear a higher risk than the renter. It is not as easy to collect fees and damages from a debit card after the rental is returned as it is with a credit card. 

If an additional driver has a credit card that matches their license, you may want to consider bumping that person into the role of the primary driver to avoid being turned away. 

Assurance of Insurance

When you rent a car, the car rental company will offer you auto insurance. This auto insurance is optional, but it will be strongly encouraged if your current auto insurance or homeowner’s insurance policy does not extend to cover your rental. To answer these questions confidently and avoid being either underinsured or needlessly paying for additional coverage, consult your current policies before you start the rental process.

If you are traveling for your company and need to rent a car, you’ll want to ask your employer if you should buy the additional, optional auto insurance coverage. If you choose to opt-out of the policies offered to you and you’re not covered through your business’s insurance or your personal policies, you will find yourself monetarily responsible for any damage to the rental vehicle.

In this instance of questionable coverage, the car rental company will likely require that you cover the cost of the damages upfront. Then it will be your responsibility to seek compensation and argue your case with the insurance agency. 

Making sure you’re properly covered is always a good idea, but when you’re renting someone else’s property, it’s very important to make sure you’re covered and ready for anything. Life is unpredictable, so be as prepared as you can be.

Renters: Ask Yourself These Questions First

In order to avoid additional fees or costs, here is a list of questions you will want to answer before your rental begins. 

Can I Drop Off After Hours?

Every company is different. Some companies may not offer after-hours drop-off at all. Others may offer it, but it may cost you a fee or even an additional rental day. If you’re unsure of your schedule, you may want to know this information upfront so you can plan ahead and not be surprised later.

If you need to use the after-hours drop-off, you’ll want to know the procedure for returning the keys and where exactly you should leave your car.

Will I Have To Pay Tolls?

Toll booths have evolved, and you’re typically charged for tolls after you go through them. In a rental, this may appear as a small fee on your credit card from the rental company after you’ve turned in your rental. It’s a good rule of thumb to research your route ahead of time, and you may want to ask your rental company how they handle tolls.

How Far Can I Go?

Rental cars may have mileage restrictions, and they may have restrictions on where you can travel, such as crossing state lines and country borders. For mileage restrictions, you may be able to add unlimited mileage for an optional fee. 

Check your rental agreement to learn more about your mileage rules.

Do I Need Additional Insurance?

You may have met the minimum insurance requirements to rent a car. Still, you may want additional insurance to protect yourself from being financially responsible for medical costs for you or another driver if you have the unfortunate experience of being involved in a car accident while you’re in your rental.

Additionally, you may want added protection for your belongings if you’re concerned that you could be in an area that break-ins may occur more frequently or if you’ll have to leave your rental unattended for long periods of time with valuables in it. 

How Much Will I Need for a Deposit?

Deposit costs may vary depending on what kind of car you are renting, what form of payment you’re using, and what company you’ve chosen. For example, if you’re using a debit card, your deposit amount may be used for the full estimate of the rental cost.

What Kind of Car Do I Need?

Different factors will affect what kind of car you need to rent. You may have more passengers or bags to transport. You may need to be more off-road ready. You may need something a bit more luxurious if you’re entertaining a client for business. 

You’ll want to know what your car needs are before you book your reservation to make sure that they have what you need.

How Long Do I Need To Rent?

Just like booking a hotel, it’s important to know how long you need your rental. You may also find that renting on a weekly basis can save you money, even if you need to return the car early. It’s also a good time to ask about the company’s flexibility if you need to make changes to your plans.

How Much Gas Will the Rental Car Need When I Return It?

It used to be required that you rewind a VHS tape before you returned it. In the same sentiment, you may be required that you fill your rental back up with fuel to full or at least to the level it was when you got it. Be sure to ask before you drive away with your rental car.


You and your car rental company are about to enter into a rental agreement. You both have needs, and they need to be addressed to ensure a smooth, enjoyable experience for everyone involved. 

When you’re ready to begin your trip, you may be frustrated if you learn everything as you go. Whenever possible, a little pre-planning for your trip and gathering the correct information and documentation can ease you through the process and get you on your way faster when you’re ready to hit the road.


Types of Driver’s Licenses | AAA
Credit Card Network vs Card Issuer: What’s the Difference? | CNBC
Renting a Car | FTC Consumer Information

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