5 Red Flags That Spell Trouble When Renting a Car from the Airport

Look out for these warning signs before driving off.

Alongside lodging accommodations, car rentals can be a fun yet exhausting part of the trip planning process. Perhaps you're contemplating splurging on a tricked-out sports car or a durable four-wheel drive that can survive tough terrain. Maybe, for you, it's what's on the inside that counts, and a sparkly navigation system or speakers with surround sound is at the top of your dream rental-car checklist.

All of this to say, the right rental car can make your trip that much more enjoyable. On the other hand, falling for a shady rental car service at the airport is a surefire way to start your vacation on the wrong foot. From hidden fees to unreported car damages, these are few things that you might encounter in a rush to get to your destination from an airport car rental operator. Keep reading for the five biggest red flags when renting a car from the airport and how you can navigate them, according to travel experts.

READ THIS NEXT: 5 Warnings From Former Enterprise Car Rental Employees.

1. The rental car pick-up/drop-off is not at the airport.

Signs pointing to airline departures and rental car desks.
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In most instances, travelers can walk or take a free airport shuttle from baggage claim to the rental car lot. However, if a rental car service is off campus, and you're forced to take a ride share service, that's misleading and should raise alarms as to what other details or promotions the company may be false advertising, Andrew Helling, editor-in-chief of Travellersworldwide.com, tells Best Life.

Additionally, the unexpected commute to the car rental service could cause you to miss your pre-assigned pick-up time and throw a wrench in your drop-off plans. If possible, map the distance from the airport to the car rental location before you book and see what transportation options are available to you.

2. The car rental service pressures you to purchase their car insurance.

Car rental agent going over terms and conditions with a customer.
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At the pick-up counter, an agent will likely try to sell you add-on options like SiriusXM radio or a fancy navigation system. They may also try to sway you into purchasing car insurance, which may be unnecessary if you already have a provider through your credit card or elsewhere. 

"If you feel pressured, ask to see the rental policy in writing because you may already be adequately insured by your full coverage policy," Melanie Musson, a travel and rental insurance expert with CarInsuranceComparison.com, tells Best Life. She explains that asking to see the insurance policy in writing (or any fine print details for that matter), allows you "to separate yourself from the sales pitch."

If you know you know already have coverage, then "you can confidently decline regardless of how much the agent pushes," Musson adds. Don't hesitate to call your car insurance provider either and inquire what your policy does or doesn't cover to help you make a better informed decision.

3. A rental car company advertises significantly cheaper prices than its competitors.

Signs directing airline passengers to different car rental services at the airport.
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Helling warns travelers to be skeptical of boutique car rental companies who offer vehicles at a significantly discounted price, as it could come back to haunt you in the form of hidden fees. Moreover, the service may have an older fleet of vehicles, which can increase your chances of the car breaking down. These cars may also be more scuffed up and uncomfortable.

"Additionally, many of these bigger companies get volume discounts from their vendors because of economies of scale. As a result, they can actually offer better rates than most smaller companies," Helling explains. "So if you see a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Just be sure to do your due diligence before booking. Check for cleaning and gas fees, and if there is a grace period for late drop-offs.

4. The price at the counter is higher than the price at booking.

Car rental agent handing over car keys to a customer.
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Just like airfare, car rental prices fluctuate. Vehicles that were reserved in advance or during a promotional sale may have gone up in price since the point of booking, but that doesn't mean you're liable to pay market price. This is a huge red flag, says Musson, as car rental services "must honor the agreed-upon price." To cover your bases, Musson recommends having physical proof of your booking confirmation and agreed-upon price. A confirmation email or the booking number should suffice.

5. The operator doesn't conduct a vehicle inspection.

Car rental agent completing a vehicle inspection test.
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Before leaving the lot, ask an agent to confirm that a vehicle inspection was performed so that you can't be held liable for any previous damages. This also goes for dirt marks or stains. As a precaution, Musson suggests taking your own set of photos for proof of documentation. Capture photos of the front and rear of the vehicle, as well as its sides. If you see chipped paint or a dent, take a close-up photo of the damage. Similarly, inspect the interior of the car and take photos.

A subsequent vehicle inspection should be done when you return the rental car. To avoid any surprises or future problems, ask if they can complete the inspection with you present.

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more
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