One of my closest friends recently took a trip to Houston to visit family. While there, she and her husband rented a car. Choosing to forgo the insurance option, the couple regretted their decision as soon as they were involved in a collision. While rental insurance isn’t the best option for everyone, it’s wise to confirm your insurance policy before your trip.

With some planning ahead of time, you’ll be able to save time, money and a potential headache. Here are 8 helpful hints for renting a car:

1.   Use a Booking Engine

Just like many purchases, the key here is to shop around. While discounts and coupons are often available from the rental car companies directly, online booking engines are usually the cheaper option. Check out Expedia, Orbitz or Hotwire before booking your rental.

2. Book Early

You’ll be able to enjoy substantial savings when you book your rental car 30 days in advance. For example, some companies will waive your deposit or offer you an upgrade when you book early. In some cases, you may even be eligible for free nights.  Be sure you fully understand the company’s cancellation policy before you book.

3. Monitor Rates

Once you’ve booked, register with Auto Slash. The free website automatically monitors your rental and searches for lower rates. You will then be given an option to re-book after prices drop. Remember, this works best when your existing rental agreement offers a no-fee cancellation policy.

4. Use Discount Codes

There are plenty of codes floating around online that offer significant savings on rental cars. However, even after a 15% off coupon, the booking engine is usually still cheaper. To be sure, calculate your total savings before you book.

5. Insurance

Before you opt for insurance coverage from the rental car company, check your existing policies. Two of the biggest extra costs when you rent a car can be for loss and collision insurance. Opting to decline the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) and the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) can save you money. Often liability is covered through your home auto insurance policy and collision can be covered by your credit card. Since terms vary, confirm your coverage before you rent a car.

6. Extras

Your rental agent will offer you a variety of add-ons and extras before you leave the rental lot. For this reason, it’s a good idea to confirm the necessities before hand. For example, child car seats are required by law in most locations, so factor that cost into your rental. However, if your phone has a built-in GPS, you can save a bundle by forgoing the additional cost of a navigation system.

7. Fill Up Yourself

Research local gas prices the day before you trip by using tools such as, or Mapquest. Upon arrival, compare local prices with the refill price offered by the rental company. By choosing to refill on your own, you’ll likely save quite a bit. If you do accept this option, be sure to fully top off the gas tank, or you could be charged double, if not triple, the street price.

8. Return on Time

Rental companies monitor the arrival and departure time of cars quite closely. If you return the car very early or late, you’ll likely encounter additional fees. Running behind schedule? Call ahead and ask the agent which is cheaper–extending your rental or paying late charges.

Have you rented a car for a road trip or vacation? If so, add your tips below!