How to Save Money on a Car Vacation

Oma H. Barnett

There are 2 main ways to have a driving vacation: you either rent a car or you drive your own automobile. The following will address several ways you can save money whether you choose one or the other.

If you are going to rent a car, the first thing to be aware of are the limitations (if any) that the car rental company imposes. Some will not allow you to take a car out of your state, which can be tricky for some people who are not aware of their surroundings. Many Europeans might rent a car in San Francisco or L.A. and drive to Lake Tahoe, not realizing that half of South Lake Tahoe is in Nevada. They are then hit with an out of state charge when they return. Likewise, most companies have GPS systems hidden in the car which will tell them how FAST you are driving and they may also impose a fee if the unit reports that you broke the speed limit. Always check with the car rental company for this before renting. Lastly, make sure you return (or pick up) your car at the designated time. Most companies are now charging a full extra day of rental if you return the car even 15 minutes LATE. Better to turn it in early than pay an extra $30 because you were 30 minutes late. For that reason, be aware of when you go to pick up the car. You do not want to rent it at 8 am if you plan on returning it at 1pm.

If you are driving your own auto, make sure the car is fully operational and in good shape. You do not want to break down on a highway in a strange area and have to spend 3 days of your vacation in the “Back in The Sack Motel” in Podunk County while the local gas station waits for a part to be delivered. You do not want to use a car if your battery has been giving you signals that it is in declining health or your starter screeches after you start your car. Lastly, you will want to fill up at the cheapest gas station you can. So if the highway you ride on (or a neighboring county) offers cheaper gas than your home city or town, wait to fill up after you get started. But if gas is cheaper by 40 cents in your town versus the main highway, fill up at home and save $5-8 before you even start.

Whether you rent a car or use your car, pack a picnic lunch. This will save you about $25 right off the bat from stopping and eating 3 hours later at a restaurant or burger joint. Make sure your tires are inflated to the proper level. Long road trips can cost you cents per gallon in wasted gas by over or under inflated tires and over the course of a 1000 mile trip, cost you an extra $50-$100.

Following these simple travel tips can save you hundreds in hidden costs and possibly hundreds more in unforeseen repair costs.

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