car rental terms and conditions

How to not ruin your car rental trip

Have you ever read your home insurance policy or your dishwasher instruction manual word for word? Me neither. So it wouldn’t surprise you that over 90% of customers don’t bother reading their car rental terms and conditions before acknowledging they have understood what they are signing for.

But it might interest you to know that there are some sections of the terms and conditions that if ‘breached’ may put you in an unwanted financial nightmare if you happen to damage your rental vehicle even if you have elected to reduce your damage liability. Nonetheless, here are a few of the main points to remember next time you rent a car but its always worth reading your terms and conditions before driving off with your rental car.

Additional Drivers

When you are picking up your rental vehicle, usually the customer service representative will ask if you will be the only driver for this vehicle. If not, make sure you elect the other driver and give the rep their drivers licence details, otherwise if the additional driver has an accident and not nominated on the rental contract, they will not be covered under your car rental damage liability coverage and you may be liable to pay the full amount of the any recoveries or repairs needed.

Prohibited Area of Use

Each rental agency has a specific area of use that you can drive the rental vehicle to. Sometimes this may be a kilometre radius from the rental office, sometimes it will be bound by state boundaries, or sometimes they will specifically list the areas you cannot drive too. If you happen to go outside these permitted areas, and breakdown or worse have a car accident there, you will likely be liable for all recovery or repair costs that would normally be covered under the car rental contract you signed. So its best to ensure you are allowed to go to your intended destination prior to collecting your rental vehicle.

What Are You Driving On?

Depending on the type of rental vehicle, as well as the type of rental damage cover available, you may or may not be allowed to drive above the snow line, on a beach, on a dirt road, in flood waters or rivers or on non-gazetted roads. If you are intending to drive on one of these conditions, it is worth checking with the car rental agency before arriving at your rental pickup location whether you are allowed to drive on it, and if there is any damage liability reduction cover that can be taken to protect you if you have an accident. If you don’t and you have an accident while driving on one of these types of conditions you’ll may again be liable for the full cost of any damage repairs or recoveries.


Currently with the most rental car operators it is classed as a breach of the terms and conditions to travel with any animals in a rental vehicle. Apart from the obvious smell, and potential unwanted mess pets can leave in a vehicle for our lovely car detailers to clean up, driving with pets can distract or cause the driver to unintentionally have a car accident, which may void your rental agreement making the hirer liable for the full cost of damage repair and/or recovery costs.

Smoking in the Rental Vehicle

Although not completely breaching the terms and conditions in regards to damaging a vehicle, it still breaches parts of the terms of conditions which will cause the hirer in many cases to pay a ‘cleaning fee’ to fumigate the car in order to rid the car of the smoke smell. This can cost between $50-$500 depending on the severity. Any potential burn marks left in the seats by flying ash from a cigarette can cause the seat needing replacing, of which the cost will not be covered by your damage reduction liability.

Driving over a Raised Object

This is a tricky one, and definitely one to take notice of. Damage to the under carriage, in other words damage to underneath the car is not covered in any elected damage liability. So next time you are impatient and want to mount the curb to get around a traffic jam, or rather not worry about going around a large boulder in the middle of the road, remember that it can cause serious damage to a vehicle’s internal mechanics, possibly causing you to breakdown and give you’re a large financial headache to repair as well.

Stolen Vehicle & Return of the Key

Just to set the record straight, you are covered if your rental car is stolen ‘only’ if you can successfully return the rental car keys to the car rental company. (Most cars these days are fitted with an immobiliser making it harder to steal without a key). In other words, if you lose your car rental key and the car goes missing you may be in big financial trouble. So be careful to not lose this precious asset. You can also read more about our car rental security tips for ways to better secure your car from thieves.

All of this sounds quite scary, but it’s not really. At the end of the day, if you use some common sense when driving your rental car, always check with the rental car operator if you are unsure of anything and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your own car you’ll likely have an uneventful ‘breach free’ rental experience.
And of course, read the terms and conditions in advance can not only help speed up your rental process at time of vehicle collection but give you a stress free car rental experience.

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published May 21, 2013

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