can someone please explain the whole rental car operation?
i'm from the UK and was wondering what all these "waivers" are that people speak of. when i go on my road trip i want to be FULLY covered in the case of...well anything! e.g. theft, damage etc
what would i be normally covered by and what extra coverage should i get and how do i get it? i have read that a lot of people think that the rental car places try to sell you things you don't really need.
From the perspective of a U.S. citizen, I can explain what rental agencies charge and what the different options are. However, the circumstances are different for a foreign visitor and I do not know much about that. The differences lie in insurance coverage and driver license requirements.
A rental agency will charge a base rate for any specific class of vehicle. In many cases, these include all miles you drive ("unlimited mileage")-- just like in Europe and UK. However, some agencies, or even most agencies when renting specific types of specialty vehicles, may charge a per-mile charge as well.
Certain "waivers" are available. The most common is a "loss damage waiver," or LDW (some call it CDW). This protects the renter against being charged for most damage that could occur to the vehicle while in your possession. This is not normally necessary for a US citizen that already has auto insurance for their own vehicle, as our own insurance would cover us. In that case, if damage occurred, our insurance would cover it less the amount of our "deductible" (the part we would always be responsible for). There are two or three other types of waivers also.
You'll need to consider what coverages you already have through trip insurance, or automobile coverage (if ANY), and then decide on these waivers individually, based on whether they'd provide you any real benefit (and whether the cost for that benefit is worth it). Also check with your credit card company, as they may offer these types of coverages to you at no extra charge when you use their card.
Another option you will likely be offered is to purchase the first tank of fuel from the rental agency. They will tell you that gas is being sold in the area for "X" amount per unit, and they will sell it to you at some amount less than that, making it seem like a good deal. Think again. Any savings you'd achieve is contingent on bringing the vehicle back completely empty. No one ever does that. Even if you take it back with the gauge almost on empty, there will be 2 to 4 gallons left in the vehicle that you paid for -- which they will now sell to someone else in the same fashion. This is a money maker for the rental agencies! Tell them you will buy your own fuel and that you'll bring it back full. You will save money. (But be sure you DO take it back completely full, as they will charge a horrendous amount per gallon if you do not). When you fill it up prior to taking it back, you can drive it 5 or 10 miles back to the airport without being charged -- you can also count on that much being gone from the "full" tank when you rent it because the last guy did the same thing. It all equals out.
Finally, on top of the base rate, there will be numerous taxes and charges. There's no avoiding these, and they will add 10-20% at least to the total cost of the rental, sometimes more.