It's been said that most auto accidents take place within one mile of either your departure or destination site. What’s more, dozens of auto accidents take place within just a few hundred feet of the rental company's rental car lot. We’ve all done it—hopped in the vehicle, started it up, and headed out into a strange new place without so much as a second thought about safety. The worst part? You’re typically at an airport full of crazy airport traffic, insane bus drivers, and diabolical taxi drivers intent on pushing you out of their way. It’s a wonder any car rental customer emerges unscathed!
All of this is happening while you're trying to read cryptic, illogical signs and grope around an unfamiliar control panel for headlight controls, window controls, numerous radio buttons, knobs, window wiper controls, and defroster/heating/air conditioning controls. As you struggle to get your bearings in an unfamiliar place, you find yourself making every error that's ever made you curse out that absolutely terrible driver you got stuck behind for five miles of your drive home after a long day at work.
So, before you speed off into the sunset, stop and take a moment to get your bearings. The following is a step-by-step guide that will help you familiarize yourself with any independent rental car.
The First Ten Minutes
When you first reach your rental car, there is a series of steps you should take to make yourself as safe as you can be, both physically and financially.
• 00:01 – Check the car inside and out for any dings, scratches, rips, stains, tears, or other bits of damage and make sure to document everything you see. You'll probably catch something the rental agency missed, and you'll definitely save yourself some money by protecting yourself from any unfair accusations of damage.
• 01:01 ¬– Start the vehicle. While this might waste a bit of gas, it never hurts to let the engine warm up before venturing out into traffic. Firing up the engine will also help you determine if the car seems to be running normally or if it sounds like it needs to be in intensive care.
• 01:15 – Locate and activate the heater/air conditioner. A dark-colored car is going to be an oven in hot weather, especially if it has a matching dark-colored interior.
• 01:45 – Consult your map (or your GPS, if you have one) when trying to get your bearings. Independent rental car lots are often located on the back side of nowhere, and can be difficult to escape. Getting your directional bearings will make your life easier as you try to merge into busy traffic.
• 04:15 – Adjust your mirrors. This simple step is often overlooked, and can be exceedingly problematic if attempted while driving. Make sure you're comfortable with both your mirrors and your seat positioning before heading out.
• 05:15 – Figure out the radio. Despite its nonessential nature, many drivers want to listen to the radio. However, more accidents stem from drivers fiddling with the radio than from playing with cell phones. A happy driver is a safer driver, so take a minute to find stations that appeal to your musical tastes.
• 07:15 – Find and learn the window controls. You don't want to be fumbling around with them when you reach the first tollbooth or parking lot attendant.
• 07:30 – Locate the turn signals. Despite many changes to cars over the years, these have changed very little in terms of location.
• 07:45 – Figure out the windshield wipers. Headlights are easy to figure out, but windshield wipers can be hard to work in the moment of panic you experience when the rain starts and you're in an unfamiliar car.
• 08:00 – Locate and learn the lights, especially the high beams. This will save you from ticking off other drivers, including the local law enforcement.
• 08:30 – Find the fuel door control. Get the embarrassment of popping the trunk instead of the fuel door out of your system before you make it to the first gas station.
• 08:45 – Locate and (if necessary) release the emergency brake. You don't want the smell of burning brakes to follow you out of the rental lot.
• 09:00 – Put 'er in gear and head for the exit.
• 10:00 – Head out into the world. Be safe out there!
Preparation is the most important part of any car rental travel itinerary. And while it isn’t always the most exciting part of the journey, proper preparation can save you valuable time and money, as well as improve the safety of your car rental.
Do you have any special tips or tricks for adjusting to an unfamiliar car rental? Share your advice below and help us improve car rental safety practices all over the world!