You’re twenty-one years old. You’re allowed to buy a pack of cigarettes at the liquor store, and even a nice cold beer at your local bar (if these are your vices). You’re old enough to enlist in the army or volunteer for the Peace Corps—hey, you can even get married legally. But there’s one thing that will be very difficult for you to accomplish if you’re only twenty-one.
You’ll Have a Hard Time Renting a Car
Yes, it seems unfair, but there are reasons to this madness. Younger drivers are statistically more likely to drink and engage in other risky driving behavior, and they’re involved in accidents more often. Car rental companies refuse to rent to younger drivers for two basic reasons—younger drivers increase the company’s liability and insurance costs, and they pose a risk to the company’s fleet.
So it’s understandable that most car rental companies don’t want to do business with younger drivers—but if you’re one of the above-mentioned paragons of responsibility, it’s hardly fair. It doesn’t matter that you’ve played by the rules and have an immaculate driving record; an irresponsible 30-year-old will be able to rent a car easily, while you’re left standing at the rental counter.
Because rental car companies are leery about doing business with drivers under the age of 25, they typically charge a hefty ‘youth’ fee—which often doubles the rental rate. And drivers who are between the ages of 18 and 21 will have a difficult time renting any vehicle.
The states of New York and Michigan are exceptions to the rule; legislation in each state mandates that car rental companies rent to drivers between the ages of 21 and 25. Renting a car in either of these states won’t be an issue for you—unless you’re under the age of 21. Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 will have a difficult time renting a car from any company, in any state.
The very few companies who will rent to drivers under 21 also charge substantial fees—usually at least $50 a day.
Independent Car Rental Companies
Independent car rental companies will occasionally rent to the chronologically challenged, but these ‘Mom & Pop Shops’ are few and far between. They’re hard to locate, too. Young drivers have to call company after company, trying to find the one out of a hundred that will accept their business. Location can make a difference; it’s easier to find an independent dealership that rents to younger drivers in larger cities.
If you do find a company that will rent to you, they will probably require you to make your reservation with the branch with which you’ll be doing business. Drivers who are under the age of 21 often can’t reserve a vehicle online or through a central reservation center.
When you make your reservation, make sure that you let the company representative know that you are under the age of 21. Even if you’ve read the company’s policy online, you want to deal with potential problems before you’ve arrived at your destination and need to travel! And it helps to know ahead of time that you won’t be able to rent a luxury vehicle. The few independent companies that will rent to under-21’s reserve their oldest vehicles for their youngest customers. To avoid problems later, you should notice and record any dents or bumps on your rental car before you leave the rental company premises.
The ban on drivers under the age of 21 may be changing. Fox Rent-a-Car now charges an additional fee of only $14 a day for younger drivers—making the process of renting a car economically feasible.
Still, this is an exception, and the concession is only granted to people who are at least 20 years old. It remains tremendously difficult for drivers who are under 21 years old to rent a vehicle. And again, it’s expensive: the additional fees can be so high that other forms of transportation begin to look good. No one enjoys taking the bus, but when under-age fees are added to the daily rental fee—and then other expenses are added in—the price becomes so prohibitive for the under-21 crowd that it makes sense to consider other options.
There’s another important exception to the ban on renting to drivers under the age of 21. All government personnel and members of the military can rent a car from most rental agencies if they’re traveling on government business. The renter must be at least 18, and is able to rent at a reduced military rate.
Until recently, drivers from the ages of 21 to 25 faced the same kind of restrictions as drivers under 21. Lately the situation has eased up a little for this age group, and drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 are now able to rent from quite a few national car rental companies. Most Advantage, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Enterprise, Hertz and National locations will rent to drivers under age 25. The driver in this age group will still be required to pay a daily fee, but this is usually cheaper, averaging about $25 a day.
Hertz is currently offering a fee-free rental experience for drivers between the ages of 20 and 24 who include the promo code 144314 when they make their reservations. Be aware that Hertz is one of the more expensive car rental companies, so even without the youth fee, your Hertz rental may be more expensive than with other companies. But if you do want to take advantage of the offer, hurry—it ends on Sept. 30.
And if you’re a member of USAA, an organization for military personnel and their kids, then you’re in luck. USAA has an agreement with Avis that allows members over age 21 to rent a car without paying an additional ‘youth’ surcharge.
Membership in other organizations may not score a youth fee waiver, but they can help save money in other ways. You should take advantage of benefits of AAA membership, and if you’re a Costco member, you’ll automatically save money at Budget Rent-a-Car. Although these memberships may not be able to waive youth fees, the discounts they offer can help offset the additional expense.
If you have a job, you might be able to take advantage of special corporate rates that waive additional fees for younger drivers. And if you’re renting a car for company business, you should be able to take advantage of special deals that your company has with a rental company.
Basic common sense will also help you save money on a car rental. Reserve your car early, and don’t add features that you don’t need. Downsize when at all possible. And again, be sure to inspect your rental car for damage before you leave the lot.
It also pays to spend extra time comparing the rates of a different rental car companies. They’ll vary, and you may be able to save big bucks if you know who you’re dealing with. Breezenet.com offers a great comparison chart, so you can easily compare rates and company policies.
If you’re traveling with someone over 25 years old, you can sometimes be written into the contract as an additional driver without the underage fee. You will have to show a driver’s license, which will enable the car rental company to check your driving record. You will also be required to show a credit card in your name, assuring the rental company that you have established credit and are assuming some of the risk that goes along with your rental. It’s a good idea to have a copy of your car insurance policy, too, as proof that you are a responsible driver.
If all else fails, and you’re faced with paying youth fees that raise your daily rental to astronomical rates, consider asking a parent or older friend to co-sign your rental. This will usually provide the car rental company with enough assurance to waive the youth fee.
When you’ve finally cleared all the obstacles and you’re driving away in your car rental, remember to drive carefully and have a wonderful time. And hang on—in no time at all you’ll be older, remembering how great it was to be young.