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Renting a car? Read the fine print first

A reader: My family and I plan on taking a summer trip across several states. We are going to rent a car, but I’m wondering if all rental companies are the same. With the price of gas, we definitely want something affordable. Do you recommend any company or have any advice for us?

Action Line: Even though you’re excited to hit the road, take the time to inspect the car and ask questions. Car rentals can make any trip easier, but make sure you know your options, such as add-ons, before signing on the dotted line.

Better Business Bureau recommends the following tips to avoid overspending when looking to rent a car:

▪ Shop around and look out for hidden charges. There are several budget travel websites that can give a good scope of what’s out there price-wise.

▪ Follow up with the rental car websites directly to see if you can snag an even cheaper rate. Always remember, though, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

▪ Don’t fall for the low-ball offer and make sure to always clarify which taxes, surcharges and other fees you’ll be expected to pay. Many states have additional fees for drivers under age 25 or for multiple drivers.

▪ Opt for a smaller car. If you don’t need a lot of leg room or trunk space, go for the smaller car. Oftentimes, the salesperson will steer you in the direction of an upgrade for “only a few extra dollars” because the smaller economy cars are in high demand – just say no, and stick to the smaller car.

▪ Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you understand where the “unlimited mileage” rates apply. Some rental car companies have restrictions and only apply the mileage to certain states.

▪ Gas up and be on time. Many times, car rental companies will ask if you want to prepay for gas – it’s not always necessary and it’s rarely the best deal. Don’t forget to refill the tank before returning the car, and make sure to return on time. Some rental car companies will charge an extra day for being late – make sure to know their policy for early and late returns, and call if you get stuck in traffic.

▪ If you’re traveling with children or fear that you’ll get lost, make sure to bring your own car seat and GPS. No need to pay for the daily fee for these items if you have them at home.

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Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or