A while back I decided to switch from owning a car, to solely using Uber and the Gautrain. The change has been more successful than I ever imagined, and I’m saving a small fortune by not owning a vehicle anymore. That’s another article for another time though. One of the drawbacks of Uber and the train, is that the train only operates until a certain time, and an Uber from Johannesburg to Pretoria after this time is ridiculously expensive. Due to this, whenever I know I’m going to be much later (like coming home from SipSpeak) I rent a vehicle.

Something I’ve learned over the years is that if you ever wish to be treated in a manner of guilty until proven innocent, rent a car. The treatment you receive as a customer from any car rental is that of suspicion, anxiety, and complete mistrust. I’m sure there are reasonable grounds to be careful as the rental company, there are some crazies out there, but some of the checks are really “next level” shenanigans. So, herewith are my top tips for renting a vehicle to ensure that you don’t land up in unexpected hot water or losing your (ridiculous) security deposit.

Be Suspicious Back

When inspecting the vehicle, take out your phone, pop it on to video and record the inspection of the vehicle. I’m not saying you should record the person inspecting, just the vehicle itself. Start in the front, and cover the vehicle all around the same way that the inspector does. Make note and zoom in on ANY small scratches, dents, bumps, or chips. You don’t want to be charged for these when they were there already. Take particular care on the bonnet, front bumper, mirrors, rims/tyres, and the rear bumper.

Next, once you have BOTH inspected the vehicle, inspect the inspection form that the inspector has completed. Ensure any dents or scratches that you’ve picked up are on the sheet, no matter how small, and insist that the inspector marks them off. Don’t accept the “it’s so small, it’s fine” excuse, I’ve got into trouble with this before. Be aware that you cannot change this form once you’ve signed it off, so you need to be sure it’s correct up front.

Check the Mileage and Fuel

As part of the inspection, they mark down the current mileage on the car. Ensure that this matches up! You pay not only a daily rate for the rental, but also for mileage over and above a particular level. You don’t want to be caught with a lower mileage written down on the form. Similarly, before you leave, ensure that the fuel tank is completely full – at the full mark or just above. You are expected to return the car with a full tank, and if they give you a car with less than that you’re going to be paying more (with next to no recourse afterwards).

Super Waiver

Overseas, I’ve been able to include vehicle insurance for a rental as part of my travel insurance. In South Africa, this is not the case. It would seem (please correct me if you’ve had a different experience) that you cannot bolt on an insurance package from your standard short term insurer on a rental vehicle. As such, it may be worth the extra daily cost to save yourself a mountain in excess should something go wrong. It’s not necessarily your own driving you have to worry about, but those around you. Be cognizant as to whether you’re expecting to be in busy parking lots or peak hour traffic (often the same thing) and decide for yourself whether the risk is high enough to take cover.

Returning the Vehicle

Before you return the vehicle, be sure to go to the fuel station and fill the vehicle up at your expense. If you return the vehicle without a full tank, you will be billed a premium rate for a refuel as well as a surcharge. Anything to keep your deposit it would seem… Also, and this is vitally important, KEEP THE RECEIPT from the fueling station to give to the inspector. The latest experience I’ve had is that simply stating that the car is full is no longer enough, you now need to produce a slip stating when and where you filled the car up, and it should be only a few minutes before your return. Ridiculous, but supposedly necessary. The fuel gauge is apparently not to be trusted, and neither are you.

Lastly, if you have any issues regarding chips or damage, where you know that you have not had an issue, whip out your video and dispute the charges. I have yet to say that I have regretted having the extra footage on return of a vehicle.

I hope this helps a little to avoid the minefield that is car rental, happy renting!

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