and Buying Cars
Plus pros and cons of driving
Tips and cautions
Travelling in peak season means
booking accommodation ahead of time in the most popular areas. But,
planning auto travel can be a problem.
Sure, it is easy to say, "We'll drive an average of seven hours each day," but
soon you will not want to.
Cars offer maximum freedom, but can be
tiring and monotonous to drive long distances when the scenery does
not vary much, and expensive to boot.
If travelling across the prairie hour after
hour becomes boring, the bus or train passenger can relax with
a good book or even watch a movie on the train in the evening.
In the car, however, someone has to keep her eyes on the road.
Travelling by car, though, permits inexpensive
camping, which is not easy to do if travelling by airline, bus,
And, accessing other budget accommodation is made easier by car. Furthermore, except in large cities and some places where
auto travel is banned, reaching many places is easier with "wheels".
Cost may be a factor in the choice of transportation.
Although the cost of using a car may be prohibitive throughout
a trip, renting cars at various points along an air, bus, or train
itinerary may be the way to go.
In fact, Dr. Voyageur highly recommends
Using cheap one-way flights in combination with car rental permits a traveller
with limited time to visit many more areas of North America. You get to focus on specific regions.
Lower weekend rates
generally start at 12 Noon Thursday and end at 12 Noon Monday.
Rental companies vary by the amount of free miles included in
the rental contract. Most offer unlimited miles at selected locations.
The lowest rates almost always require some
advance booking, although you can try Priceline.com Rental Cars as well as Hotwire.com just
prior to travelling for major airport locations and some city centre
in the States.
Do not show up at a rental counter without
a reservation and expect budget rates.
You will be sorry!
booking last minute airline Internet only weekend fares usually
have access to related car and hotel deals, however.
Travellers with certain American Express
or "Gold" bank issued credit cards may not need to pay
the so-called "optional" collision insurance, which
can run up to U.S. $20.00 per day. Check with your card issuer.
Some travellers may have coverage through their own auto insurance
company, but this is often nebulous.
Without credit card company coverage or
personal coverage, be very careful about declining collision insurance,
as the you may be liable for the full value of the rental vehicle—as
calculated by the rental company—in case of a serious accident.
Another consideration for all rentals is
the age of the driver.
In many areas—New York City, for example—drivers
under 25 will have difficulty finding any cars available.
inquire about minimum age requirements, and, if applicable, the
policies regarding having more than one driver.
(Rental Cars) and Hotwire.com and rent to drivers 21 years old or over, instead of 25 or over. Hotwire takes Canadian and U.S. credit cards. Priceline accepts just ones with U.S. billing addresses.
At the time of booking, if you do not have
an American or Canadian driver's licence, be sure to check that
yours will be accepted.
Rental companies want drivers with a
credit card with lots of credit available (The companies get
authorization for amounts well above the expected rental charge,
which can use up credit needed for other purposes).
If you do
not have a credit card, be sure to check what cash deposit is
required (which can vary with the age of the driver). Also, prospective
drivers may face a check of their driving records posted in various
insurance data bases.
Taxes and fees also should be gone over.
These can really add up, especially in places like New York.
Various airports have instituted charges
both for picking up a car on airport property and for having a
van pick up a renter at the airport terminal and taking her or
him to a rental car office off the airport grounds.
these taxes can be avoided by picking up the vehicle 24 hours
or more after arrival at the airport or by renting the vehicle
at a non-airport location.
The rental rates themselves vary considerably
by region. In peak seasons like spring break, you may not be able
to find any rental cars available in parts of Florida at the last
Picking the best rental company
For short weekend trips in or near an urban
area, you may wish to grab the least expensive car available.
For weekly rentals that take you far from
your rental location, on the other hand, use a company like Hertz with extensive
Otherwise, if your car breaks down, quite
some time may pass before a replacement is available and you will
likely not be compensated for meals and accommodation while waiting.
All cars—even your own—break down at times, the companies say,
so why should they compensate you? After all, you were able to drive
from the rental location!
Also, if applicable, check on the policy
regarding taking a car from Canada into the U.S. or from the U.S.
into Canada. Some rental contracts in Florida, too, will not allow
vehicles to be taken out of state. Check on this. Driving into
Mexico is generally not allowed in a rental car.
Canadian citizens may not legally rent a
U.S. car and use it in Canada. More accurately, they may bring
one in, but must immediately exchange it for a Canadian vehicle
at a Canadian rental location. Check with Customs Canada for the
Weekly rentals usually require a minimum
use of five 24 hour periods. If returned early—even just an hour
early—contracts may require payment of a much higher daily rate.
The number of free miles
is an essential consideration. You should be able to find rentals
with unlimited miles, although this is getting more difficult,
as the profits of rental companies have not been robust in recent
Both week-end and weekly rates are usually
better if booked ahead. Booking one week or more in advance for
weekly rates is a common requirement.
Leasing a car
Because weekly rates are often limited to
four weeks maximum, leasing should be considered for longer rentals.
Again, the number of free miles is a key consideration,
as is the wide availability of service.
Monthly leasing may save you most of the taxes you would have to pay on weekly rentals.
Avis, Hertz, and National all offer leasing plans.
Leasing through a car dealer is an option,
but what happens if the car breaks down? In general, we must wait
for repair at an associate dealer, instead of receiving an immediate
replacement. And, waiting for repair can take some time if exotic
parts must be ordered in small town Canada or USA.
Buying a car
Buying a car may be an appealing option,
especially if the traveller is already going to school or working
in North America and thus has ample time to explore alternatives.
Knowing how to do minor vehicle repairs may be a determining factor
in whether or not we risk driving a newly purchased "pre-owned"
car on a long trip.
Be aware that in general used car dealerships
do not enjoy a high ethical reputation in North America. The excellent film "Breaking Away" showed a typical view
of this industry. However, stricter laws may be helping.
check out a dealer with the Better
Business Bureau at no cost to you, or with your local auto club.
For new cars, according to one survey, Saturn
dealers have the best reputation in terms of customer satisfaction
with the car buying experience.
Note, however, that other dealers
will bargain; Saturn dealers sell at a fixed price, which many
Americans and Canadian like as they are not used to bargaining.
To get an idea of what you should pay, check the Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and NADA websites. Check all of them.
If purchasing, purchase well. Itineraries
in North America often involve very strenuous driving—You want good
tires, a good transmission, and good brakes.
And, remember that adequate liability insurance
is an essential part of the cost.
Having an accident without insurance
that protects other drivers may lead to incarceration and a massive
fine. If deaths result, the driver judged guilty could be locked
up for years.
Joining an auto club
One reason to buy a car in good condition
is to not be at the mercy of roadside repair shops and towing
firms of unknown reputation. But, even the best vehicles may break
Therefore, whether renting or buying, membership
in a provincial or state chapter of the American Automobile Association
(AAA) or Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) is an excellent
Besides providing good maps and hotel and
camping guides to its members, the AAA/CAA provides minor roadside
service as part of the membership fee (including lockout service).
If significant repair is required, AAA/CAA will tow our vehicle
to a shop whose good reputation has been verified (The various
chapters have different policies on how far their trucks will
tow). In addition, AAA/CAA membership brings with it significant
discounts on car rentals, including excellent one-way ones from
To join, you need a Canadian or U.S. address.
Chapter fees vary with the type of climate and amount of member
abuse of the services found in each area (New York state scores
low on both counts with resultant high membership costs). Clubs
in rural regions tend to cost less.
Check out the American
Automobile Association and Canadian
Automobile Association websites for more details and links
to provincial and state affiliates. The AAA site will ask for
your postal code. If you do not yet have a U.S. code, use 90210.
Other auto clubs exist, but the AAA/CAA ones
are the best. Dr. Voyageur particularly likes the quality of the
free maps available to members. AAA/CAA membership, by the way,
brings discounts on accommodation, rental cars, major tourist attractions,
Learn about the pros and cons of othe travel
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