If you want to hire a car, you’ll need to find the best car rental sites to suit. Whether you’re taking a road trip, visiting friends or vacationing in a new city, finding the top rated car rental companies can be indispensable – arguably even more so if you’re an employer and rely on car rental services to get your employees where they need to be.
But what do you need to look for when searching for the best car rental sites? The rates on offer will always be a key consideration, but there’s a whole lot more to think about besides, from the level of service on offer to the reward programs available. A good car rental company will be in a convenient location, too, and your choice may also differ depending on if you’re looking for car rental for a month instead of a shorter time-frame, such as car rental for a day or two – some car rental sites even let you hire on an hourly basis.
Many things will determine the car rental rates that you’ll be charged, too, including the duration of your rental period, the kind of car you’re looking to hire, your age (those younger than 25 can typically expect to pay more than their more experienced counterparts) and where you’re hiring the vehicle from - rental costs are nearly always higher if you rent a car from the airport. These are all reasons why it’s always best to plan your car rental in advance, and where this guide can certainly help.
The following list highlights the very best car rental sites that come out on top in a range of scenarios, from the service that offers the best value for money to the company with the most appealing rewards program. As you’d expect, the best car rental company overall is revealed too. Whether you’re after something compact and economical or want a car that’s more on the luxury end of the scale, you’ll be able to choose from a range of vehicles as well. That said, if you’re moving home and need something more substantial, our guide showcasing the best truck rentals for moving could be worth a look as well.
1. Enterprise: Best car rental sites overall
Enterprise has more car rental locations in the US than anyone else and, from what we've found, a lot more to offer than other car rental companies in the US. With over 4,600 locations across America (and almost double that around the world), if you need to rent a car, there's a good chance an Enterprise office won't ever be far.
The choice of vehicles on offer is hard to beat too, with upwards of 20 standard cars available along with 12 different types of SUV, and a host of luxury cars if you prefer to travel in style. Importantly, the hire cost that Enterprise charges are reasonable as well, with lower single-day rentals usually much cheaper than average. The rewards program - Enterprise Plus - which awards points for each dollar you spend, offers excellent benefits to regular customers too, including car upgrades and a priority checkout line for faster pick ups.
Add in a free pick-up service, which will ferry you to the rental office to pick up your car, and a car share service that allows for almost autonomous hour-by-hour car rentals if you sign up, and Enterprise has to be the best car rental service, bar none.
- Read our Enterprise review
2. Thrifty: Best car rental site for value
Thrifty by name, Thrifty by nature - offering the best daily rates and better than average weekly rates too, Thrifty is our choice for the best value car rental service. By joining its free Blue Chip rewards program, spouses can drive for free too, so you'll save money there as well.
Signing up as a Blue Chip member will allow you to earn points for each dollar you spend on car rentals too, which you build up to qualify for free rentals. Then there's the "skip the counter" perk, allowing you to go straight to the lot to pick up your car, and a priority counter service too. That said, the notice of black out days when you can't use your free rental, and the loss of points after two years of inactivity, means the program is certainly not as rewarding as some.
That there's only around 300 Thrifty offices across the US might pose a problem too, but if one is nearby, and you need to rent a car, they're sure to offer you a terrific price.
- Read our Thrifty review
3. Hertz: Best car rental site rewards program
Joining a car rental rewards program costs nothing, so you might as well sign up and see what you can earn - in this respect, Hertz’s Gold Plus Rewards program is one of the best. In addition to basic benefits like points and expedited checkout, this rewards program includes options like free vehicle upgrades and expedited drop-offs.
As is standard for rewards programs, you earn one point for each dollar spent at Hertz. These rewards are also earned for add-ons like car seats, insurance and other optional services, and if you regularly hire cars, you've got the chance to climb the reward ranks and become a Five Star or President's Circle member too. Here you'll get more points on your rental spend, and the chance of upgrades and even more lavish rewards on which to spend your points.
Hertz has around 3,000 locations in the US, and a huge presence across the world too - this is worth remembering as rewards apply outside of the US as well. And as the choice of vehicles that Hertz has to offer is wide ranging too, you should have little problem finding a car that suits you.
- Read our Hertz review
4. Dollar: Best car rental site for weekly rentals
If your car rental requirements are likely to span a week or longer, Dollar is a good place to start your search. While setting the standard for weekly rates, the Dollar website usually has a number of offers that you can take advantage of as well, in particular the saving of 25% if you're happy to prepay for your car.
There's an excellent rewards program on offer too, with achievable points targets and no blackout dates to confuse matters when you want to cash in what you've earned for a free rental. The one thing that might hold Dollar back is its relatively small presence of just 230 US locations. However, if you find one nearby, and are looking to rent for the longer term rather than just a day, Dollar is a great car rental choice.
- Read our Dollar review
5. Avis: Best for international car rentals
With more than 5,500 locations in over 160 countries worldwide, Avis is the familiar name that provides car rental solutions for international travelers everywhere. Even if you're still at home, and looking to hire in the US, there's getting on for 2,000 offices from which you can rent, enough to make Avis one of the largest car rental companies in America.
The vehicle choice is exceptional as well, with all bases covered from economy through to luxury cars, along with vans, SUVs and much more. If you want to go green, hybrid vehicles can be rented too.
While you'll probably be able to find better prices elsewhere, charges are no worse than average and the weekly rates are sometimes better than what you'd find at other rental companies. There's a rewards program to inspire your loyalty too, although with points thresholds slightly higher than what you'd find elsewhere, you'll need to be a frequent traveler to take proper advantage.
- Read our Avis review
Comparing car rental services
What you pay for a car rental will mainly depend on the type of vehicle you rent, the location or city you're hiring in, and how long you're renting for.
If you travel frequently, another important consideration is a car rental sites' rewards program, which are a good way to recoup some of your expenses. Most of these services offer points for each dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for free rentals. Make sure you check how many points are typically needed to get a free rental, and also see if the rewards program provides access to quicker service when checking out your car. Some rental companies have a line or kiosk specifically designated for its rewards members.
Do’s and don’ts of renting a car
Do shop around for the best car rental deals
As car rentals are a competitive area, where business levels fluctuate naturally, you'll usually be able to find car rental deals. If you’re primarily looking for the lowest cost and aren’t a member of a specific company’s rewards program, using a service like Hotwire or Priceline can get you the cheapest price.
Do take advantage of shuttle options
Many rental companies now offer pick-up services. If you’ve made a reservation in advance at a non-airport location, you can arrange for the company to pick you up at your hotel or office or home. They will drive you to the rental office where you can sign the paperwork and be on your way. This is a great way to sidestep some of the logistical hassles involved in renting cars.
Do sign up for rewards programs
These programs are free and offer benefits beyond rewards points. They typically offer quicker service, free upgrades and free additional drivers as well. Signing up to a car services’ reward program will maximize the value you get from your money.
Don’t rent from an airport
If you can avoid it, try to rent from an off-airport location. Airports often add their own concession fees on top of whatever fees and taxes apply to the city you’re renting in. The concession fee varies from airport to airport but can approach 10 percent of what you pay for the rental.
Don’t pay for insurance
Your current car insurance policy likely covers you while you’re in a rental car, and the credit card you pay with may include secondary collision insurance. Collision damage waivers offered by the rental companies are often expensive and unnecessary. Check the small print of your current auto insurance, if you have one, and do the same with your credit card. If you're not covered it's often far cheaper to buy excess car rental insurance from a third party than from the car rental company.
Is it better to rent a car or use a rideshare?
Whether you’re going on vacation or travelling for work, rideshare services may be a good alternative to a car rental. In fact, depending on the situation, a rideshare like Uber or Lyft can save you some money. A lot depends on where you travel and how you plan to get around while you’re there.
As you decide between renting and using rideshares, consider how often you’ll need to use a vehicle at your destination. If you just need a car to get from the airport to your hotel, a rideshare may be the better option. Also, if you’re visiting a city with robust public transportation and many attractions within walking distance, for example New York City, renting a car can be a hassle – especially if you don’t want the stress of city traffic and trying to find parking. On the other hand, if you need to drive around your destination and take a lot of small trips here and there, a rideshare can end up costing more than a rental car.
If you're travelling somewhere remote or in the wilderness, like a national park, a rental is your only choice. Another reason to choose a rental over a rideshare is you have control over your own driving situation. Also, rideshare companies charge higher prices when there’s high demand, so during busier hours of the day, you’ll pay between one and half to two times more than the base fee.
When we asked Ed Perkins, an editor at SmarterTravel.com, about the advantages that renting a car offers over using a rideshare service, he told us that rideshares can help you avoid problems with finding parking if you’re making a lot of stops in a city, but a rental car can help you avoid costs associated with multiple trips. If you’re planning on driving through the suburbs or the country, renting is the best option.