Did you get stuck in town over President’s Day Weekend because you couldn’t get a car rental? Renting a car in Manhattan can be frustrating and expensive. The wait at the counter during peak times can be excruciating, the extra fees can add up quickly, and renting a car at the last minute is an oxy moron in this town. Here are some tips to help you minimize your hassles and maximize your experience.
Advance Planning Is Key
Unfortunately, spontaneous trips and car rentals don't go together in Manhattan. You have to plan ahead, especially around holidays, during the fall foliage season, on three-day weekends and anytime in the summer. Reserve your car well in advance, but bear in mind that rates can come down in the two weeks prior to your trip if an outlet is trying to adjust its inventory levels. Your best bet is to check the rental rates again as your trip gets closer.
This being Manhattan, those great deals the car rental companies advertise on TV are seldom – if ever – available here. But, you'll typically get better rates on the car rental companies' Web sites than by calling the reservation lines. Surf around and compare prices, as they can vary significantly. It’s easy to review, modify or cancel reservations online, too, as well as search for the outlets nearest you. If you rent frequently, sign up for the preferred customer programs.
Pick One Near Your Home: Car Rental Outlets by Neighborhood
Car rental outlets in Manhattan's various neighborhoods tend to be clustered together within a few blocks of each other. Here's a sampling:
- Upper West Side: West 76th-77th Sts. (Alamo, Avis, Hertz, National)
- Upper East Side: East 80th-90th Sts. (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Thrifty)
- Midtown West: West 40s-50s (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz)
- Midtown East: East 40s (Avis, Budget, Hertz)
- The Village: East 11th-13th Sts. (Alamo, Avis, Hertz, National)
ZipCar offers a new membership-based model for car rentals in the city, allowing rentals by the hour ($8.50 and up) or the day ($59 and up), eliminating the car rental counter (your "ZipCard" unlocks the car you reserve), and including insurance, gas and parking in the rates. If you rent frequently, or usually only need a car for a few hours, you might want to join; select a monthly or yearly membership fee, based on how often you rent. Cars are available all over Manhattan.
Major Credit Cards Required and Other Rules to Know
You must use a major credit card to rent a car. Don' show up with cash, personal checks or a debit-only ATM card.
Naturally, you must be a licensed driver, and typically you must be over 25 (21 for ZipCar). The same applies to anyone who will be driving the car.
To avoid potential snafus in the event of an accident, officially add anyone who will be driving the car to your rental contract. You can usually add one extra driver, who must be present and sign the contract when you pick up the car.
Pick Up and Return During Off-Peak Hours
Nothing gets your trip off to a worse start than waiting on line to pick up the car, and your happy memories of the trip will quickly fade standing on line to return it (after sitting in traffic on the West Side Highway).
Schedule your pick-up and return during off-peak hours. If you plan to leave early in the morning, pick up the car 30 minutes before closing the night before; most of the major rental companies are open until at least 10:00 p.m. Then you can return it late, too.
Use the 24-Hour Rule
Avoid incurring charges for extra days by returning the car at the same time you picked it up. Most places have a 59-minute grace period. Check the hours at the outlet you select; you may have picked up the car at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, but if the place closes at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, you'll be charged for an extra day if you arrive after closing. For example, Enterprise Rent-a-Car outlets in Manhattan tend to close early.
If Fido Goes Along for the Ride...
Avoid extra cleaning charges when you return the car. Most car rental companies in New York will charge fees of $30 or more if they find excessive pet hair in the car. If you'll be taking your pet(s) along for the ride, cover the seats and floors with a clean sheet or blanket to avoid leaving pet hair behind. At the end of your trip, vacuum out the car or visit a good carwash where they'll vacuum it for you. The same advice applies if you have young children or rowdy, messy friends.
Don't Put off Dealing With a Parking Ticket
If you get a parking ticket on your rental car, don't think you can ignore it just because you don't own the car. The City will catch up with you -- and so will the car rental company. Your best bet: Avoid getting a ticket at all. Check out the Alternate Side of the Street Parking rules, get up to speed on the meter rules, and learn to interpret all those crazy No Standing, So Stopping, No Parking signs at the Department of Transportation's Web site.
If, despite your best efforts, you get a ticket anyway, you can pay for or dispute it online at the Department of FInance Web site. To avoid additional costs, respond within 30 days -- those extra penalties add up fast.