What do traveling for business, taking a vacation, and bringing your car to the mechanic have in common? They all might require you to rent a car. With the current pandemic, if for any reason you do need a rental car, you might be wondering: Is it safe to drive a rental car right now? Is the process still the same to rent a car? 

Here’s how to rent a car, plus recent changes to the car rental industry that ensure the safety of employees and customers.

Renting a car during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous changes to everyday life for families and businesses around the world. The car rental business is just one of the thousands of industries where changes have been made to reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading. 

Most notably, car rental companies have started requiring that all customers as well as their employees wear masks during the in-person rental process. 

Some companies have also closed certain physical locations and changed their car rental processes to reduce contact between employees and customers. For example, Enterprise has "consolidated neighborhood operations," which means some of its locations have been closed, and others have had their hours modified.

When it comes to the actual cars, car rental companies have increased the effectiveness of their cleaning processes by adding extra disinfectant and sanitizing procedures. The Hertz car rental company calls its new cleaning process "Hertz Gold Standard Clean," which features a 15-point cleaning and sanitization process. Enterprise along with Alamo Rent a Car and National Car Rental have all committed to the Complete Clean Pledge.

Is renting a car safe?

There are no certainties when it comes to life during a pandemic and whether you’ll contract COVID-19. However, car rental companies have made significant changes to their traditional methods of doing business to ensure the safety of their employees and customers. Car rentals are an essential service, so they're likely to remain available even if there are renewed operational restrictions on some business industries.

How to rent a car

Even during a pandemic, renting a car remains a pretty easy and standard process. In fact, the most challenging part may be in choosing which vehicle will serve your needs best. 

Before your trip, you’ll start by shopping around different rental companies and checking out the vehicles they have available. When looking for a rental, you’ll want to consider prices as well as your pick-up and drop-off location. 

Once you find a rental car deal you’re happy with, make your reservation and pay for the rental. 

On your reservation day, simply pick up your car and drive away!

What to know about renting a car

When you rent a car, here are a few things to remember to ensure it’s a quick, smooth process for you.

Make sure you have a valid driver's license. You need a valid driver’s license to rent a car. If you're renting a car in another country, you may need a driver’s license as well as a valid passport.

Check the rental company’s minimum driving age. To rent a car, most companies require drivers to be at least 21 years old. Some companies may also charge an extra fee for renters under the age of 25. 

If you are under 21, you still have options to rent a car. For instance, Hertz will allow you to rent a car if you are at least 20 years old.  

Bring a credit card to secure the rental. When you rent a car, most major rental car companies will place a hold on your credit card. The hold is typically equal to an estimated cost of your rental. Be sure to check your balance and make sure you have the credit available.

Understanding insurance for a rental car

Car rental companies offer a few different options when it comes to insurance, so it's always best to do your homework before you go to pick up your rental car. Car rental companies won’t let you drive off without knowing that you are insured.

Before you buy rental car insurance, check your personal auto insurance policy. Do you have rental car insurance? Do you have collision and comprehensive coverage? If you don’t have comprehensive or collision, you might consider buying insurance from the rental car company as you may not be able to pay for the damages that occur to your rental car if you’re in an accident. 

To get the best overall insurance protection, you may be able to combine the benefits of your personal auto insurance and the options offered by the car rental company.

>>Get an auto insurance quote

Alternative car rental options

The next time you rent a car, you might not actually walk into a well-known national chain like a Hertz or Budget to pick up your keys. Not only has the pandemic forced companies to make changes to their normal ways of doing business, but several new rental companies have joined the industry, offering innovative options for renting a car. 

For many travelers, a traditional car rental company is the way to go. These companies often have multiple locations and many of them in convenient spots like at the airport. 

But, in the last decade, those willing to step outside of the box are finding new ways to rent a car. Specifically, peer-to-peer car sharing has become popular. Peer-to-peer car shares occur when private individuals make their vehicles available for rent to the general public. 

Car sharing companies include Getaround, Maven, and HyreCar. One of the most well-known peer-to-peer car services is Turo, which allows anyone to secure a rental car entirely through their app or online. The vehicle you rent may be picked up without any in-person contact, and some offer pick and drop-off services like traditional rental companies.