Cruising through the USA with a rental car – that promises freedom and adventure. The land of unlimited possibilities really offers a lot for tourists: beautiful beaches in Florida or California, rugged mountains in the Rocky Mountains, breathtaking national parks like the Grand Canyon, exciting nightlife in New York and in between the endless expanse of the prairie. There is no better way to get to know the United States than by rental car. However, it is advisable to prepare the rental thoroughly so that you are protected from unpleasant surprises.
In any case, it is advisable to book your rental car at home. You can easily check the various offers online, compare services, study conditions and restrictions on the use or clarify costs for additional drivers. This saves you the stress of having to search for a suitable rental car after a long flight. Before you start your vacation in the US, there are a few things to consider when choosing a rental car.
Check whether the comprehensive car insurance (CDW) is included in the rental car offer. At best, the offer should not include any excess.
The legally required coverage for basic liability insurance (LI) is very low in the USA. Insurance supplements such as LIS (Liability Insurance Supplement), ALI (Additional Liability Insurance), Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) or EP (Extended Protection) increase the coverage amount – then the limit is normally around US$1 million. Depending on the contract, they cover for accidents in which the person who caused the accident is not insured or if the driver flees. In such cases, the car rental company would be liable for basic protection, whether in debt or not.
Depending on the car rental company, these useful additional insurance policies are already included. If not, it is possible to book the extended insurance coverage on-site. However, take enough time to read the fine print before signing a contract. Because even if you are already sufficiently insured by your booking, this will not prevent the car rental company from offering you the same insurance on top again.
Restrictions on use for the rental car
Most car rental companies allow car rentals to enter Canada but not Mexico. Driving on gravel roads is generally not permitted. If you are unsure, it is advisable to let the car rental company approve the route in advance. However, switching between the different states is not a problem. There is nothing that stands in the way of a road trip through the USA.
One-way rental options
Note that the car rental company charges a surcharge if the return location is not the same as the pick-up location – especially if it is a different country. Because it costs money to return the rental car to the place of origin…
The fuel regulations in the USA
Usually, you pick up and return the rental car with a full tank. Other practices are possible, such as buying the first tank of fuel, returning the car with the tank empty. The price for the first tank filling can be very high, so this variant is less advantageous. Before booking the car, clarify which fuel regulations apply to your booking.
Some states in the United States require a toll (Florida, Colorado). Many rental cars are now equipped with a “Toll Pass Transponder”. This means that the toll is charged directly to the credit card deposited with your car rental company. This saves you from having to have small change on hand at all times. It is best to ask the car rental company.
Renting in the United States is easily possible from the age of 25. Many providers require a risk surcharge for younger drivers. Depending on the car rental company, there may also be surcharges for seniors.
In the United States, you need a valid local driving license. The international driver’s license is not required when renting, but it is advisable to carry it with you in the event of a police check. A credit card in the driver’s name is required to pay the rental car deposit. Make sure the card is sufficiently covered.
If you are traveling with children, ask the rental company before if they provide child seats. Otherwise, you might have to order one beforehand.
Do not sign anything that you are not sure is correct. Once back home, you have little chance of a refund if you have been charged unjustified amounts.
Traffic regulations in the USA
Follow the speed limits strictly if you do not want to spend any holiday budget on fines. The maximum speeds vary from state to state. In towns, it is from 15 to 35 mph. In spite of long distances and wide, clear roads, you can rarely travel faster than 75 mph. Except in the major metropolitan areas, driving in the United States is very relaxed and unexcited. There is no jostling or angry honking; aggressive racers are also rarely seen.
Turning right at red is permitted provided you stop your car first and make sure that there are no pedestrians on the street. The 4-way stops are a US specialty: intersections with a stop signal on all four sides. Whoever goes to the intersection first has priority.
Drunk driving is not a trivial offense in the United States. Violations can be punished with prison terms. Most states have an alcohol limit of 0.8, a few states have set the limit to 1.0 alcohol. For safety reasons, stick to the lower limit – even better, avoid alcohol altogether when driving.
If you want to prevent your rental car from being towed, please check the parking rules: Parking on the roadside is generally not permitted on trunk roads. Parking near hydrants or lowered curbs is prohibited within three meters. In urban areas, the curb markings determine whether and how long parking is allowed:
- Red means a general ban on parking.
- White allows parking for five minutes during business hours.
- Green enables temporary parking for up to 25 minutes.
The Best Road Trips in the USA
Florida, the sunshine state in the southern United States, is an ideal winter destination. As you drive down from Miami to the Florida Keys, you will live the dream of freedom. Surrounded only by glittering water and an endless sky, you drive towards the immeasurable nothing. A little tip: plan a stop in Key Largo to swim with dolphins or snorkel on the coral reef.
California offers a lot of sunshine. Highway 1, the legendary coastal road between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is beautiful to drive; the 17-Miles-Drive near Monterey, in particular, is worth a little detour. Trips from Los Angeles to the gaming city of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon or towards Monument Valley are among the scenic highlights in America’s west.
Thanks to public transportation, anyone visiting New York will not need a rental car. But the drive along the east coast to Boston and from there over the enchanting Berkshire Mountains towards Vermont is particularly attractive during the colorful Indian Summer, which is in autumn.
Of course, tourists should definitely visit the landmark of the city of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. A trip with the cable car is almost a must. Driving along Lombard Street in a rental car in San Francisco is sure to be a unique experience. It is considered to be the most winding road in the world because it is laid out in countless serpentines due to its 27 percent gradient. A visit to the former harbor district “Fisherman’s Wharf” is ideal for relaxation. This is a nightlife district with restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafés.
The surrounding area of San Francisco also has a lot to offer. For example, a trip by rental car to Napa or the Sonoma Valley is worthwhile. These are two well-known wine-growing areas near San Francisco. The Muir Woods National Monument with its sequoias is definitely worth a visit.
Half Moon Bay is located approximately 40 kilometers south of San Francisco. This small town is famous for the beach of the same name. It is located in a bay framed by impressive rocks. If you drive 15 kilometers further south with your rental car, you will reach the Point Reyes National Seashore reserve. It lies on a triangular peninsula, at the far end of which is the Point Reyers lighthouse. As this point of the peninsula was known for its frequent fog, this lighthouse was put into operation in 1879. If you have enough time, you should definitely rent a car and visit the bay and the lighthouse.
Anyone who comes to Los Angeles must visit the Hollywood district. This symbol of the American film industry was founded at the end of the 19th century and incorporated into Los Angeles in 1903. In the 1920s, Hollywood became the capital of the film industry. The letters of the Hollywood Sign that stand above the city in the Hollywood Hills are world-famous. The city of Santa Monica is located on the west coast of Los Angeles County. It lies on a steep coast and offers an excellent view of the Pacific Ocean. With a rental car, the visitor from Los Angeles can quickly reach Santa Monica, about 25 kilometers away.
The district of Venice, which has belonged to Los Angeles since 1925, is located directly on the Pacific coast. Its 4.5 km long sandy beach merges with the Santa Monica beach in the south. Venice Beach is extremely popular with locals and tourists all year round. The beach promenade, the boardwalk, is lined with stalls of all kinds. It is a meeting point for street musicians, artists, painters, fortune tellers, but also for the drug scene. On the beach itself, you can admire athletes from various disciplines such as volleyball and basketball, bodybuilding or tennis. Special paths and halfpipes are available for cyclists, inline skaters, and skateboarders. There is always something to see at Venice Beach.
Miami Beach and Downtown Miami will be visited by many tourists. But this southern U.S. state has much more to offer – the Everglades, for example. This unique landscape lies in the very south of the peninsula. Incidentally, it also supplies a large part of the drinking water for Miami. Part of the Everglades is protected as a national park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Everglades consist of a river that is up to 60 kilometers wide, but only a few centimeters deep and covered with grass. There you can admire fish, birds, turtles, and alligators up close.
Orlando, 350 kilometers from Miami, is very popular among tourists. The Walt Disney theme parks and Universal Studios are located there. Orlando is also a green city. There are 17 city parks there. Numerous historical buildings, monuments, and beautiful places invite you to visit it. The city is also a good address for a shopping tour. Or how about a trip to Tallahassee, the capital of Florida? The city is approximately 760 kilometers from Miami – not a real distance by American standards. Tallahassee was founded in 1824 as the state capital because one could not agree on one of the existing cities.