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Counting pennies at the rental car counter Add to ...

The Labour Day weekend, the last long weekend of the summer, is a bittersweet one.

For our family, it is the last summer road trip. On Friday night, we will pack the car, fill it up with gas and set off to my uncle's farmhouse for three uninterrupted relaxing days of fishing, swimming, and berry picking.

We are planning to drive our own car, which we just got back from the mechanics after some serious troubles. (That is a whole other Home Cents blog post.) But plenty of other Canadians hitting the road this long weekend will be renting a car to get to their destination of choice.

To avoid costly mistakes at the rental-car counter, RentACarNow.com put out these tips they say could save you hundreds of dollars this Labour Day weekend:

1. Don’t miss out on discount codes and special deals.

You might already be eligible for a rental car discount and not even know it. Before you rent, be sure to check major rental car companies' websites and look for their current special discounts.

2. Don’t supersize your rental car.

The thought of driving down the highway in a luxury vehicle, pricey convertible, or giant SUV can be tempting, but resist, especially when a rental-car employee tries to upsell you to a nicer vehicle. Remember those few extra dollars a day, plus the extra taxes and fees, can easily add up to a nice chunk of change over the entire rental period. Plus, renting a larger car than you really need, means paying more for gas — not to mention having a harder time squeezing into parking spots.

3. Secure your car early, but also check for last-minute deals.

Unlike airfare, it's generally quick and easy to cancel a rental-car reservation and rebook it without penalty. That wiggle room can save you major bucks: Reserve your rental car as early as possible, even if you're not totally sure of your exact travel dates. Then, as your vacation approaches, check online to see if rates have changed. If you find a better deal, call and see if you can cancel your existing reservation and make a new reservation at the lower rate.

4. Book off-airport rental cars.

Renting a car at the airport is convenient, but it often comes with the added expense of airport rental-car taxes and extra fees. When booking a car in your hometown, it can be a smart financial move to rent from a neighbourhood location instead of at the airport. Compare the cost of each option, including all fees and taxes. If you find a cheaper rate away from the airport, you can often take a free shuttle or a short taxi ride there and save big money.

5. Check for unlimited mileage.

If you plan to drive a significant distance, ensure that your rental car has unlimited mileage so you can avoid overage charges. Most rental cars include unlimited kilometres, but there are exceptions.

6. Watch out for one-way rentals.

If you can, avoid one-way car rentals. Often there are hefty drop-off fees that go along with a one-way rental. Be fully aware of any extra fees when planning your trip.

7. Ask to waive additional driver/underage fees if needed.

Tell the rental car company about any additional drivers (especially anyone under age 25) who might operate the car other than the person whose name is on the rental agreement. There are often extra fees that go along with extra drivers, but sometimes you can get them waived just by asking, especially if you have rented from that company in the past.

8. Don' t pay for unnecessary conveniences.

It might seem easier, but it's almost always a bad deal to pre-pay for gas or bring it back less than full and pay the inflated fees that the rental car companies charge for gas. If you take a few extra minutes to fill up the tank yourself, you can avoid that inflated price.

9. Avoid paying for insurance from the rental company.

For most people it's unnecessary to purchase insurance at the rental car counter because of pre-existing coverage included with their auto insurance policy or credit card, so make sure to do your insurance research before you pick up the car. Not only is the rental-car employee not an insurance expert, but he or she also has an incentive to sell you insurance, so double check to make sure you don't have more insurance than you need.

10. Save time and money by booking online.

You can almost always find the cheapest rental car rates by booking online rather than by phone or at a rental-car counter. Plus, when you book online, it's simple to compare rental car rates for all the top rental car companies and find the best deal.

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