9 Rental Car Epic Fails and What You Can Learn From Them

Rental Car Fails- Agirlsguidetocars

We Made These Rental Car Mistakes So You Don’t Have To.

The great thing about renting cars is it gives you a chance to take a very long test drive. It’s just you and the car tooling along the highway. Or driving around the city. No sales person in the seat next to you telling you where to turn—or telling you how to turn on the headlights.

And that, dear readers, is the big downside of renting cars. All of those unfamiliar vehicles have their own idiosyncrasies. The headlight control is in a different place. The windshield wipers. The seat controls.

That can be part of the fun—so long as you don’t suddenly need the headlights or wipers while driving 70 mph on an unfamiliar highway.

That’s what happened to me as I drove through central Florida on a sunny afternoon—until the storm rolled in. It took less than 5 minutes for the skies to go from bright blue to darkest black, then open with torrential rains. As I pushed buttons and turn knobs trying to get the lights on and the wipers going, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I should have figured out where all of the important controls are before I ever left the rental car lot.

Here are eight more real-life rental car fails and advice on how to avoid making the same mistakes the next time you rent a car.

Rental Car Mistakes -- Not Know How To Take Out The Keys.

Rental car mistake: not knowing how to take out the keys. Photo: Christine Tibbetts

The Key Removal Epic Fail

This one also happened to me. Several years ago, I picked up a rental car at the airport in Detroit and drove to the hotel. Along the way, I drank a large coffee to help keep myself awake. By the time I pulled into the hotel I had to GO, if you know what I mean.

I stopped the car, said a silent prayer of gratitude that hotels always have a restroom off the lobby and turned off the car. Only to find that I could not remove the key. It was stuck. I opened the glove box only to find the manual was missing. I Googled it on my phone. Then I called the rental car company, where the not very helpful person suggested I Google it. Finally, I called my husband, a car guy. He said that some cars require you to push in on the key to release it. That worked. And just in the nick of time.

How to Avoid This Fail

The new keyless ignitions with push button start and stop make it unlikely you will experience this epic fail. But nevertheless, turn the car on and back off and remove the key before you leave the rental car lot. That way, you will have someone nearby to ask for help if you can’t figure out how to do it.

Rental Car Mistakes - Not Knowing Where The Gas Tank Is.

The Gas Tank Epic Fail

Here we have three rental car mistakes in one:

  1. The gas tank search. This common challenge involves pulling into the gas station and not knowing where the gas access is—driver’s side or passenger side?
  2. The gas tank lock. This is the challenge of finding the secret to opening the gas tank so you can add the gas.
  3. This is the potentially costly problem of not knowing what kind of gas you’re sending to the tank. That happened to Desiree Miller when she was driving a borrowed Mercedes that takes diesel fuel a few years ago. That’s the green handle on the gas pump. Usually. Turns out it wasn’t the case at the BP station where she stopped. She ended up unknowingly pumping regular gas into the diesel car. Not good (often the entire engine will have to be replaced).

How to Avoid These Epic Fails

Finding the gas tank is easy if you know the secret. There’s a tiny icon of a gas pump on the dash of cars. It has an arrow on the left side or right side. It points to the side of the car where you’ll find the gas tank door on that car.

Opening the gas tank can be a bigger challenge. The best approach is to add that to the list of things you check before driving off the rental car lot. That way, you can ask one of the experts there. Otherwise, you may be Googling that while sitting at the gas pump.

As for the diesel vs. regular fuel? Well, read the fine print on the pump before you stick the nozzle into the tank!

Rental Car Mistakes - Overpaying

Photo: Pixabay

Overpaying Epic Fail

Cathy Kopf learned the hard way that convenience doesn’t always equal savings. When a villa rental agency promised a great rate if she also let the agency book her rental car, she agreed. Ultimately, though, the price turned out to be higher than she could have booked on her own.

How to Avoid This Epic Fail

Do the research on your own before agreeing to someone else’s “great rate.”

Missing the Deal Epic Fail

This happened to Sarah Pittard. When she failed to pick up her rental car on the appointed day to get $400 long weekend rate she had booked, she was shocked to find the price had jumped to $1200. She thought that booking the deal with her credit card would hold the price, no matter when she picked up the car during that long weekend.

How to Avoid this Epic Fail

Read the fine print!

Car Seat Safety

Grandkids are all buckled up in car seats and booster. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

The Bring Your Own Epic Fail

Hannah Rinaldi and her husband didn’t want to drag two bulky car seats with them when they went on vacation, so they decided to rent car seats from the rental car company. “The car seats they gave us were brand new and beautiful but had no instructions for installation. The rental place wouldn’t install them due to ‘insurance reasons.’ We ended up securing them the old-fashioned way with the seat belts because the latch system was so confusing. It took us way longer than if we’d brought our own!”

How to Avoid This Epic Fail

Bring your own.

The No Rental Car Epic Fail

This is one Meagan Wristen learned the hard way. It’s usually not a problem to walk up to a rental car counter and get a car as needed. Not necessarily so in Hawaii. When she got to the rental counter in Kauai, they were out of cars!

How to Avoid This Epic Fail

Book ahead! You don’t have to pay for the car until you pick it up, but booking ahead means you’ll have a car to pick up.

Rental Car Epic Fails


Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the TravelingMom LLC companies, TravelingMom.com,... More about Cindy Richards