How to Pick a Rental Car for Your Next Trip

Dad with brown hair wearing a blue and red plaid shirt, mom wearing a white long-sleeve shirt in the front seat of a car wearing seatbelts and two kids in the back seat wearing seatbelts. / monkeybusinessimages

Who Is Traveling in Your Car?

When selecting a rental car, prioritize its size and consider the total number of passengers, including occasional travelers. If you are planning a trip with your spouse and two children, a car with seating for four and generous trunk space should suffice. However, if you anticipate other friends or family joining your journey, factor that into your choice of rental. Rental cars are generally classified by size, each catering to a specific passenger capacity.

• Economy/Compact: Two adults, two children

• Mid-Size: Four adults, one child

• Full-Size/Premium/Luxury/SUV: Five adults

• Hybrid and Electric: Two adults, two children

Two bright yellow suitcases, a bright blue suitcase and a bright pink suitcase in the back of a red SUV with the hatch open. / LightFieldStudios

What Are You Bringing With You?

Consideration of cargo space is also crucial when selecting a car to rent. While a brief solo business trip may entail minimal luggage, a cross-country journey with a family of five demands significantly more storage. Assess all items you plan to bring along to gauge your space requirements. Remember, a car's luggage capacity may not accommodate oversized items. Typically, rental categories correspond to specific suitcase quantities as follows:

  • Economy: One large, one small
  • Compact: One large, two small
  • Mid-Size: One large, two small
  • Full-Size: Two large, three small
  • Premium: Three large, two small
  • Luxury: Four large, two small
  • SUV: Five large
  • Hybrid and Electric: One large, two small
A woman wearing a straw hat and a striped shirt and a young girl wearing a striped shirt looking out the driver's side window of a white car parked in a landscape with hills and a body of water in the background. / yuran-78

Where are you Going?

Your destination will also play a large role in the decision-making process. If your travels primarily take you through cities, opt for the smallest rental car that comfortably fits your passengers and belongings. Compact vehicles are more maneuverable in tight city spaces and generally offer better fuel efficiency for stop-and-go traffic.

Alternatively, if trip journey leads you to the beach or the mountains for skiing, you may prefer a crossover or SUV for more luggage room to accommodate extra equipment. If you’re traveling internationally, bear in mind that European rentals are often smaller compared to their American counterparts in the same categories. Take time to research the available vehicle sizes to determine if you need to opt for a larger size than you would typically choose in the U.S.

A person's hand with their pointer finger on the gps touch screen on the car dashboard. / oatawa

What Features Does Your Car Need to Have?

When renting a car for a road trip, you might want specific amenities for enhanced comfort, like the smartphone connectivity on the dashboard interface while on a business trip. When shopping, check the company’s website for a full list of in-car amenities and features.  GPS navigation, internet hotspots, satellite radio, and child safety seats are just a few of the important features that should be considered.

A smiling woman wearing a red shirt handing back a key fob to an employee at a car rental counter. / martin-dm

Where Will You Get Your Rental Car?

Although an airport may offer car rental services, it's worth exploring off-site options. Depending on the location and timing, off-airport rental locations frequently provide a wider selection, and you're less likely to encounter lengthy queues. Additionally, researching offsite locations provides a contingency plan, even if your initial intention is to rent at the airport. AAA members typically qualify for rental discounts, no matter where they pick up their vehicle.

A young, smiling woman with brown hair looking out the driver's rolled down window of a white car with the car's key fob ring around one of the fingers of her right hand. / Maridav

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