The Ultimate Rental Car Checklist (Before You Drive Off)

When you rent a car, you should become familiar with all aspects of the vehicle before you leave the lot. Here are 10 things to check before you drive off:

  1. Start the Car
  2. Turn on the Air Conditioning or Heat
  3. Look in the Glove Compartment
  4. Check the Gas Gauge
  5. Familiarize Yourself with Safety Features
  6. Inspect the Exterior
  7. Pop the Trunk
  8. Try Out the Lights
  9. Adjust the Seat and Mirrors
  10. Test the Entertainment and Navigation Systems

When traveling, arriving at your destination can mean rushing to the rental car counter and wanting to dash to the car to get on the road. But before you take off, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the rental vehicle. You don’t want to be fumbling for the controls and adjusting your settings while driving — especially when you’re navigating a new vehicle and unfamiliar roads. Before you rent a car, make sure you have adequate coverage, and run through this checklist before driving off the lot to help ensure a safe and comfortable ride:

1. Start the Car

  • Do you need a key to start the car, or is it a push-button ignition?
  • Listen for any unusual sounds from the engine. If you hear anything out of the ordinary, bring it to the attention of the rental car company.
  • Look for any warning signals on the dash, such as the check engine light. Again, alert a rental agent if any warning lights appear.

2. Turn on the Air Conditioning or Heat

  • Familiarize yourself with the location of the controls.
  • Adjust the vents to your preferred position.
  • Are the temperature and fan settings working properly?
  • Sniff for any unusual odors. If there’s an unpleasant scent in the car — or one that is triggering any allergies — ask to change vehicles.

3. Look in the Glove Compartment

  • Make sure there’s an owner’s manual in the vehicle. If not, and you have a question about how something works, ask the rental agent or do a quick online search by make and model for the answer.
  • Is there a registration card for the vehicle?
  • Do you have the rental agency’s address and emergency phone number?

4. Check the Gas Gauge

  • Look at the gas gauge. Is the gas tank full? If not, tell the rental agent. Most rental car companies require customers to return the vehicle with the same amount of fuel as when they picked it up, Investopedia says.1
  • On which side of the car is the gas tank?
  • Learn how the gas-tank door opens. Is there a release button or lever inside the car?

5. Familiarize Yourself with Safety Features

  • Where are the cruise control settings? Does the car have standard or adaptive cruise control?
  • Familiarize yourself with features like the parking brake and back-up cameras, if the vehicle has them. Does it have a blind-spot detection system? If so, learn how to use it, as these systems may differ depending on the make and model of the vehicle, U.S. News & World Report notes.2 If you’re not sure what a safety sensor means or how to use a particular feature, ask the rental agent or check the owner’s manual.

6. Inspect the Exterior

  • Document and photograph any pre-existing dents, scrapes or other damage.
  • Check that the license plate tags are current.
  • Are the tires properly inflated and do they show even wear?

7. Pop the Trunk

  • Is there a trunk release on the key fob, dashboard or only the trunk itself?
  • Is there a fully inflated spare tire, jack and lug wrench?
  • Is there an ice scraper or snow brush, in case you encounter winter weather?

8. Try Out the Lights

  • Do the headlights come on automatically or do you need to manually turn them on and off?
  • Where are the headlight, high beam, hazard light and interior light controls?
  • Is there an indicator light for your turn signals on your dashboard or on your side mirrors?

9. Adjust the Seat and Mirrors

  • Adjust your seat position so that you easily reach the pedals and have clear sight lines all around.
  • Is your seat comfortable? Adjust the angle of the seat back and the lumbar support.
  • Do the side mirrors fold in?
  • Adjust the side and rear-view mirrors to your preferred position.

10. Test the Entertainment and Navigation Systems

  • Find the USB ports and plug in any devices before you drive.
  • Connect your phone via Bluetooth before driving; some vehicles won’t make that connection while the car is in motion.
  • Familiarize yourself with the sound system controls and adjust to your preferred settings before you set out.
  • Does the car have GPS? Enter your destination before leaving.
  • Remember to never use your handheld smartphone while driving.

By running through these 10 items, you can help make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Who is Answer Financial?

Sometimes rental cars can be fully or partially covered through your auto insurance policy. At Answer Financial, we’re happy to talk with you about the right insurance for your individual needs. Call 1-888-258-5101 to talk about auto insurance with one of our insurance experts now or visit our site to quickly compare quotes from over 40+ top-rated insurance companies.