Dear PoPville – Car rental suggestions/advice/recommendations

Photo by PoPville flickr user AggieMAB

“Dear PoPville,

I don’t have A/C in my car and basically have been stuck to early morning or night driving to cope! I would like to rent a car for a couple of weeks to use locally and possibly take a 3 hour (or so) road trip out of town preferably as a reprieve from this heat.

Hoping someone out there can give me some advice about finding a cheap, reliable rental. The smaller the car, the better…save me some gas and hopefully do a tad bit less environmental damage.”

41 Comment

  • Join zipcar.

  • It’s gotten a lot harder to find cheap rental cars as companies have slashed their fleet sizes, meaning they have fewer cars to rent while charging more. But it can be done.

    1. Priceline. Before you bid, go to or to see successful bids from other people. Use as a guide.

    2. Hotwire sometimes has pretty good rates, often better than what you can expect to get via Priceline bidding.

    3. Check Kayak or the other travel sites for the going rates.

    4. Go to rental companies’ Web sites to check if they have any specials. A lot of them do, especially for longer-term rentals like yours. Also, check for an aggregated list of online coupon codes.

    5. I’ve found that picking up a car from DCA is cheaper than picking up from an in-city location.

  • Agreed- it’s usually cheaper to pick up a car from DCA. I would definitely try using rental car co. and hotwire.

  • I’ve often found that picking up from Union Station is much cheaper than DCA….

  • Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to get the A/C fixed in your car?

    • That’s assuming the person even has A/C installed in the vehicle. Could be a older model or vintage car. Some basic, standard newer model cars don’t have A/C as well.

      • Yep..person (that’s me) doesn’t have a system installed in the vehicle. That was the first thing I checked. One of the ways I got this car so cheaply.

        I’m not a huge wimp but I survived last summer with it in Ct. but DC has proven tougher. Unfortunately, I can’t do everything walking or on public transportation.

        Zipcar just wouldn’t be practical. I just need a temporary break!

        • “Zipcar just wouldn’t be practical.” ??? how do you figure? it’s the most practical option out there. pick up a car a block from your house and go…

          • it’s not practical for a road trip, which is part of what the OP wanted. it’s cheaper than a rental for a couple hours (especially if you use it frequently for that purpose) but it adds up fast to take it for more than a day.

          • Plus, I believe, there are mileage limits with a zipcar. They’re great for getting around town and the occasional daytrip out of the city, but the program isn’t designed for an extended rental.

          • Looked into it…I have a car and I just want one for 10-14 days.

            Zipcar is too expensive and has mileage limits. Would be great if I needed a car occasionally year-round but then I’d just use public transport or bike/walk.

    • I read the OP as not having an AC system at all. If it’s just blowing warm instead of cold, yes, definitely cheaper to get it fixed! A simple coolant recharge might be all that’s needed, they can do it themselves in 5 minutes with a $30 kit from Autozone.

      • Yep…just replied above. No AC system…first thing I looked into. Installing one would cost more than my car is worth!

  • 1. Costco has discounts on car rentals (check their travel website). Many rental agencies also have military or gov’t discounts as well. See what you qualify for and it can save you a BUNDLE.

    2. Although I’d recommend having comprehensive insurance coverage, don’t get the rental agency insurance if you can avoid it. Rental insurance can double the cost! Your own policy may cover you if you have comprehensive on your car, or else one of your credit cards may cover you if it’s used to pay for the car. Check your policies.

    3. Go to BWI or National instead of Union Station, it’s usually cheaper. I think DC has ‘tourist’ taxes on things like hotels and rental cars.

    4. Check rental agency websites for deals and book online – it’s almost always cheaper than just walking up to the counter, even if you do it 5 minutes before you drive to the rental counter.

    5. If you really want it that long, make sure you’re comparing weekly rates.

    • I agree with your rec on Costco-usually the deals are way better when you go through Costco to book a car at dca. However, I think renting through costco technically requires you to be a member (you don’t need member card to book the rental, but I think you are supposed to show your membership card to the rental company). I wasn’t a member and never had a problem, but it’s a risk to be aware of.

  • Go on and put in your location and car size. It will let you compare deals.

  • Renting a car from Avis at DCA is surprisingly cheap – i think it was like $30/day after taxes, versus $60+ at Union Station.

    • ah

      Or try enterprise. Doesn’t DCA jack you with all sorts of on-airport fees?

      I just compared Avis at DCA with Avis in upper Northwest, at the latter was about $200 cheaper for a 2-week rental.

  • Pretty sure a 3 hour drive in any direction will get you the same amount of heat right now.

    • Not true. We spent the weekend in West Virginia about 3 hours west of here and it was about 15 degrees cooler.

    • Hoping to “head for the hills” with lots of trees, shade and waterfalls (: (Rainbows and unicorns would be nice too). Might be more of needing a mental break.

      • If you don’t know where you’re going yet, I’d suggest Blackwater Falls in WV. Gor-ge-ous. And much cooler.

    • Not true. To the west you can reach Deep Creek Lake in just over three hours, and the temperature up there is typically 15 degrees cooler than in the District. Today’s high? 82 degrees.

      The temperature in Ocean City MD is typically 5-10 degrees cooler than in the District.

  • zipcar. you can get cheaper daily rates from rental car agencies, but zipcar includes gas! which if you’re going 3 hours away will really add up. plus, it also includes insurance so if you were going to get that anyway it saves you even more. it’s also insanely more convenient and you’re not stuck to returning it when the rental office is open. the only thing to watch out for is the mileage limit. it still might end up being cheaper, but if you’re going farther away than say Philly, check how many miles you’ll drive.

  • andy

    Check on It’s a good comparative site. BUT You’re seriously burning cash though if you keep the car for many, many days.

    Remember that last september was the hottest on record, so it could be a couple MONTHS before we get entirely out of the 90-degree-plus heat.

    Maybe only get it for the weekends if you want to get out of town, and commute by air-conditioned public transit of some kind. That’s what the wife and I do.

  • andy

    The thread is asking a good question i think should be its own post: where to go outside DC to cool down? (Or in DC for that matter. Though I think the answer of course in DC is sit in the kiddie pool at Upshur until your kid’s lips turn blue because he doesn’t want to get out, ever.)

  • Buy a new car, with AC. I’ve heard craigslist is good for that type of thing.

  • Zipcar. I belong to it and rent cars through Hotwire regularly and it will be far cheaper for this type of use.

  • Rent a car from Priceline if/when you take your trip. That makes perfect sense. In all likelihood, you can get something for $25/day or less there, especially on the weekends. But why would you rent a car for a full 3 weeks? Does OP drive every day, or enough that doing the early morning/late evening trips is inadequate to satisfy most driving needs? If it’s just an as-needed thing, join Zipcar.

  • How would Zipcar be cheaper for a what I’m assuming is at a minimum, a 6 hour rental? Don’t forget, you have to pay for the time that the car sits there, once you get to your destination, as well as the return travel time.

    Of course, if you are under 25 and need to purchase rental insurance and you already have a Zipcar account, Zipcar may be more cost effective.

  • I’ve regularly gotten deals through Priceline at DCA for $13-$16 per day (on weekend rentals). Then I buy insurance through Access America at $9 per day (though there may be better deals out there).

  • Open the windows. In the winter, you’ll be begging for sunny 90 degree days.

    And get off my lawn.

  • If you’re renting by the week, try Enterprise. It will likely be an Aveo, but it will do the job. Get online quotes but also call the local office. In this case dont’ do Zipcar.

  • I use Travelocity to do a cross check for who has the cheapest price. All things considered I usually go with the one who has the best price AND who is offering the maximum amount of bonus frequent flier miles on my credit card. Sometimes the rental place website will have a cheaper price that what the amalgamating sites will show. Don’t forget to use any discounts you might be offered (through your union, a frequent flier plan, etc.) Noticing prices are higher than the last two years.

  • If you’re a USAA member, they have great discounts at a lot of the major rental companies. Other orgnaizations like AAA might have similar discounts.

  • I have zipcar and for more than a 2 day trip that’s over 180 miles away, it isn’t worth it. That is the daily milage limit, and the cars start at about $70/day. So personally I only use it for 2-day trips where I know I won’t go over the mile limit. Any further, or any longer of a trip and it’s not worth it. It is nice that it includes gas and insurance though.

  • One option would be Zipcar for commuting and rent for a day or two from a rental company for the road trip. Discount codes for Zipcar are pretty common. I think I found one on Yelp last year that waived the registration fee and included a $50 driving credit. A lot of employers and some apartment buildings also have deals with Zipcar. For the rental companies, google coupon codes, you can get amazing deals. Last year I rented a compact for one day out of Union Station for $22 including all the fees, just had to pay for gas on top of that.

    For several weeks, most of the big rental car companies offer long term rentals (month or more) at a reduced price. They don’t usually advertise the rates online (and if they do, a human might be able to get you a better deal), so you should call and talk to someone. I did this through Enterprise when I was on a campaign last year and it worked out well. The non-airport locations actually tend to have better prices, because they don’t have additional airport taxes.

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