How Old Do You Need to Be to Rent a Car?

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Young Drivers Can Rent, but They Might Not Like the Price

Renting a vehicle gives you a lot of options, whether you're on vacation or just in need of more hauling capacity for a busy weekend with the kids. Rental agencies traditionally restricted that privilege to drivers 25 and up, meaning younger moms—or anyone deputizing a younger driver to rent the car—were out of luck. That's not the case any longer, as most agencies have opened the door to young drivers. There are restrictions, though, and anyone under 25 can expect to pay "young driver" surcharges that add up quickly.

The Basic Age Requirement

The age requirement for a standard, uncomplicated rental remains 25, because drivers under 25 tend to have more accidents than mature drivers. If you're in this group you probably already know that, because it's also why your insurance costs more. Rental agencies across most states will now also rent to drivers between the ages of 21 and 25, though usually you won't be able to rent costly premium vehicles or anything larger than a standard sedan. Michigan and New York are exceptions to that rule. These states have legislation in place that guarantees the right to a rental for drivers as young as 18.

An Exception for Federal Employees

There is one notable exception to the usual limitations on young renters. If you're in the military or work for the federal government, and you'll be renting a car as part of your job duties, you can rent at the age of 18 anywhere across the country. You will need to prove that you're traveling on official business, so take copies of your orders or the civilian equivalent when you go to the rental counter.

Yeah, There's a Catch or Two

The restriction on what type of vehicles you can rent is an obvious limitation, especially if you're looking for enough space to haul camping gear and multiple kids with car seats. The logic is clear enough, if inconvenient: Young drivers are more accident-prone, and this keeps down both the cost of insurance and the number of potential casualties. There's also an extra daily fee for drivers under the age of 25, which varies by company but usually adds at least $25 per day, and sometimes significantly more, to the cost of your rental. That can add hundreds to the cost of your vacation, so shopping around for the best rate is well worth it unless you get a special deal through work or a loyalty program.

Make Sure You Understand the Charges

The price you'll be quoted online or by telephone usually doesn't include the young driver surcharge, and you may find that taxes and add-ons increase the quoted price dramatically.

For example, rental agencies push pretty strongly to sell you insurance on your rental, even though you may already have coverage through your own auto policy or the credit card you use for the rental.

The card itself is another point to be aware of. Many agencies won't take a debit card, or will only accept them under specific conditions. If you don't have a credit card, you'll need to be aware of those conditions ahead of time. It's also worth noting that the agency will often put a hold on some of the funds on your credit card or in the account linked to your debit, reducing your available cash by hundreds of dollars. If you're traveling on a budget, that might include the money you'd counted on to feed yourself and the kids. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, find out exactly how much the hold amount will be and how long it takes for the funds to be released after you return your rental.