BY JOEY FERNANDEZ Contributing columnist
Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line:
My family and I plan to take a summer trip across the state. We are going to rent a car but I'm wondering if all rental companies are the same. With the price of gas we definitely want something affordable. Do you recommend any company or have any advice for us?
Summer is here and gasoline prices have dropped for the 10th week in a row, according to AAA. This just may be the perfect time for a road trip! Better Business Bureau recommends tips for renting a car without breaking the bank.
In 2011, BBB received 3,773 complaints against the auto renting and leasing industry. Many of the complaints were a result of billing and contracting issues. When it comes to navigating the rental car process there are many little details that oftentimes leave consumers confused as they eagerly wait to get on the road.
"Even though you're excited to hit the road, take the time to inspect the car and ask questions," notes Blair Loony, CEO for the Central California Better Business Bureau. "Car rentals can make any trip easier, but make sure you know your options, such as additional add-ons, before signing on the dotted line."
BBB recommends the following tips to avoid overspending when looking to rent a car:
* Shop around and look out for hidden charges. There are several budget travel websites that can give a good scope of what's out there pricewise. Make sure to follow up with the rental car websites directly to see if you can snag an even cheaper rate. Always remember, though, that if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't fall for the low-ball offer and make sure to always clarify which taxes, surcharges and other fees you'll be expected to pay. Many states have additional fees for drivers under age 25 or for multiple drivers.
* Opt for a smaller car. If you don't need a lot of leg room or trunk space, go for the smaller car. Oftentimes, the salesperson will steer you in the direction of an upgrade for "only a few extra dollars" because the smaller economy cars are in high demand. Just say no, and stick to the smaller car (or smile politely and ask for a free upgrade).
* Ask lots of questions. Make sure that you understand where the "unlimited mileage" rates apply. Some rental car companies have restrictions and only apply the mileage to certain states.
* Gas up and be on time. Many times, car rental companies will ask if you want to prepay for gas. It's not always necessary and it's rarely the best deal. Don't forget to refill the tank before returning the car, and make sure to return on time. Some rental car companies will charge an extra day for being late. Make sure to know their policy for early and late returns, and call if you get stuck in traffic.
* Bring your own car seat and GPS. If you're going to be traveling with children or fear that you'll get lost, make sure to bring your own car seat and GPS. No need to pay for the daily fee for these items if you have them at home.
For more consumer tips you can trust, visit cencal.bbb.org.
-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.