How to rent a car in the USA

Today we’re taking a road trip across the USA! Well, almost. You’re going to learn how to rent a car in the USA and how to avoid paying for all those extra options the agent tries to sell you. Let’s go!

Today’s lesson is a collaboration I’m doing with Lost In The USA, a French site to help you prepare an awesome trip to the United States. Go to, and you can get an audio dialogue plus a list of useful phrases to go with this lesson.


At a lot of rental agencies, you can literally walk around the parking lot and choose the car you want. There are different categories of car, and often, the bigger the car, the bigger the price.

Common types of cars are:

Compact car. By American standards, it’s a small car. If you want something bigger, you can get an intermediate car, or the next sizes up: a standard size, or a full size. Or if you want a small tank, you can rent an SUV, which stands for sports utility vehicle.

The car rental agent will ask you:

“What type of car would you like?” which sounds like /whuh taïpuh car wuhdjuh laïk?/ (watch this week’s SEwC episode to hear it!)

If you want to know prices, you can ask “How much is a ….?” :  “How much is a compact car?”

And be sure you know what’s included in the price they tell you.


Car rental companies are very clever. You see an advertisement “$9.99 per day.” You rent a car for 10 days, and your final bill is like $200! Now I’m not a math teacher, but…. $9.99 x 10… ???

What happened? Fees & taxes. Careful, because prices in the USA are indicated without taxes.

So if the advertisement says $9.99 per day, that’s the cost just for the car. The agency is then going to add: State sales tax–it’s different in each state. In Florida, it’s 6%, but in California, it’s 7.25%, and some cities add their own taxes too.

They add a Vehicle License & Recovery Fee, generally $2-$5 per day, to finance the price the rental company pays to register the car with the government.

They can add other taxes, depending on the state or city where you rent your car. For example, a tire & battery fee, a tire & battery fee to pay to destroy old tires & batteries. Maybe a Convention Center fee or Stadium fee, to help finance the construction of a local convention center or stadium.

If you rent your car at the airport, you may have Customer Facility Charges, Parking Surcharges, and Concession Recovery Fees. Basically, it’s extra money you pay for the convenience of renting a car at the airport.

If you see a lot of strange fees on your bill, you can ask “What is the customer facility charge?” or “What is this fee for?”

To be sure you really MUST pay it, ask “Is it a mandatory charge?”  Because car rental agents are notorious for trying to sell you LOTS of extra options.


Now the fun part: accepting or rejecting the agent’s extra options. The first thing they’ll probably offer you is Collision Damage Waiver.  It covers you in case of accident or damage to the car.

You’ll hear “Do you want to add Collision Damage Waiver insurance, for just $29.99 per day?” or in real spoken English /duhyuh wanna add collision damage waiver insurance fuhr jus twenny nine naïnny nine uh day?/

This is NOT required and your normal car insurance may include rental cars. Check to be sure, and bring a copy of your insurance policy with you. Because some agents will indeed try to convince you that you must take the collision damage waiver insurance.

If you don’t want it, say “No thanks, my car insurance covers it. It says so here,” and show them your insurance policy, translated into English.

Then they might ask you “Do you want to add an additional driver?” In spoken English, it sounds like  /duhyuh wanna ad uhnuh dishunuhl driver?/ Many car companies include your spouse–your husband or wife–as additional driver for free.

So you can tell them “My husband (or wife) will drive the car too. Are spouses included as additional drivers without extra fees?” This way you show them you know that it’s common practice. You are a smart tourist!

They might offer Roadside Assistance. “Would you like roadside assistance?” It sounds like /wuhdjuh laïk roh dside uhssistance?/ If you have a flat tire, you lock your keys in your car, or run out of gas on the road, the agency sends you help. Not obligatory, but generally not too expensive.


When you pick up your car, it will already have gas in it. In American English “gas” is what you put in your car to make it run. The Britsh say “petrol”, we say “gas.”

So the agent will tell you “The car’s already got half a tank of gas in it”, which sounds like /thuh car zalready got haffuh tankuh gas innit/.

And they’ll ask what you want to do when you return the car: bring it in filled, or bring it in empty and let the agency fill it up.

They’ll ask “Do you want to return it to us with half a tank?” which sounds like /duhyuh wanna ruhturn it toowus wih thaffuh tank?/

Or “Do you want us to refill it for you?” /duhyuh wannus tuh reefill it for you?/

And you can say “We’ll return refilled halfway.” or “You can refill it.”

Be sure to hear how these expressions sound in real spoken English! Watch the lesson here:


Have you ever taken a roadtrip in the USA? Did you rent a car?

Tell us your travel stories in the comments! I’d love to hear about your impressions of my home country!

Don’t forget to go to the site Lost In The USA, to get an audio dialogue for renting a car, and a phrase list to help you!

Now, it’s time to hit the road, Jack!

Thanks for watching, I’m Christina and I’ll see you next time!

P.S. Want to follow me on my adventures in the USA this summer? I’m sharing video “Postcards From The States” a few times a week on my Facebook page., it’s like you’re here with me!

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