How to Inspect a Rental Car: What you should know about renting a car

Why should you know how to inspect a rental car? If a car rental company discovers damage to a car, they will bill it to the last customer who had it.

As consumers, we enjoy the quickest possible service without any complications. However, cars are a pricey commodity, and you’re responsible for it when you rent a car. Too many people make the mistake of rushing in to check out rental vehicles, and rush back in, assuming that everything is fine without speaking to a consultant at the car rental company. We recommend that you use our free car rental inspection form to check for any damages before leaving the lot.

How rental works is that when a car rental company discovers damage on a car, the damages are billed to the last customer who had it. For that reason, it is a good idea to learn how to inspect a rental car, so that you avoid being liable for any pre-existing damages.

The good news is that car rental inspection is really simple and only takes a few minutes. 

Before renting a car for the first time, it’s important to find the right rental company for your needs. Follow our tips and helpers to make the right decision. If you have rented cars in the past, use a car rental company that you know and trust. 

Choosing the right company and familiarizing yourself with their regulations and processes will help ensure a good experience without any unexpected niggles. Don’t be shy to ask questions, such as:

  1. Will a consultant be on hand to help with the pre-rental inspection?
  2. How does car rental work if I drop off the keys after hours?
  3. What happens if there’s a dispute?

Unless you’re dropping the car off after hours, insist on completing a rental car inspection form along with a clerk. The company should provide a form or document on which you can note any issues. Otherwise, use our form, after the bump.

car rental inspection

How to inspect a rental car step-by-step

During rental car inspection, both you and the clerk should walk around the car to ensure all scrapes, marks, dings and other damages are marked on the rental car inspection form. All the common impact areas should be carefully checked, including:

  1. Ensure that you have all the necessary paperwork before you leave home and again upon driving out of the car rental lot. 
    1. Valid driver’s license
    2. Credit card in your name. You will give the car rental company authority to debit your card for any incidental charges such as missing fuel, traffic violations, and parking tickets.
  2. Check the car’s exterior for bumps, scratches or dents, focusing on:
    1. Front and back bumper areas, especially on the lower and outer edges.
    2. Side panels, particularly around the wheels.
    3. Doors, especially around the key slots on the door handles.
  3. Inspect the car’s interior. Look for:
    1. Damages to the upholstery, vinyl, or leather.
    2. Any tears or cracks on the dash or consoles.
    3. The car’s owner’s manual, in the event that you need to figure out how something works.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the basics:
    1. Adjust the seats
    2. Ensure you can see every angle from the mirrors.
    3. Test the windshield wipers, heating and cooling systems, and electric windows.
    4. Check the tire pressure, gas, and fluid (oil and water) levels.
    5. Test the brakes, lights, indicators, and warning systems.
    6. Check that you have sufficient fuel and look for a filling station when you drive away from the lot.

How to Return a Rental Vehicle

Plan your time carefully to allow enough time for a car rental inspection when you return the car to the location. If you’re rushed, the company will do its own inspection and you may be held liable for existing damages. 

Depending on the fuel option chosen, you may have to fill up the vehicle before returning to the car rental location. Make sure you use the correct fuel. If you’re unsure, check the owner’s manual.

Complete another car rental inspection form (grab your free copy here), preferably along with a clerk from the car rental company before you hand back the keys and pay the balance.