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Share the Wheel Without Paying for Additional Drivers

So you're about to hit the road on your big vacation --and you're at the rental car counter trying to figure out who is going to drive. 

You want to share the driving but don't want to pay the $10-$13 per-day fee.  After all, these charges can add up quickly, and are often overlooked when calculating the cost of renting the car.

Having the flexibility of a spouse or fellow traveler to get behind the wheel, if needed, is a smart and safe thing to do.

The good news is that with a little research you can avoid paying additional driver fees. 

Before we go any further, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that it’s essential to add any additional drivers to your rental contract. If you skip this step, and a driver other than the one whose name is on the rental contract gets into an accident, you could be in for rude awakening. Any insurance or other damage waiver that you may have had in place could be voided for failing to officially list the other driver, so be forewarned. It’s not worth taking the chance and being socked with a huge bill for totaling a car after the insurance company refuses to pay. 

Policies and fees vary greatly by company, location and situation though, so it’s important to educate yourself beforehand to ensure you don’t end up overpaying.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Location, Location, Location 

If you rent cars only in the state of California, you can probably stop reading now since we have some great news for you. There are no additional driver fees in California at all by law. This goes for all companies, regardless of whether the additional driver is a spouse or someone unrelated to you.

If you are renting in New York, the fee is capped at $3/day, while in Nevada the fee is $10.67/day. In all other states, there are no limitations by law on what the rental companies can charge, so if you can’t avoid the additional driver fee using one of the strategies below, then be sure to check with the rental company on how much they charge.

Policies Vary by Company 

It’s important to keep in mind the policies of each company since not all are created equal: 

Alamo: There is a per day charge for all additional drivers, but if you are a member of Alamo Insiders program (free to join), the fee is waived for one additional driver regardless of relationship. 

Avis/Budget/Enterprise: There is no additional driver fee for a spouse or domestic partner. Other individuals will pay a per day fee. 

Dollar/Thrifty: Both companies typically charge per day for all additional drivers (including spouses). 

Hertz: There is a per day charge for all additional drivers, but if you are a member of Hertz #1 Club (free to join), the fee is waived for a spouse or domestic partner. 

National: There is a per day charge for all additional drivers, but if you are a member of National’s Emerald Club (free to join), the fee is waived for a spouse, domestic partner, or immediate family member who has the same address on their driver’s license as the Emerald Club member. 

Others: For any companies not listed above, please contact the company directly to confirm their policy on additional drivers. What you may save with a discount company may be wiped out by a fee for an additional driver, so it’s important to take this into account when comparing rates and options. 

Benefits of Membership 

The other way to get around having to pay a fee for an additional driver is to use a discount code for an organization you are a member of. The following organizations allow for an additional driver at no charge to their members: 

AAA: Members get a free additional driver at Hertz. 

AARP: Members get a free additional driver at Alamo and Hertz. 

Costco: Members get a free additional driver at Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. 

BJ’s: Members get a free additional driver at Alamo. 

USAA: Members get a free additional driver at Hertz, Avis, and Budget. 

The Wrap-Up  

With a little bit of planning and research it’s possible to avoid paying a fee when you need to add a second driver to your rental contract. Renters in California get a free pass regardless of company, as do spouses or domestic partners when renting from Avis, Budget or Enterprise. If that doesn’t apply to your situation, then you can often avoid the fee by joining one of the frequent renter programs or using a membership discount code. 

Dollar and Thrifty, which are both owned by the same corporate parent, seem to be the only major companies that don’t offer a way around the additional driver fees. The same holds true for the other discount companies as well, so it pays to do your homework before renting. Be sure to calculate all costs before making a decision on which company to rent with.

Jonathan Weinberg is the founder and CEO of AutoSlash.com, a website that automatically applies discounts, and re-books your rental if rates drop.