Improve Your Odds of Getting a Safe Rental Car Abroad


As long as auto safety standards in some countries fall short of United Nations criteria, there may be limits to what can be done to get the safest car available. But there are ways to weed out the worst.

PICK UP IN DAYLIGHT Diana M. Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel, tells of clients who arrived in the evening at the airport in St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, to discover that their reserved rental car had a missing taillight and other safety problems. Worse yet, it broke down 45 minutes from the hotel.

“Plan to pick up your car during the day to allow time to inspect the vehicle,” she said. “If that is not possible, have the hotel pick you up at the airport, and pick up the car the next day.”

DON’T BE CHEAP Rochelle Sobel, founder of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, a nonprofit group, said travelers too often aim to rent the least expensive vehicle.

“It’s an I’m-on-vacation mentality,” Ms. Sobel said. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘I’m going to buy a car with as many safety features as possible,’ but then they rent the smallest, cheapest car available,” she said. “You need to keep the same safety standards as at home.”

Her organization developed Road Travel Reports, with safety information for more than 100 countries.

INSPECT THE CAR On arrival at a rental car location, inspect the vehicle to make sure it has the features you requested and to see how well it is maintained. If it is not the model you reserved, insist on getting that car or one with similar safety features, Ms. Sobel said.

Before leaving the lot, make sure that the lights, mirrors, windshield wipers and brakes work and that tires — including a spare — are properly inflated and have sufficient tread. Check oil and all other fluid levels.

CHOOSE MAJOR BRANDS “We advise our clients to choose major brands when booking car rental reservations,” said Michael Steiner, an executive vice president of Ovation Corporate Travel, a travel management company.

“A small, local operation may only have a limited inventory,” Mr. Steiner said, “but a larger entity will have a larger fleet or another location nearby with a greater selection.”

DON’T RENT Many travel professionals advise that instead of renting, clients hire a well-established car service — particularly in remote areas where challenges like poor road conditions exist.

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