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Friday, June 19, 2009

Tips for Safe Summer Driving: How to Select a Rental Car

Whether traveling on vacation or for work, you may find yourself having to use a rental car to get around. It may seem like a simple thing, but for your safety, there are a few things that you should keep in mind before selecting a particular make and model to rent.

You might be tempted to splurge and get a bigger or nicer vehicle than you typically drive, but that isn't always the best choice. Keep in mind that you are probably in a strange city and unfamiliar with your route. This probably isn't the best time to go all out on a rental car. If you are going to do a lot of driving, you should probably consider selecting the same make and model that you normally drive or one as close to that model as possible. Trying to figure out where and how to operate various instruments such as windshield wipers, high beams, and cruise control while navigating a busy highway in a strange city could cause problems, especially if you suddenly encounter inclement weather. Handling a larger vehicle than you normally drive while on a narrow, winding country road or a busy city street could cause you problems as well.

If renting a familiar car doesn't work for you, there are several things you should consider when making your selection.

If you don't normally drive one but you find yourself needing to rent a minivan or an SUV, keep this in mind. SUVs and minivans have a higher center of gravity and don't handle sharp curves as well as the smaller car you may be used to. Driving too fast and taking a sharp curve could cause the van or SUV to flip over. Parking an unfamiliar larger vehicle may take some practice.

If saving gas is your thing and you are considering one of the micro-mini cars such as the Mercedes Smart Car or the Toyota Yaris, you should be aware that they can be dangerous. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted crash tests on these cars that revealed that they do a very poor job of protecting the vehicle occupants in a crash. There just isn't enough space between the front of the car and the interior to prevent another vehicle from intruding into the passenger space.

When selecting a car, there are a couple of options that you should be sure to get. Cruise control, when used properly, can help you avoid speeding tickets and save gas at the same time. Just be sure not to use the cruise control in the rain. If offered, a GPS device can be a lifesaver when traveling in unfamiliar territory. Natives in tourist areas such as Orlando have very little patience when following a tourists who is driving slowly while looking for landmarks or road names. Make sure you get a voice activated GPS and that you program any destinations before hitting the road.

If you are crossing the border into Canada or Mexico, your rental car may have an electronic odometer/speedometer that allows you to choose between miles and kilometers. If so, make sure you have the correct setting selected. The typical speed limit on limited access highways in those countries is 100 kilometers per hour or about 60 miles per hour. Using the wrong odometer setting could lead to all kinds of trouble.

Whatever type of vehicle you choose, make sure that you adjust the seats and mirrors and familiarize yourself with the controls before starting the car. If possible, stick to side streets for a bit and get a "feel" for the car before you go out onto a major highway. Drive safely and enjoy your trip.

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