If you want a superb tourist experience in any foreign country — whether in Norway or Nicaragua — it’s best to rely on locals. Local business owners mostly sell to their neighbors, making them accountable and more inclined to offer reliable products. Local restaurants sell tastier food than imported chains, and local boutiques sell more unique merchandise than big chain outlets. Locals even rent better cars for cheaper prices — but the car-renting locals are not as easy to find. Here’s how to do it.
Don’t look for sleek websites.
If you’re planning your next road trip abroad, you may not find local rental agencies with sleek websites. Agency owners in many countries simply don’t have the time or skill to create a website to cater to an international clientele, a relatively small portion of their business. If you do find a website, you may not hear back from an automatic booking system that no one monitors or you may fear that Google Translate isn’t accurate enough to help you get the exact car for your needs.
But like everyone else, many of these same companies are on Facebook, and they’re worth seeking out. Simply search the name of the country or city where you want to pick up a rental along with “car rental” or “rental agency” and you will likely hit upon at least a few solid options.
You may default to Hertz or Avis or another “trusted” international brand, but these companies usually charge more for the same exact cars, sometimes even contracting with local agencies for their supply and upcharging foreign visitors. Rentals are cheaper if you go directly to the source. Plus, you can support a small, local business at the same time instead of filling Hertz’s coffers.
Local agencies may be more accommodating.
If you can only drive automatic transmission and are visiting a country where manuals are standard, if you’re looking for all-terrain vehicles, or if you have any other specific requirements, local agencies may also offer the selection you need. You won’t be competing with other tourists for limited supplies of specific cars, and local customers probably won’t want your automatic or off-roader anyway.
You may still be cautious about arranging details over Facebook, but opening up a direct conversation with someone at the agency, as opposed to submitting a request through an automated system, guarantees you’ll get the exact car you need when you need it. It’s like the difference between talking with a sales representative on the phone and wading through a robotic message machine. It’s just more efficient and reliable to talk to a real person.
Rental agency owners also have a lot of incentive to ensure you have a smooth experience. They are usually happy to rent to foreign tourists, sometimes even excited that their business has attracted interest from across the globe. Feeling pressure to act as a good host in their home country (or recognizing that a positive internet review in English could put them on the map with other visitors), they may even be extra accommodating. Need to keep the car an extra day? They may be able to move their schedule around for you. Arriving late to pick up the car from the agency? They’ll make sure someone is there to meet you in person after hours. Your car broke down? They’ll take care of it and help arrange a private car to get you to your destination.
Be sure to read the fine print.
All of that said, just because you made friends over Facebook, doesn’t mean you can let your guard down when dealing with an unknown company. Try to find third-party information about the agency. Once you do secure a car, be sure to examine the contract closely before signing, examine the vehicle thoroughly for damage before taking it from the lot, and watch out for other hidden scams like bogus cleaning fees that aren’t in the contract.
If nothing else, Facebook serves as a great way to find agencies that wouldn’t otherwise make the first page of Google. Whether you want to save a buck, support a local business, find just the car you need, or finally fulfill your dream of befriending a rental car dealer in a faraway land, Facebook is the place to go.