Let's face it – owning a car in New York isn't so common, especially if you live in Manhattan. Since transportation options are widely available and parking is hard to come by and incredibly expensive ($300 per month on the low end and $800 per month on the high end), driving seems like a losing proposition at times. While most locals enjoy time away from the city, renting a car in NYC can be cost prohibitive as well, especially for the average New Yorker.
Why is renting a car in New York so expensive? Space is at a premium in NYC, so storing cars is a challenge. You'll find more people wanting to rent cars than what's available on a lot of occasions, especially at peak times (more on this later). Since most Manhattanites don't own cars, there can be a mad dash of people trying to rent cars, on say, Thanksgiving. Just like real estate, supply and demand will drive up prices.
Sure, thousands of New Yorkers rent cars, but they know the ins and outs of the system and manage to get the best deals. (We're a thrifty bunch.) So, should you rent a car in New York City? Read my guide first – it's filled with car rental tips so you know what to expect.
Travel to get the best car rental price
Like living expenses in Manhattan, car rentals cost three or four times what you would pay in other US locations, or even areas outside the city. The most economical place for renting a car is New Jersey. Look for locations near Fort Lee and Rutherford, because you can take New Jersey Transit to pick up the car.
On a weekend, an average rental in Manhattan will cost in the $130 per day range, and in New Jersey, that same car will cost in the $40 per day range (depending on what model car you rent). Weekday rentals may cost less, so if you need to rent a car Monday through Thursday, you might be able to do it economically in Manhattan, especially in winter. Of course, no matter where you rent, taxes, fees, and insurance are always additional, but these car rental tips and tricks will help you save when possible. Bear in mind that many of the car rental locations outside the city are not open late or on Sundays. Check to be sure you can return the vehicle and leave the keys in a drop box. If not, you'll have to arrange your trip based on the hours they are open.
Try non-traditional car rental options
Besides the most popular rental companies (Avis, Hertz, Budget, Alamo, etc.) car shares have become increasingly useful for city residents. Rent these cars by the minute or hour, rather than by the day. Believe it or not, a lot of New York locals rent for a few hours if they need to transport something oversized, or if they need to travel deep into an outer borough (where public transit is limited), or even to New Jersey.
I suggest looking at ZipCar (countless New Yorkers use it and swear by it) and Mint. These companies have mileage maximums (usually less than 200 miles per day), so they're good mainly for quick trips around town, moving in NYC, or short excursions outside the city. I don't recommend using these for weekends away.
Rent locals' cars by the hour through GetAround and Turo. Although the owners and vehicles will probably be in New Jersey, pricing is competitive and the owner will usually deliver the car to a Jersey transit station. Depending on where you're traveling, these two car share programs could be incredibly convenient (or inconvenient).
Enterprise, which is one of the most well-known car rental companies, now offers a car share too, with rentals by the hour, day, or overnight. Loyal customers can continue to give their business to Enterprise even when they need to rent a car for a short trip.
Pay in advance to save on NYC car rentals
Always aim to reserve your rental car in advance so you have choices. With some car rental companies such as Avis, you have the option of paying ahead. Paying in advance usually comes with a discount too, but you won't be able to cancel without penalty should your plans change. You can save as much as 15 or 20 percent off the total cost of your rental by paying ahead. New York City car rentals are expensive, so take advantage of the discount!
Plan ahead for peak car rental season
Weekends, holidays, and the summer season make car rentals harder to come by, hence certain dates drive up prices. Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day are probably some of the busiest times for car rentals in the New York area because scores of New Yorkers escape the heat of the city and head for the beach.
Book your car rental months ahead if you have plans to leave town. In this situation, you probably won't want to pay ahead, just in case your plans change. While you'll pay the higher price, you will have a guaranteed car, and won't be stuck in the concrete jungle while all your friends are in the Hamptons.
Don't forget about car rental insurance
Since you don't own a car, you might not have auto insurance. Be prepared to pay a surcharge each day for insurance in case you're in an accident or the car is vandalized or stolen. Check with your credit card company, because some provide car rental coverage as part of your agreement. Be sure to read the fine print, though, and know exactly what the credit card company will cover.
Look for rental car discounts and coupons
If you're wondering how to get rental car discounts, it's all about where you look. Check Groupon for discounts and use companies like Kayak, Booking Buddy, and carrentals.com to shop and compare prices. Loyalty can also pay off. If you are a loyal customer to any of the big rental car companies and belong to a car rental loyalty program, like Alamo Insiders, sometimes you can upgrade to a larger model car for free.
Whether you're taking a quick trip around town, need a car to drop something off at your self-storage unit, or are going on a longer trip, with these car rental tips you'll be sure to have a successful rental experience.