USA car hire guide and deals for 2022

Insider info on how you can hire a car in America from just $33 a day.

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Stretching more than 4,300km from east to west and more than 2,500km from north to south, the US is prime road-tripping territory.

In addition to what's arguably the world's most famous road trip, Route 66, the country serves up a cache of epic drives that take in everything from prairie to ocean.

Here's a guide to hiring a car in The States, including the best car hire deals to drive away with.

Car hire deals in USA


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Compare hire cars and prices in America

Car hire prices vary city by city, with some of the more affordable being out of Los Angeles and some of the more expensive from New York City.

To give you an idea of how to budget, we made a sample search using our rental cars booking engine for a week's hire from Los Angeles, which is a popular starting point. We searched for cars booked two months in advance for drivers 25+ and pulled out the cheapest options per size of car.

All prices were retrieved on 29 November 2018 for a hire from 29 January to 5 February 2019.

Small, economy car

  • Car: Chevrolet Spark
  • Seats: 4
  • Luggage: 1 large bag, 1 small bag
  • Rental company: Dollar
  • Cost: $231.54 for 7 days or $33.07 per day

Medium car

  • Car: Hyundai Accent
  • Seats: 5
  • Luggage: 1 large bag, 1 small bag
  • Rental company: Dollar
  • Cost: $243.27 for 7 days or $34.75 per day

Large car

  • Car: Buick Verano
  • Seats: 5
  • Luggage: 2 large bags, 1 small bag
  • Rental company: Alamo
  • Cost: $295.28 for 7 days or $42.18 per day

Estate car

  • Car: Toyota Rav4
  • Seats: 5
  • Luggage: 3 large bags
  • Rental company: Dollar
  • Cost: $395.95 for 7 days or $56.56 per day

Prices mentioned above were retrieved on 29 November and change constantly.

You'll find big name brands like Avis, Budget, Alamo, and Enterprise throughout the US. Popular pick-up locations for vehicles include:

  • Los Angeles Airport
  • JFK Airport
  • San Francisco Airport
  • Magnificent Mile, Chicago
  • Chicago Airport
  • Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica
  • Midtown, West Sacramento for Route 50
  • Ocean Gateway, Ocean City Maryland for Route 50, reverse direction

4 popular driving routes in America

Route 66 (Santa Monica to Chicago)

  • How long is the drive? 3,440km.
  • How long do I need? Two weeks.
  • Must-sees along the way: Hollywood, Grand Canyon, London Bridge, Tinkertown, Cadillac Ranch, Will Rogers Memorial, Land of Lincoln, Chicago.

The US wears the historical Route 66 like a belt. This is arguably the world's most famous road trip and no journey along Route 66 is complete without a few pit stops at the route's iconic diners. Pick from 700 different sodas at Pops in Arcadia or try an Elvis shake at the 50s themed 66 Diner in Albuquerque.

The official highway was decommissioned; however, you'll still be able to follow much of the original road on your four wheels by driving along the Interstate 40.

2. The loneliest road – Route 50 (West Sacramento to Maryland/Ocean City)

  • How long is the drive? 4,845km.
  • How long do I need? Three weeks.
  • Must-sees along the way: South Lake Tahoe, Moab, The Million Dollar Highway, Dodge City.

You'll tick off four state capitals and cut through a dozen states on this lesser-known route from coast to coast. Time magazine once called this route The Backbone of America due to the way it serves up a real cross-section of the country's culture.

3. Pacific Coast Highway (San Francisco to San Diego)

  • How long is the drive? 940km.
  • How long do I need? 3-5 days.
  • Must-sees along the way: San Jose, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles.

The word scenic doesn't even begin to cut it on this drive from San Francisco to San Diego via the City of Angels: LA. Wave the Golden Gate Bridge farewell and head out in search of everything from pioneer outposts and surfing towns to farm shops and wineries.

4. The Great River Road (Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico)

  • How long is the drive? 3,300km.
  • How long do I need? Two weeks.
  • Must-sees along the way: Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana.

Channel Huckleberry Finn and trace the Mississippi River aka Old Man River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Food plays a big part in this trip. Don't miss out on the chance to try blue crab, Po'Boys, Gulf Shrimp and – of course – Mississippi mud pie.

There are multiple roads that you can take as part of this trip but one thing remains the same: you'll hug the Mississippi from top to toe.

  • The Rockies (Denver-Wyoming-Montana-Rock Springs-Denver): The American Rockies region boasts Native American history, wrangler heritage and wildlife. The roads throughout are relatively quiet, allowing you to drive through the magnificent scenery without the crowds. The route takes you through famous national parks – including Yellowstone, home to Old Faithful.
  • The Southwest (Utah-Arizona): Utah and Arizona's national parks are easily combined when road tripping the southwest. Travel through wild west towns and past huts selling road-kill jerky. Las Vegas is often the starting point for this drive and deserves a few nights' stay before heading off to more unique and quirky parts of the open road.

Tips for driving in the USA

Prepare for toll roads: America is full of toll roads (aka turnpikes). Change is required for these with only some booths taking debit and credit cards. However, many car rental companies are equipped with tracking to charge you for these when you return your car. Consult them prior to hire to ensure you're well versed in how to pay off your toll charges.

Remember your roundabouts: When you come to a roundabout (known in the US as traffic circles or rotary), drivers to the left have right of way.

Overtaking school buses is prohibited.

Know how to handle police: If you are pulled over by the police, turn off your engine and wait in the car until approached.

Overtake on the left: In the US drivers occupy the right side of the road. In the event that you need to overtake another vehicle, you would pass on the left, so remember to check your rear-view and left-hand mirrors (as well as ahead of you) before doing so.

FAQs about car hire in America

Can you hire a car without a credit card in the US?

Most car hire companies only accept bookings with a credit card. This is so the final cost can be completely charged to you at the end of the hire, including any damages and fuel costs. Some offer the option to pay via debit card. When researching, check their payment options.

Do I need an International Driving Permit to drive in the US?

A valid driver's licence is required to drive in the US. Certain states also require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Check with the motor vehicle departments of the states in which you wish to drive before leaving Australia to ensure you have the correct documentation.

I'm on a provisional licence. Can I drive in the US?

Unfortunately, provisional non-US residents are not permitted to drive on the roads in the US.

I'm under 25. Can I hire a car in the US?

Different states impose different age restrictions when driving. In New York and Michigan you have to be 18+ to hire a car while in most other states the minimum age is either 20 or 21. Check before you hire to make sure you have a licence to drive where you're headed.

How does car insurance work?

If you're travelling into The States you'll likely have travel insurance. This might cover car hire. If it doesn't or if you require more cover, you may have to purchase separate car rental excess insurance. You can do this online or with the car rental company, though this tends to be for a premium.

Can I drive a hire car from the US to Canada?

All major car hire companies let you drive across the US/Canada border. However, almost all will ask that you return the car to where it was initially rented, which means a round trip will be required.

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