A car is often the only way to reach the picturesque landscapes for which Canada is famous, and renting a car can be a great way to explore this vast country.  On the other hand, if you're spending your time in one of Canada's larger cities, you may not need a car at all.

Car Rental Agencies

The following car rental companies have locations at most major airports:

Alamo and National are owned by the same company, Avis and Budget are owned by the same company, and Dollar and Thrifty are owned by the same company.  Some car rental companies that are not on-site at airports offer courtesy shuttle buses between airports and their locations.

Car rental companies that do not have airport locations, such as Rent-A-Wreck, Location Court-Terme and Sears Car & Truck Rental, tend to be less expensive.  On the other hand, if you are accessing a city from its airport, the savings may be offset by the time and expense of a cab from the airport to an off-airport car rental location. 

It is prudent to book a rental car ahead of time.

On-line Car Rental Brokers

A tactic that may or may not be cheaper than dealing directly with a "mainstream" car rental company is reserving your car through an Internet car rental site/broker.

But be careful to note all the components of the price package to ensure that you are comparing like for like.  One company's quotation may look cheaper, but it may exclude elements that you'll need to pay upon taking delivery of the vehicle.  See the next section for add-ons that you should look out for.

Extra Charges, Taxes, and Insurance

It's important to watch for these extra charges, which can add significantly to the total cost of your rental:

  • one-way drop-off fee
  • 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST)
  • Provincial Sales Tax where applicable
  • per kilometre charge (if not unlimited)
  • higher per kilometre charge if travelling outside the province
  • fee for an additional driver
  • fee for renters age 21 but under 25
  • premium location fee, such as 10-15% at airports
  • administrative charge for using Highway 407 ETR in the Toronto area

It also is prudent to shop around for collision damage waiver insurance.  Some credit card companies include CDW insurance on car rentals when you use their cards to pay for the rental. This however will be stated in your credit cards terms and conditions. With most credit cards only providing collision damage waiver and not third party or liability.  You may find that your own automobile insurance policy covers rental cars as well. By choosing to use your own insurance be sure to read your full insurance policy and its terms. Your insurance must contain whats called OPCF 27 or Transferable coverage, be sure to bring your full policy papers with you and not just your pink slip. By using your own insurance you will be subject to your deductible in the event the rental vehicle is damaged which could be costly for that one day rental. But if you have to purchase it separately, you will find that prices vary.

Cross-Border Travel 

There are some rental companies that will not permit cars across a border.  For example, from one province to another or from Canada to the United States.   Some companies have different pricing for mileage when a rental car goes out of province or to the U.S.  And yes, GPS may be used to track your travels.  Ensure that the rental company notes on the rental agreement that they authorize you to take the car into the U.S.   You may be asked by Customs when entering the U.S., or when re-entering Canada, for this documentation.  When you reserve a vehicle, you should make sure that the terms and conditions are agreed in writing.

Winter Driving

CBC’s consumer protection show “Marketplace” did a show on rental cars and snow tires, which aired February 6th, 2008.  You can read the highlights.  With the exception of Quebec, where snow tires are required by law, no car rental company offers snow tires as an option anywhere in Canada!

You may also want to review the TripAdvisor article on Winter Driving in Canada.