How Old Do You Need to Be to Rent a Car in the U.S.?

By: Alia Hoyt  | 

2 girls on a road trip
The good news is most car companies will rent to people under 25. The bad news is that they'll charge them a large "young driver" surcharge. FatCamera/Getty Images

At 18, you can be called for jury duty, sign up for the military draft (if you're a guy) and get married without parental consent. But one thing you may not be able to do is rent a car. This is because many companies won't rent a car to anyone under the age of 21, and those that do will often charge a hefty additional fee for the "privilege." A few companies take it even further and refuse to rent to anyone under age 25!

Is this unfair? Maybe, but it's not without reason. "The minimum age is based on decades of safety and accident studies from the insurance industry that come to the undeniable conclusion that drivers under the age of 25 have more frequent and more serious accidents," says Greg Scott with the American Car Rental Association, in an email interview.

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Indeed, the younger population is sadly dominant when it comes to automobile accidents. According to the National Safety Council, teens aged 16 to 19 are drivers in 6 percent of fatal accidents and 8.9 percent of all crashes, despite the fact that the same age group makes up a measly 3.5 percent of total drivers. The accident rate stays about the same until drivers hit the age of 24 when it starts to decrease.

Sean Pour, co-founder of SellMax, a nationwide car buying service, further illustrates this reality. For the month of March 2022, he found that 63 percent of the 2,348 damaged cars his company had purchased were bought from drivers under age 25. "It seems harsh to bunch all youths into one category, but they [the rental car companies] care specifically about the numbers," he says.

This doesn't mean that you can't rent a car as a young driver; it just means that you'll pay more to do so. The price hike is obviously attached to the increased risk of renting a car to someone under 25. Companies charge so-called youth premiums (or "under 25 fees") to only the affected renters, so that other drivers don't have to foot the bill with higher prices across the board. The "young driver surcharge" ranges from $14.99 to $35 per day, says Jessica Claros, a licensed insurance producer with Dominguez Insurance Agency. This is on top of the daily rental car charge. However, "18-year-olds should expect to pay an even higher daily surcharge, on average," she emails.

Best Car Rental Options for Those Aged 18-25

The first thing to know is that state law in New York and Michigan requires companies to rent a car to anyone 18 or older (with a valid license), although they can tack on a young driver surcharge. These surcharges run around $40 per day in Michigan and $57 per day for New York.

If you're in one of the other 48 states, all hope is not lost. "Some car rental companies do rent to individuals 18 or older, and some actually specialize in serving this market," says Scott.

A few examples are Dollar Car Rental, which rents to those 20 and up, and Fox Rent a Car, which accepts 18-year-olds if they're active duty military on travel orders, and any licensed driver over the age of 19. In fact, members of the military should inquire with any rental car company about that little loophole. (For instance, Budget will also rent to 18-year-olds, both military and civilian, and waive the under 25 fees, provided they have government travel or purchase orders.) Many companies will rent to 18-year-olds if the rental is an "insurance replacement" while the renter's car is in the shop.

Certain rental car companies (like Hertz) will waive young renter fees for AAA members, says Melanie Musson, a car insurance expert with CarInsuranceComparison.com. "So, if you're thinking about renting a car for more than a couple of days, it would be worth joining AAA to eliminate the young renter fees," she suggests. Hertz will also waive the additional driver fees for AAA members. And you'll get roadside assistance and other benefits included with your membership.

Policy-holders with USAA Insurance can also avoid young driver and additional driver fees at Avis, Budget, Hertz and Enterprise. USAA policyholders can get discounts on car rental rates as well. "Active, retired and honorably separated officers and enlisted personnel of the U.S. military are eligible for USAA membership," says Claros.

Peer to peer apps like Turo are another good option for young drivers, suggests Patrick McCann, editor-in-chief of the site We Try Tires. "This is because the age limit is set by the car's owner. This will likely allow for a larger choice of cars if you are struggling to find a car rental company that will accept under 25-year-olds." Often, such apps require proof of personal insurance as well as a hefty deposit, so take that into account.

Another option might be Zipcar, which has a special membership program for college students, who might need a car for just a few hours or a few days. For renters 18-20, the young driver fee is $1.25 per hour or $15 per day (except in New York City where the fee is $3.75 per hour or $62.50 per day). For renters 21-24, the young driver fee is $0.88 per hour or $12.50 per day ($2.50 per hour or $31.25 per day for members renting in New York City).

At any rental car location or app, young drivers are wise to keep their expectations in check. That Tesla is going to be more difficult and expensive to snag than say, a more reasonably priced compact car. In fact, most car rental companies restrict what types of vehicles they rent to customers under 25.

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