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What you should know about Car Rental in Canada

Canada is the land of driving and big cars, but Canada’s car rental prices will shock you. When you fly into Canada you don’t have many choices. A car is often the only way to reach the spectacular destinations for which Canada is famous for.

Other transportation will get you around the cities and from one town to another, but a car is the best way for exploring once you get to remote areas.

For visiting Canadian cities you’re better off using public transportation, which will be quicker and cheaper way of getting around. City-centre traffic congestions are just as bad in Canada as anywhere else. Save the money for car rental until you’re ready to leave the cities.

Of course, there are other ways to travel across the country, such as trains, buses or joining a guided Canada tour. However, train and bus routes are limited and tours are not for everyone. Depending on how much time you have available, buying a car instead of renting could be an option.  But then again, this could be a hassle for some and has to be planned out well.

Car rental is available just about everywhere in Canada. Most major car rental companies such as Avis, Hertz, and National, have offices at airports, towns and cities across the country.

Canada’s Highways

Canada is a driver’s country with an excellent, well-maintained highway network until you cross the borders into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. That’s where the paved roads turn into gravel Highways. All are called highways, the TransCanada Highway and the epic Dempster Highway, but they are as different as day and night.

Car rental in Canada
Canada’s paved highways

Fly-Drive Packages from home

You may get the best deal on car rental if you book a fly-drive package from home or if you book a long time in advance. Rental cost varies to a great extent, depending on the time of year, type of vehicle and length of rental.

Minimum Age for car rental in Canada

The principal driver and additional drivers all have to be at least 21 years old and have a minimum of 12 months of driving experience in order to rent a car in Canada.

A ‘Young Renter Fee’ will be applied to your car rental, if you are between the ages of 21 and 24 and will be charged on top of the rental rate. This means, renting a car is going to be expensive until you’re 25 and difficult or impossible until you’re 21. Renters 21 to 24 may be restricted to specific car classes.

What do you need in order to rent a car in Canada?

  • You have to be at least 21 years old.
  • Valid Driver’s license and International Driver’s Permit if your licence is not in English or French. If you have an International licence you still need to have your original drivers licence with you.
  • When picking up your car you may have to show your passport and a return airline ticket.
  • Credit Card for the deposit – Renting a car in Canada without a credit card is impossible.
  • Your drivers’ licence and credit card must be in the same name.
  • Travelling with kids – Children under 18 kg require a child seat fastened with a seat belt. Most car rental companies will supply one with a bit of notice and for an additional charge.
Car rental with small children
Car rental in Canada with young children

Type of Rental Cars

The large rental companies offer a wide range of vehicles, ranging from small economy cars to large luxury models and pickup trucks. Most rental cars in Canada have an automatic transmission.

Plan your trip and see what kind of roads you’ll be driving and whether you will need a 4WD. You won’t need a 4WD road tripping across Canada and touring to most major destinations. If you’re planning to drive the northern gravel highways or lots of backcountry roads, renting a 4WD is a good idea. Price differences between different car types are quite substantial and if you don’t need a 4WD you can save a fair bit of money.

Difference between All-Wheel Drive and 4WD

All-wheel drive is similar to the full-time 4WD system in the way that it also sends torque to all four wheels constantly. However, most modern AWD systems don’t offer drivers the option to operate in two-wheel drive and, unlike the 4WD systems, the differential between the front and rear axles cannot be locked.

Pickup trucks in Canada
Who wouldn’t like to drive one of those?

Insurance

Most car rental companies in Canada offer a collision damage waiver (CDW) and personal accident insurance for an additional charge. Some credit card companies include CDW insurance on car rentals when you use their cards to pay for the rental. Check your credit card’s terms and conditions.

Extra Charges and Taxes

It’s important to watch for these extra charges, which can add a large amount to your final bill:

  • 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

Fuel and Service Stations

Most rental cars use unleaded gas or diesel. Car rental companies provide a full tank on departure and unless you return the car with a full tank you will be charged for the gasoline.

Fuel prices in Canada are higher than in the US but cheaper than in Europe. Remember, driving distances in Canada are long and a large amount of your vacation budget will go towards gasoline. Filling up in larger cities is usually cheaper than in small towns.  If you are heading up to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, gas prices will be much higher than in the south.

Most gas stations are self-service. In major cities and along the Trans-Canada Highway, some stations are open for 24 hours, but in rural areas, they often close at 6 pm.

Once you venture to Canada’s northern regions, gas stations are often far apart. It’s a good idea to fill up at every gas station you come across. Credit and debit cards are accepted at most places.

Stop at every gas station and fill up
Stop at every gas station and fill up

Cross-Border Travel

Some rental companies don’t allow their cars to drive across borders, like from Canada to the US or across provinces. If this is the case, watch out; GPS may be used to track your route.

Gravel Roads

Most major car rental companies don’t allow driving their rental cars on gravel/dirt roads, which will be stated in the contract.  In any case, if you drive on gravel roads you will be liable for any damage. Good luck if you want to take the risk.

Winter Driving

Winter Driving and Safety – Canadian winters are harsh and can be brutal. Always check road conditions and the weather forecast before heading out on a trip. Drifting snow and black ice are frequent hazards in winter and even more so in the northern regions.

Winter tires are recommended and required by law in some regions and on mountain passes. Studded tires are common in Canada and are permitted in most provinces.

And now the big surprise!

Renting a car in winter doesn’t mean it comes with winter tires. You have to request them at the time of booking and you will be charged extra.

Winter Checklist for Canada – Be Prepared

Wild Animals On The Road

Comming across large wildlife such as bears and moose on the road is common in Canada. This can be a hazard for drivers and cause accidents. Watch for road signs which indicate areas where animals are most likely to appear.

Major Car Rental Companies

The following Rental Companies have locations at most major airports and cities. Make sure to compare prices after all extras are added.

Online Car Rental Brokers

There are many online car rental brokers advertising cheap rentals. That doesn’t mean you will get a better deal booking with them instead of dealing directly with a rental company.

Private Auto Rentals

If you’re in Canada already you can check at private local car rental places. Some private service centres have their own fleet of cars and rental costs will be much more reasonable. In those cases, pickup and drop-off is usually the same location.

One of these kinds of rentals is Affordable Auto Rentals in Vernon, BC. Phone 250.542.1453. I can highly recommend them.

Affordable car rental Canada
Private Car Rentals for better prices

Auto Clubs

A popular way to avoid an Under 25 car rental fee is to join certain membership programs. In this case, the young driver fee is not applied if you meet the standard rental qualifications.

Other BCAA discounts may be:

Renting a Car in the US instead

Car rental in the US is usually cheaper than in Canada and you may get a better deal and more value for your money. It is definitely worth checking out. You could consider flying into Seattle instead of Vancouver when you come to western Canada.

More valuable Canada Information


Did you enjoy this article? Did you find the car rental tips of value?

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Do you have any additional car rental experience to share? Leave a comment below!

Yrene Dee

Yrene lives in Lumby British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover. I write about things I love. Mostely.

14 Comments

  1. Rajat Khandelwal

    Lovely initiative to get things started.

    I am planning to take my 2 daughters on Altalticnto Pacific Ocean road trip.

    The idea is tosee as many National Parks.
    Planning to take A RV and go north.

    Please suggest if that is good. We will be doing such a thing for first time.

    Regards

    Rajat

    • Yrene Dee

      Rajat, because I don’t have any details it is difficult for me to know whether this is a good idea. My trip to the Arctic Ocean was one of the more difficult ones I’ve done and I was well prepared for it. Touring the Yukon would be easier, or any other province in Canada. The NWT can be rough. Plan it well if you decide to do that. There are flights to Tuktoyaktuk available.

  2. Joseph Hays

    Really interesting and informative article. The points of the article totally describe all the things one should ask themselves to make an informed decision about buying a Luxury car that suits you. Another thing you can consider is buying a used car in good condition that would help you save your hard earned money and help you get closer to the car of your dreams. If you are looking for used cars for sale in Vancouver, please check out hausofcars.ca now! They have a great inventory of used cars in Burnaby

  3. Yrene Dee

    Hello Jack, I’m glad you find useful information on my website. For insurance, most car rental companies offer insurance to their customers, but it might be more expensive than getting insurance with ICBC, which is the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. You find ICBC offices in every town. Some rental companies may ask for a larger deposit if you don’t buy their coverage. They may also want proof of your Autoplan coverage. Definitely, check with the rental company beforehand.
    Myself I always buy the coverage offered by the car rental company. If you decide to do different, please let me know how it goes.
    Good luck and have a wonderful trip!

  4. Tanisha Chatterjee

    Hello Yrene,

    Your post gave me a lot of information on what to look for while renting a car in Canada.
    This write up is really informative and gives us a insightful information of the minute detailing also.
    Thanks
    Have a good day ahead.

  5. ragu ram

    Great Blog, learned many things about car rentals from this article, very informative.

  6. Joy

    Dear Friend,

    It’s so helpful for your writing.
    My family and I are traveling to Canada next May. I wonder if we can hire a private driver with car or not. We want to travel around the city but we can not drive.

    Please advise if you know about this.

    Thank you so much.

    • Yrene Dee

      Hello Joy, you can hire taxis in every Canadian City or use public transport, buses. and metros in large cities.

  7. Tyler P

    Are there any rental car company in Calgary that does allow driving on gravel roads?

    • Yrene Dee

      I don’t know of any but I think all the Rental Companies know that people drive on dirt roads even if they sign the contract. It’s hard not to in this part of the world. You’re liable for any damage caused, but if you drop off the car in the same condition as when you picked it up, most probably no one cares or can prove that you did drive on gravel (this is my personal opinion of course).

  8. Matthias Schipp

    Hey Yrene,
    thank you for all your informations.
    We are struggling to find an affordable camper van such as “Spaceship” or “Juicy” in Australia or more or less just a van where we can put in a madress in Montreal.
    Do you know any webpage where we can find such offers in montreal?
    kind regards !

    • Yrene Dee

      Unfortunately, Canada has not the selection of vans you get in Australia or Europe. Everything here is BIG. You’re best off to just buy a reasonably priced minivan, take the back seats out and put in a mattress. If you want something bigger, look for an older Mercedes Sprinter. Check at hostels or newspaper as well as the links I mentioned in my blog post. Sign up for some travel facebook groups in Canada, there is lots of help out there. I travel in a Toyota RAV4 and it suits me well, but for two people it would be tight. It all depends on your budget and how much comfort you want. Good luck!

  9. Evan

    Hi I Manage a car Rental company and i can relate. Everything in this article is accurate and true the information here is truly great information well written! and i hope people understand that some car rental companies don’t realize that your credit card insurance wont cover any commercial vehicles i.e Pick up Trucks and Cargo vans.

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