Yrene lives in the Okanagan, 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 who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
What you should know about Car Rental in Canada
Canada is the land of driving and the land of 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 great destinations for which Canada is famous.
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 a 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 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.
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.
- You will need a 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 driver’s 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 driver’s 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.
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 various 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.
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 aged 21 but under 25
- Premium location fees, 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 toward 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 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.
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.
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 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.
Wild Animals On The Road
Coming 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 these cases, pickup and drop-off are usually at 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.
A popular way to avoid an Under 25 car rental fee is to join certain membership programs, like BCAA in British Columbia. In this case, the young driver fee is not applied if you meet the standard rental qualifications.
Other CAA discounts may be:
- Free additional driver
- Free mileage
- Discount on GPS rentals
- Free infant/child seat
- Check out Canadian Automobile Association for up-to-date deals.
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
- Car buying tips for tourists
- Cell Phones – What You Need To Know
- Hitchhikers Guide to Canada
- Canada Facts You Want to Know
- How to Find Free Camping in Canada
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