One often-overlooked extra when renting a car is a fee for additional drivers. Whether you plan on sharing the driving or would like the flexibility for a fellow traveler to get behind the wheel if needed, adding another driver your rental contract can be quite convenient. At $10 per day and up, this charge can add up quickly—unless you find a way to avoid the fee altogether.
It's essential to add all additional drivers to your rental contract. If you skip this step and a driver other than the one named on the rental contract gets into an accident, you could be in for a rude awakening. Any insurance or other damage waiver that you may have had in place will be voided for failing to list the other driver, so be forewarned. It's not worth taking the chance and being socked with a huge bill for totaling a car after the insurance company refuses to pay.
Car Rental Additional Driver Fees Depend on Location
Renting a car in California? Good news: By law, there are no additional driver fees in California. This goes for all companies, regardless of whether the additional driver is a spouse or someone unrelated to you. (You still need to list the additional driver on the contract, though.)
In addition to California, where all additional drivers are free, some states allow the main driver's spouse to be an automatic authorized additional driver without a fee. These include:
If you are renting in New York, state law caps the additional driver fee at $3 per day (not quite as good as a free ride in California but certainly better than the exorbitant fees charged elsewhere). In Nevada, the fee is capped by law, but adjusts annually based on inflation and adherence to the statue by rental companies seems to be uneven. In all other states, there are no limitations by law on what the rental companies can charge, so if you can't avoid the additional driver fee using one of the strategies below, then be sure to check with the rental company on how much they charge per day.
Additional Driver Fees by Car Rental Company
It's important to keep in mind the policies of each company, since not all are created equal:
Alamo: There is a per-day charge for all additional drivers. Until 2014, Alamo allowed spouses as an additional driver for no extra fee, but it has since removed this benefit. Alamo now charges for any and all additional drivers regardless of relationship.
Avis/Budget/Enterprise/Fox/Payless: There is no additional driver fee for a spouse or domestic partner. Other individuals will incur a per-day fee. Avis and Budget currently charge $13 per day at most locations but cap the fee at $65 per rental.
Dollar/Thrifty: Both companies typically charge per day for all additional drivers (including spouses). The exception to this rule is that spouses can drive for free for members of Dollar's Express and Thrifty's Blue Chip programs. This gives Dollar and Thrifty the edge over similarly positioned value brand Alamo where it's tougher for spouses to drive for free unless you're a Costco member.
National: There is a per day charge for all additional drivers, but if you are a member of National's Emerald Club (free to join), the fee is waived for a spouse, domestic partner, or immediate family member who has the same address on their driver's license as the Emerald Club member.
Silvercar: Silvercar does not charge for any additional driver who meets rental requirements. It's a very customer-friendly policy, but then again, you often pay significantly more for the privilege of driving their nice silver Audis.
Sixt: There is a charge per day for all additional drivers (including spouses).
Others: For any companies not listed above, please contact the company directly to confirm their policy on additional drivers. What you may save with a discount company may be wiped out by a fee for an additional driver, so it's important to take this into account when comparing rates and options.
Memberships That Cover Additional Driver Fees
The other way to get around having to pay a fee for an additional driver is to use a discount code for an organization of which you are a member. The following organizations allow for an additional driver at no charge to their members if booked with their discount:
AARP: Members get a free additional driver at Avis and Budget when booked with the AARP discount code at participating locations.
Costco: Members get a free additional driver at Alamo and Enterprise when booked with the Costco discount code at locations in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, and Spain. Reservations with Avis and Budget under the Costco code only receive an additional driver in the United States.
USAA: When booked at Hertz with the USAA discount code at participating locations in the United States, there's no charge for the spouse or (adult) children of the USAA member. With Enterprise, there's no charge for spouses and USAA family members. With Avis and Budget, there's no charge for spouses or other USAA members.
The Takeaway on Additional Driver Fees
With a little bit of planning and research, it's possible to avoid paying a fee when you need to add a second driver to your rental contract. Renters in California get a free pass regardless of company, as do customers of Silvercar, and spouses or domestic partners when renting from Avis, Budget, Enterprise or Fox and in numerous states by law. If none of these situations apply, then you can often avoid the fee by joining a frequent renter program or using a membership discount code.
Dollar and Thrifty, which are both owned by Hertz, don't offer a way around the additional driver fees (unless both you and the additional driver are AAA members or you sign up for their rewards programs so a spouse can drive), and your only out with Alamo in most cases is to use the Costco discount code. The same holds true for Sixt and many other discount companies, so it pays to do your homework before renting. Be sure to calculate all costs before booking.