It's a myth that you can't rent a car with cash. In fact, there are two ways to do it, but be prepared—both involve jumping through some hoops.
The first way is to reserve with a credit or debit card but pay the final bill in cash when you return the car. Most rental car agencies will let you do this, though you will want to call ahead to the pickup location and let them know that's what you plan to do.
The second way is to pay a cash deposit upfront when you reserve your car. Some major rental car companies and several smaller, independent rental firms allow you to pay with cash deposit—but be prepared to do some advance planning and jump through quite a few hoops.
Cash on the barrel may seem like a reliable form of payment, but most rental agencies need proof that you can be trusted before letting you drive off in one of their cars. Having a credit card proves that you're not a credit risk.
Pay Your Final Rental Car Bill with Cash
Alamo, Avis, Budget, EZ, Fox, National and Sixt will not accept cash payments as a deposit at the beginning of a transaction at any of their locations. These companies require a credit card to be attached to the booking in case you are later charged for any incidentals incurred during your rental period. Some will also charge a deposit (or place a hold) at the time of pickup.
Still, these companies will almost always accept cash as a final payment once you return the car and the vehicle has been inspected for damages. But these policies are often up to the discretion of the individual branch, so always call ahead and make sure the agency agrees to a cash final payment.
Pay Upfront for Your Rental Car with a Cash Deposit
Some rental car companies will let you reserve a car with a cash deposit, but only after you've jumped through many hoops.
Some Enterprise locations will accept payment via cash or a money order but only after you have provided an array of documentation, including proof of insurance, two current utility bills, personal references, your most recent paycheck stub and a driver's license issued from the state in which you're renting. You must pay the entire cost of the rental when you pick up the car, plus a minimum deposit of between $100 and $300, depending on the location.
Dollar, Hertz and Thrifty
These three sister companies will let you book a car with a cash deposit, but first you must be approved for a Cash Deposit Identification Card. You must complete a brief application and mail it in with a $15 nonrefundable processing fee. The approval process includes a credit check and can take up to 30 days. Once approved for a Cash Deposit ID Card, you can rent a car with an upfront cash deposit. Here are links to the applications:
Smaller Rental Car Companies
Smaller, independent rental car companies may also accept payment upfront with a cash deposit. Sometimes there is a minimum age for cash rentals. Call ahead to find out exactly what documentation you need to get approved and how far in advance you must begin the process. Also ask about insurance requirements and the amount of the cash deposit required. Here are some rental car companies that accept upfront payment with a cash deposit: