Getting to Know a Rental Car

It is exciting, and sometimes a little scary to rent a vehicle, whether car or truck and pull out of the parking lot for the first time. Before you do, you should get to know the vehicle. This article presents a few reminders and tips to help you feel a little more comfortable getting behind the wheel of that rental car.

Adjusting the Seat

Before anything else, I suggest you get into the car and adjust the seat until you can comfortably see all of the gauges and reach all of the controls. Naturally, if the car has power seats, you’ll likely need to start the car first or at least put it in accessory power mode (see the next paragraph). Make sure you sit high enough and are in a comfortable, natural position. It may take some fumbling with the controls, levers, and buttons. Take your time. There’s no rush.

Starting the Car

This is a good time to become familiar and confident with how to start the car. It sounds funny, but some cars these days have unusual buttons or rules for starting the car. Sometimes you need to push on the brake and push the start button at the same time. Other cars don’t require conventional “keys.” They use a key fob that emits a low-frequency signal to the car that allows it to start when you push the button.

Other cars have keys that flip open, out of the key fob. These are kind of cool. I think just about everyone who sees them for the first time plays with them like they are some sort of switchblade. Nevertheless, it’s important to become familiar with starting the car.

Door Locks

Along the lines of starting the car, you should become familiar with how to lock and unlock the car. Again, this may sound overly simple, but some systems are quite difficult to use.  Gone are the days of simply lifting the door lock. Now that most cars come with automatic locks, you need to familiarize yourself with the system.

Our 2018 Mazda CX-5 has a very annoying system for unlocking the doors. You have to press the button on the door handle exactly perfectly twice in a row to unlock all of the doors. If you are one tiny “beat” off, and the cadence isn’t just right; no luck. The doors remain frustratingly locked.  Honestly, it’s the only thing I don’t like about the car.


Make certain you know where all of the important gauges are on the dashboard. Obviously, the speedometer is the most important. But take a good look at the controls to make sure you can monitor the health of the car as you drive.

Steering Column Controls

I’ve lumped together a bunch of controls that are usually placed on the steering column. This includes the turn signals, windshield wipers, and cruise control.  There may be many other gadgets that are controlled from the steering column or steering wheel. Become familiar with the basics of how to work them. It can be very frustrating, and even dangerous, to be driving in the rain and not know how to turn on the windshield wipers. Been there.

Gas Cap

At some point, you’ll need to put gas into the car. If you forgot to look to see what side the gas cap is on, you could save a little humiliation by looking at the fuel gauge. Usually, there’s an icon of a gas can or just an arrow that points to the side of the car the gas cap is on. Look for it. Or, usually, the gas cap is on the same side of the car as the “E” or “Empty” on the fuel gauge.


However you do it, take enough time to get to know a rental car before driving it off the lot. You’ll be happy (and safer) if you are familiar with how the car or truck works.

Written by Gary Pradel