Requirements to rent a car in California: A comprehensive guide

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Renting cars in California offers convenience and flexibility for travelers investigating the Golden State.

Whether you’re organizing a journey along the breathtaking coastline or visiting iconic destinations like San Francisco or Los Angeles, understanding the conditions to rent a car is essential.

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In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through the necessary steps and documentation needed to hassle-free rent a car in California, ensuring a smooth and effortless experience.

Age restrictions

Age prerequisites for car rentals may fluctuate depending on the rental car company and the location.

Rent a car in California, the general age requirements for renting a car are as follows.

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Min age: Most rental companies mandate that the primary driver be a min of 25 years old. This represents the typical age prerequisite for renting a car, with no extra charges or limitations.

Young driver’s cost: Rental firms provide auto hire to drivers aged 21 to 24, but they usually enforce a young driver’s fee.

Extra costs for young driver fees represent an additional day-to-day fee, in addition to the standard rental price, aiming to compensate for the perceived higher risk involved.

Active driver’s license

To rent a car in California, you need to have a valid driver’s license. Below are several essential points concerning the prerequisites for an acceptable driving license.

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Domestic driver’s license

If you are a resident of the United States, you can use your valid driver’s license issued by your condition of residence to rent a car in California.

The license is required to be current and not expired.

International driving permit

If you are traveling to California from abroad, you can typically use your valid driving license from your country of origin to hire a car.

However, it is highly recommended to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to your foreign driver’s license.

The IDP serves as an official translation of your license and can facilitate communication with law enforcement officials or rental car firms.

Restrictions license

The rental car firm can have certain restrictions on the type of driver’s license they accept.

For example, several rental firms may not accept learner’s permits, temporary licenses, or restricted licenses.

It’s crucial to check with the detailed rental car company regarding their requirements and any restrictions related to the type of license you hold.

Age restrictions

As mentioned earlier, rent a car in California may have min age restrictions for renting a car.

It’s important to ensure that your driver’s license meets the age restrictions specified by the rental firm.

Additionally, if you are under 21 years old, there may be young driver’s fees or restrictions associated with renting a car.

International visitors

If you are an international visitor, it’s recommended to carry your passport along with your driver’s license, as it serves as identification and proof of your visitor status.

Payment method and credit card

When renting a car in California, a valid credit card is typically required as the preferred payment method.

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Here are some important points to consider regarding payment methods and credit cards when renting a car:

Credit card requirement

The majority of California car rental firms demand a credit card under the renter’s name.

This is primarily for security and verification purposes.

The credit card should be valid and not expired.

Deposit and authorization hold

When renting a car, the rental firm places a credit card authorization for a specified amount as a deposit.

The hold ensures that funds are available to cover any potential damages, traffic violations, or unpaid fees associated with the rental.

The hold is released once the vehicle is returned without any issues.

It’s important to have a sufficient credit limit available on your card to accommodate the deposit hold.

Debit card restrictions

While some rental car firms may take debit cards, there are often additional requirements and restrictions.

Debit card policies can vary among rental firms, and they may include a credit check, a higher deposit amount, or limited rental options.

It is advisable to check with the specific rental car company and their policies regarding debit card usage.

Credit card types

Major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover are generally accepted by lease car firms.

However, it’s essential to check with the rental firm regarding any restrictions on specific credit card types or networks they accept.

Additional charges

The credit card is also used for billing purposes during the rental duration.

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Rental car firms may impose extra charges, such as fuel charges, toll fees, or late return fees, directly to the credit card on file.

Insurance coverage

When renting a car in California, it’s important to consider insurance policy options to protect yourself and rent vehicles.

Here are some key points to understand about insurance policies when renting a car in California.

Minimum liability insurance

Rent cars in California are legally required to provide a minimum level of liability full coverage insurance for their vehicles.

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This coverage typically includes bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.

It helps protect you in case you cause an accident that results in injuries to others or damage to their property.

The specific coverage amounts may vary, but they meet the state’s minimum requirements.

Optional insurance policy

In addition to the minimum liability coverage, rental car companies provide optional insurance policy options for renters.

These may include Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Loss Damage Waiver (LDW), and Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI).

Optional coverage is designed to reduce or eliminate your financial responsibility in case of damage to the rental vehicle or other incidents.

It’s important to review the terms and costs associated with optional coverage offered by the rental car firm.

Personal auto insurance

Earlier renting a car, it’s advisable to check with your auto insurance provider to understand if your policy extends coverage to rent a car.

Some personal auto insurance policies may provide coverage for rental cars, but the extent of coverage can vary.

If your insurance covers car rentals, it may be unnecessary to purchase the rental car company’s optional coverage.

However, it’s essential to confirm the details and limitations of your policy.

Credit card insurance policy

Several credit cards provide car rental insurance policies as a cardholder benefit.

The coverage provided by credit cards can vary, so it’s important to review the terms and conditions of your specific credit card.

Credit card coverage may act as primary or secondary insurance for renting a car, but certain conditions, such as using the credit card for the rental transaction and declining the rental company’s optional coverage, may apply.

Contact your credit card provider for specific information on the insurance policy offered.

Reservation and rental agreement

When renting a car in California, it is essential to make a reservation and sign a rental agreement with the rental car firm.

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Here are some key points to understand about the reservation process and release contract.

Making a reservation

Research and select a car rental company: Start by comparing different rental car companies based on factors such as rates, availability, location, and customer reviews.

Contact the car rental firm: Reach out to the chosen car rental company through their website, phone, or online booking platform to make a reservation.

Provide necessary information such as your name, contact details, rental dates, and any specific requirements or preferences.

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Confirmation: After providing the required information, you will receive a confirmation of your reservation.

It’s advisable to review the details carefully and ensure they match your requirements.

Rental agreement

Pick-up process: When you arrive at the rental location, you will be required to present your driving permit and a valid credit card in your name for verification.

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The car rental company’s representative will then provide you with the rental agreement.

Reviewing the agreement: Take the time to carefully read the lease contract before signing.

The agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the rental, including rental duration, fees, fuel policy, insurance policy, mileage limits, and any restrictions or additional charges.

Clarify any questions: If you have any questions or concerns about the terms and conditions outlined in the lease contract, don’t hesitate to ask the car rental firm representative for clarification.

Agreement acceptance: If you agree to the terms and conditions stated in the rental contract, sign it to indicate your acceptance.

Retain a copy: After signing the lease contract, make sure to obtain a copy for your records.

The agreement serves as a legal document that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties during the rental duration.

Extra drivers

When renting a car in California, you may have the option to add drivers to the lease contract.

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Here are some important points to consider regarding extra drivers.

Primary driver responsibility

The primary driver is the individual who initially rents the car and is responsible for signing the lease contract.

The primary driver must meet the age and driver’s license requirements set by the car rental firm.

Adding extra drivers

Age and license requirements: Each car rental firm may have specific age and driver’s license requirements for extra drivers. Generally, extra drivers must meet the same age restrictions as the primary driver and hold a valid driving license.

Presenting identification: Extra drivers will typically be required to present their driver’s licenses for verification when adding them to the lease contract.

In-person presence: Depending on the rental car company’s policies, extra drivers may need to be present at the time of rental to provide their information and sign the lease contract. Some firms may allow you to add drivers at a later time, but it’s advisable to confirm this with the car rental firm in advance.

Additional driver fees

When renting a car in California, it’s important to consider the potential additional fees associated with adding extra drivers to the lease contract.

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These fees, commonly known as “additional driver fees,” are charged by rental car companies when more than one person will be driving rent a car.

Here are some important details about additional driver fees.

Purpose of additional driver fees: Rentals car companies charge additional driver fees to account for the increased risk and liability associated with multiple drivers. Each driver represents a potential liability for renting a car company, as they are entrusting their auto to multiple individuals.

Fee structure: Additional driver fees are typically charged as a daily fee per additional driver. The fee can vary among car rental companies and may be subject to taxes and other surcharges. The exact amount of the fee depends on the rent-a-car company’s policies.

Rent-a-car company policies: Rent-a-car companies have varying policies on additional driver fees. Some companies may waive the fee for certain membership programs, corporate rentals, or bookings made by specific organizations. It’s essential to inquire about the rent-a-car company’s policies and any potential exemptions or discounts for additional driver fees.

Exemptions or limitations: Certain rent-a-car companies may have exemptions or limitations for additional driver fees. For example, some companies may not charge additional driver fees for spouses or domestic partners who share the same address and have the same insurance policy. However, this can vary, so it’s important to clarify the rent-a-car company’s policy in advance.

Payment responsibility: It’s important to note that the primary driver, who is listed as the renter on the agreement, is ultimately responsible for any fees or damages incurred by extra drivers. This means that if an additional driver causes damage to rent a car or violates any rental terms, the primary driver’s credit card on file may be charged for the associated costs.

When adding a driver to the lease contract, be sure to inform the car rental companies and provide the necessary identification for each driver.

It’s crucial to understand the car rental companies policies regarding additional driver fees and clarify any questions or concerns before signing the lease contract.

Insurance policy

It’s important to ensure that any extra drivers are properly covered by insurance during the rental period.

If the primary renter has personal auto insurance that extends to rental cars, it’s essential to verify if extra drivers are also covered.

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If not, it may be necessary to consider renting a car in California company’s optional insurance policy or explore other insurance options to adequately protect all drivers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can drive a rental car in California?

To rent a car in California, the primary driver must meet certain requirements to be eligible to drive.
Here are the key factors determining who can drive and rent a car in California.
Age requirement: The standard minimum age for renting and driving a car is generally 25 years old. Nevertheless, certain rent-a-car in California companies might make exceptions and permit drivers aged between 21 and 24, but they may apply an extra charge called the “young driver fee.”
To get accurate information about age policies and possible additional fees, it is crucial to inquire directly with the particular rental firm.
Valid driver’s license: The primary driver must possess a valid driver’s license from their country of residence. If you are an international visitor, you can use your driver’s license issued from your home country. It is advisable to obtain an IDP as well, as it provides an official translation of your license and can facilitate communication with law enforcement officials or car rental companies.
Extra drivers: Rent-a-car companies provide the option to include extra drivers in the lease contract. These extra drivers must fulfill the age and license prerequisites. Typically, they will need to provide their driver’s license details and may be required to be physically present during the rental process to sign the lease contract.

How to rent a car in California under 21?

Renting a car in California under the age of 21 can be challenging, as most rental car companies have age restrictions and additional fees for young drivers.
However, it is not impossible. Here are some options to consider if you want to rent a car in California under 21.
Research a rental company: Look for rental car companies that offer rentals to drivers under 21. While many major rental firms have a minimum age requirement of 21 or higher, some smaller, local rental companies may have more lenient policies.
Check for young drivers programs: Certain rental firms have special programs or policies for young drivers. Certain programs might enable individuals aged 18 to 20 to rent a car, but they could be required to pay extra fees or face certain limitations. To obtain detailed information about any young drivers programs available, it is recommended to contact the rental company directly or visit their websites.
Utilize peer-to-peer car rental platforms: Consider using peer-to-peer car rental platforms like Turo, where individuals rent out their vehicles. These platforms often have more flexible age restrictions and may offer options for drivers under 21. However, availability and specific policies can vary, so check the platform’s terms and conditions.
Look for local car rental agencies: Explore car local rental agencies, as they may have different age policies compared to larger national chains. Contact them directly to inquire about their age restrictions and any young driver’s fees or restrictions they may have for drivers under 21.
Consider alternative transportation choices: If renting a car in California proves challenging or not feasible due to age restrictions, explore alternative transportation options such as public transportation, rideshare services, or using a combination of buses and trains to navigate within California.

Do you have to have a credit card to rent a car in California?

Yes, having a credit card is typically required to rent a car in California.
Standard practice among rental car companies requires renters to provide an active credit card at the time of booking or when picking up the vehicle.
Here’s why a card is commonly required.
Security down payment: Many rental car companies typically place a credit card authorization for a security deposit. This amount serves as a guarantee against any potential damages, traffic violations, or unpaid fees associated with the rental. The hold is released once the auto is returned without any issues.
Incidentals and additional charges: Rental car companies may charge additional fees or expenses during the rental period, such as fuel charges, toll fees, or late return fees. Having a credit card on file allows the company to charge these amounts directly without further complications.
Insurance policy: Numerous credit cards provide rental car insurance as a perk to their cardholders. If you decide not to take the rental company’s optional insurance coverage (Collision Damage Waiver or Loss Damage Waiver), your credit card’s insurance policy may act as either a primary or secondary insurance provider. The rental agency might request a credit card to verify the existence of an insurance policy.

Can you rent a car at 21?

Indeed, renting a car at the age of 21 is feasible in certain situations. While many rental car companies establish a minimum age of 25, some do extend their services to drivers aged 21 and above.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to be aware that there are typically extra fees and limitations linked rent a car at this age. Here are a few factors to bear in mind.
Young driver fees: Rental car companies often apply a surcharge known as a “young driver fee” to renters aged 21 to 24. This fee is separate from the standard rental cost and is designed to compensate for the perceived increased risk associated with young driver fees.
Limited vehicle selection: Some rental firms may have restrictions on the types of vehicles available to young drivers under 25. Luxury or high-performance vehicles might be off-limits, and you may have a more limited selection compared to older renters.
Additional requirements: In addition to the age requirement, rental firms may impose additional conditions for younger drivers. These may include a clean driving record, a current driver’s license, and potentially an IDP for international visitors.

What city are rental prices for a car in California cheaper?

Out of all the popular cities in California, Santa Ana is the cheapest city to rent a car in at just $6/day.
Rent cars in Santa Ana are 85% cheaper than renting one in San Francisco, where the per-day rate is around $39.

Which documents are necessary to rent a car in California?

You must be at least 25 years old (if you are under 25, there might be a young driver fee that varies depending on the rental location). You’ll need a valid driver’s license with a photo, a photo ID (such as a driver’s license or passport), and a credit or debit card (verify the accepted forms of payment at the specific rental location).


Renting a car in California can be an excellent way to explore the state’s diverse landscapes and vibrant cities.

By understanding the requirements outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can ensure a seamless car rental experience.

Remember to check with specific rental companiesOpens in a new tab. for any additional policies or restrictions they may have.

With the right documentation and preparation, you’ll be ready to hit the road and create unforgettable memories in the beautiful state of California.

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