What to Check in a Rental Vehicle Before You Leave the Lot

Tim Jumah

Renting a vehicle can provide convenience and flexibility when traveling. Still, ensuring that the car you are about to drive is in good condition and free from any potential issues is crucial. By performing a thorough inspection before leaving the lot, you can avoid unexpected problems and ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

When renting a car, getting caught up in the excitement of your upcoming trip or destination is easy. However, it is vital not to overlook the importance of thoroughly checking the rental vehicle before hitting the road. Taking a few minutes to inspect various aspects of the car can save you from potential headaches. Here are some key things you should pay attention to:

1. Checking Exterior Condition

The first step in inspecting a rental vehicle is examining its exterior condition. This includes checking for visible damages such as dents, scratches, or other signs of wear and tear. The rental company should provide you with an existing damage report or walk-around sheet that documents any pre-existing issues with the car. You must carefully review this report and ensure it accurately represents the car’s current condition.

During your inspection, be meticulous and pay close attention to every area of the vehicle’s exterior:

  • Body Panels: Check each body panel individually for any dents or scratches.
  • Bumpers: Inspect both front and rear bumpers for damages.
  • Windows: Look for cracks or chips in all windows, including windshields and side mirrors.
  • Lights: Ensure all lights are working correctly – headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, hazard lights, etc.
  • Tires: Examine all four tires for proper inflation and tread depth.

Inform the rental company immediately if you notice any damage not mentioned in the vehicle’s condition report. Taking pictures of any additional damages can serve as evidence and protect you from being held responsible for them.

2. Verifying Interior Features

Once you are satisfied with the exterior inspection, it’s time to check the interior features of the rental vehicle. Ensure that all essential components are in proper working order before leaving the lot:

  • Seats and Seatbelts: Adjust each seat for comfort and check for any tears or damages. Test each seatbelt to make sure they retract properly and latch securely.
  • Controls: Test all rules inside the vehicle – air conditioning, heating, radio, windshield wipers, windows, etc.
  • Mirrors: Adjust all mirrors to ensure clear visibility. Check if they are functioning correctly.
  • Dashboard Lights: Start the car and verify that no warning lights remain illuminated on the dashboard.

Any issues or malfunctions should be reported to the rental company immediately. Also, make sure that an emergency kit is available inside the vehicle containing items like a spare tire, jack, first aid kit, and a flashlight.

3. Checking Fluid Levels

Checking fluid levels is an essential part of inspecting a rental vehicle. Proper fluid levels help maintain optimal performance and ensure safety during your trip. Here are some crucial fluids you should check and their respective locations:

  • Engine Oil: Locate and pull out the engine oil dipstick (usually marked with a bright-colored handle). Wipe it clean with a cloth or tissue paper, reinsert it thoroughly, then pull it out again to check the oil level. The oil level should be between the minimum (low) and maximum (high) markers indicated on the dipstick.
  • Coolant/Antifreeze: Check the coolant/antifreeze level by examining its reservoir tank near the radiator. The liquid level should be within the indicated minimum and maximum markers.
  • Brake Fluid: Locate the brake fluid reservoir near the master cylinder. Check that the fluid level is between the minimum and maximum marks.
  • Transmission Fluid: Depending on your rental vehicle’s transmission type (manual or automatic), locate and check the corresponding dipstick for transmission fluid. The levels should be within a safe range.

If any of these fluids are below the required levels or look dirty or contaminated, inform the rental company immediately for further instructions.

4. Testing Vehicle Functions

It’s crucial to ensure that all functions of your rental vehicle are working correctly before embarking on your journey. Test each feature individually to avoid any surprises along the way:

  • Locks and Remote Key: Test all locks – both manual and remote – to ensure they are secure properly. This includes testing keyless entry remotes if applicable.
  • Alarms: If your rental vehicle has an alarm system, check if it functions correctly.
  • Horn: Test if the horn is loud and audible enough.
  • Emergency Brake/Parking Brake: Engage and disengage the emergency brake/parking brake to confirm proper functionality.

By testing each function, you can quickly identify any issues that must be addressed before driving.

5. Taking Photos for Documentation

To protect yourself from potential disputes over damages, it’s always a good idea to take photos of the rental vehicle’s exterior and interior before leaving the lot. Capture clear images of any existing damages not already documented by the rental company’s condition report. These photos can serve as evidence for any disagreement when returning the vehicle.

Ensure that your photos include timestamps or geolocation data, if possible, to add credibility. By adhering to this practice, you can have peace of mind knowing that you have substantial proof of the vehicle’s condition at the time of rental.


Before driving off with a rental vehicle, taking a few minutes to inspect thoroughly is both wise and necessary. You can minimize the chances of encountering unexpected issues during your journey by checking the exterior condition, verifying interior features, testing vehicle functions, and ensuring proper fluid levels. Remember, addressing any concerns or problems before leaving the lot is always better than dealing with them later.

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Jumah has been a content writer for business and technology topics since early 2019. He has experience in writing and marketing and is dedicated to creating informative and engaging content.
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