Can You Take A Rental Car Off-Road? Here’s Why You Can’t


Rental cars can be helpful and entertaining, depending on what type of car you get. If you end up with a nice SUV or 4×4, it might be tempting to try out its off-roading abilities. Which is understandable. I mean, it isn’t every day that you get to drive an incredible off-roading machine unless you own one. One must remember it is a rental car, and they don’t own it. You must follow rules to ensure you don’t end up with fees or have to pay for massive damages yourself. 

Can you take a rental car off-road? Rental cars generally cannot be taken off-road. Rental car companies and rental car insurance strongly advise against off-roading. Some specifically say no off-roading at all. Collision insurance can be purchased for rental cars however if the damage is extensive enough and was done when off-roading, then it’s possible you won’t be covered. 

Off-roading can be fun; we know that. You may not end up damaging the car and no one may ever know if you go off-roading. But given the chance that something could happen might indicate you have to pay for it.

The Consequences And Legality Of Taking A Car Off-road

In the terms and conditions of most rental car companies in the United States, you are not allowed to take your rental car off of regularly maintained roads. The consequences of disobeying this can be costly. Pay attention to the rental agreement before you drive your rental car anywhere. Doing things that go against the rental agreement gives the rental company the power to take the car away from you. 

One of the most prominent consequences of taking a rental car off-road is that the insurance is then voided. If you get into a wreck, or if the vehicle takes damage from a rock or tree branch, the insurance will not cover it. The money is going to have to come out of your pocket, which can add up quickly depending on the damage. Another major consequence of not listening to the contract is that your insurance might increase, or you may not be allowed to rent from that specific company in the future. 

All of these consequences are going to make traveling problematic and more expensive. Some rental car companies may be as strict as saying that you cannot take their vehicles on any unpaved roads. Hertz, for example, says that none of its cars, 4×4 and SUV vehicles included, are allowed on unpaved roads and must remain on well-maintained, paved roads. 

What Is Considered “Off-roading” In A Rental Car?

You must understand what is considered off-roading so you don’t freak out anytime you run into an unpaved road. Many people think any type of unpaved road is considered off-road, but this is a very loose definition that doesn’t always apply to rental cars. In many rural parts of different states and countries, you often have to take some type of dirt road to get to some establishment. If you are traveling outside a city, then it will be hard to always drive on a paved road. 

Rental car companies realize this, and they aren’t going to penalize you for driving on just any dirt road. To be considered off-roading, you have to drive on a road with an uneven surface that often has mud, ice, and loose sand or gravel. These roads will often have large rocks you have to drive over. Also, there are often big ruts or ditches that you have to drive on or through. Off-roading is defined as driving on unmaintained roads.

When in a rural area with public dirt roads, you can use the BLM road system to help you know which may be okay to take. The BLM will usually state when you should have a 4×4 vehicle for a road. Any road you run into that has this suggestion is a road that you want to avoid with a rental car. Always use your best judgment before starting on a route. If you look at a roadway and see potholes and rocks that you think can damage the car, try to avoid using that road. 

Tips For Taking A Rental Car Off-road

The biggest tip for off-roading with a rental car is to drive safely! You can still go off-roading without doing anything too crazy. Driving on roads that are muddy and a little bumpy isn’t going to do any harm to a rental car meant for off-roading. When off-roading, you may need a lot of self-discipline because you aren’t going to want to do anything that will be more than you can handle. 

If you have little experience with off-roading, don’t choose a time you have a rental car to drive a crazy trail. Pushing yourself beyond your limits is wonderful if you have your own vehicle. Pushing your limits is where you end up damaging your vehicle. You don’t want the car you damage to be a rental vehicle because even though it might not be yours, it will cost you a pretty penny to repair it. 

It is strongly recommended that if you choose to go off-roading with a rental car, you should prepare. If you are unprepared, a bad situation can become worse. All that would need to happen is for you to get stuck in a puddle of mud, and then you have to call a tow truck and friends to help you get out. Make sure you have equipment like tow straps and shovels to help you in the unfortunate event that you get stuck. 

Having things like spare tires and extra fuel is also essential. Getting stranded because you don’t have something simple like these things can be very embarrassing and unfortunate. A small toolbox and spare parts for simple components can also help prevent situations where you have to leave a car stranded. Familiarize yourself with the trails you will be riding so you don’t get lost or end up going down a route more difficult than you were ready for. 

Is Taking A Rental Car Off-road Worth It?

Taking a rental car off-road is not worth it. Off-roading recreationally will lead to a higher risk of damage to the vehicle and your bank account. Besides having to pay for all of the damage yourself, even with insurance, you may never be allowed to rent from that rental car company again. This can make traveling a lot more difficult if you travel somewhere with limited options. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons to see if it is worth it.

If you feel you need to go offroading in someone else’s car, whether it be because you don’t have your off-roading rig or you don’t want to risk the damage to your vehicle, you can always look into off-roading rentals.  There is an abundance of places around the United States (and I’m sure around the world) that offer rentals specifically for off-road use.

For example, in Moab, Utah, dozens of companies let you rent out Jeeps or side-by-sides specifically meant for off-roading. They have trained guides that can take you and show you how to do it, or if you’d prefer, you can decide to take it out yourself and explore the terrain alone.

Be conscious about when you’re using a rental car. It is essentially someone else’s car and not yours to decide whether or not it’s good enough to take on rough terrain and potentially damage it.  

Related Questions

Does off-roading damage your car? Off-roading will damage your vehicle as it will exert more force and torsion on every system, wearing out parts a lot faster than normal use. The most common damage done to vehicles when offroading is scratched paint, dented rocker panels, damaged lower control arms, and scratched oil pans. Larger damages can include a broken driveline or transmission. Click here to view the full article.

Is manual good for off-roading? A manual transmission is a great option while offroading.  Its suitability depends entirely on the driver and his/her experience. There are both pros and cons to manual transmissions, but they can be great for off-roading and will outperform automatics in certain areas. Click here to view the full article.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. His passion for cars is his daily motivator and is constantly working on his projects such as restoring his 1966 Bronco, 1968 Firebird, or modifying his 2022 Bronco.

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