What To Know About Hiring A Car and Driving in the USA

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Does your version of the dream American holiday involve driving top down in a red convertible along Route 66? Or hitting up the Pacific Coast Highway in a classic VW campervan? Maybe it’s cruising Oahu’s North Shore in a super-cool Jeep?

Whatever your road trip aspirations are, as a tourist driving in the USA, there’s a few things you should consider. From knowing the correct age to hire a car in America and understanding the road rules, to evaluating the pros and cons, here’s a rundown on renting a car in the States. So can a tourist drive in the USA? You bet!

Legal Requirements

First things first: what do you need to hire a car in America? Well, you’re going to need your current Australian license, and it’s a good idea to carry your passport on you as well, in case another form of identification is required. And while International Driver’s Permits are accepted in the States, it’s not a necessity. It’s also important to note the national driving age in the USA for tourists is 21, however in some states it’s as young as 18. Generally speaking though, if you’re 25 or under, most major car rental companies will charge an extra ‘young driver’ fee.

And before you grab that set of car keys and zoom off, check the fine print of your travel insurance. Most basic travel insurance plans only cover car damage due to a collision. So any damage to another vehicle, damage to personal property or medical care required may not actually be included. Some car rental companies may offer an opt-in for insurance, however prices can be hugely exorbitant. It’s far better (and cheaper) to just include as much car rental coverage as possible in your initial travel insurance quote.

Road Rules

The most vital thing to remember when driving in the USA as a tourist is to stick to the right side of the road. In short, the opposite to what we’re used to in Australia, and this is usually one of the toughest driving rules in the USA for foreigners to get their head around. It also means the steering wheel is on the left-hand side of the car, so it can take a while to get your bearings. The most useful advice is to take your time getting to know your vehicle – locating indicators, windscreen wipers, cruise control etc – before setting off, pay attention on the road and take things slower if you need. It’s a bit strange to begin with, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you adapt.

While all other aspects of driving in the States are pretty similar to driving in Australia, one of the more unusual USA road rules for tourists is that it’s legal to make a right-hand turn when there’s a red light. Again, it feels weird to essentially be running a red light, but unless there’s a sign stating otherwise, it’s a perfectly acceptable manoeuvre.


Similar to Australia, the price of petrol in the States can vary depending on factors like where you are or what day of the week it is – but on the whole it’s not super expensive. Be sure to always keep an eye on your petrol gauge though, because it’s very easy to get swept up in the excitement of your road trip and forget to check how much is in the tank until it’s too late.

Rental car companies also offer a few different fuel policies that you’ll need to be aware of. Some provide either a full or half-full tank as part of your rental agreement – but the catch is you’ll be expected to return the vehicle with the exact same amount. Others charge a fee to have a full tank ready to go upon pick up; the upside being you can return it completely empty. There’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to this, and your best bet is to find one that’s most suitable for the type of trip you’re planning.

Pros of Renting a Car

If you really want to experience all that America has to offer, renting a car and hitting the road is the best way to do it. After all, aside from a few cities who have nailed it – we’re looking at you, New York, San Francisco and Boston – the public transport system across the States can be pretty unreliable, and more often than not doesn’t get you close to the country’s coolest attractions, national parks or neighbourhoods. With a car you have the freedom to travel anywhere you like, whenever you like. You can explore at your own pace, spend days at a place you’ve fallen in love with, and travel to spots you’d never normally discover if you stuck to public transport.

There’s also the added bonus of not having to lug your suitcases on and off trains and buses, down tiny streets or through crowded cities. Plus, if you hate waiting around at stations, standing in lines or getting stuck on cramped buses, renting a car means not having to worry about any of that.

Cons of Renting a Car

Renting a car sounds like a no-brainer, right? Almost – there are a couple of cons that need to be addressed. The main one being driving-related stresses – things like traffic jams, getting lost, find car parking and having to remember all the USA driving rules for foreigners. All are pretty minor issues in the grand scheme of things, but can add up to create major annoyances.

And don’t forget that someone always has to be the designated driver – which isn’t the most fun job if you happen to be driving through a wine region like the Napa Valley or Sonoma. So if you don’t want to be the one missing out on sampling local vintages, it could be worth looking at alternative transport options.

Lastly, consider the costs. Hiring a car isn’t always the cheapest option when it comes to getting around. Hidden fees, insurance, fuel, parking meters and tolls can all bump up the price, so work out early on what’s going to work best for you and plan accordingly.

Plus Some Must-Do Road Trips…

So you’ve familiarised yourself with all the hiring a car in America rules and feel pretty confident about driving off into the sunset – the only thing left to decide is where to go. Well, there’s no road trip journey more famous than Route 66, which begins in Chicago and finishes in Los Angeles, covering a total of eight states and three time zones along the way. Then there’s the ridiculously stunning Pacific Coast Highway, which hugs the rugged Californian coastline and has some very serious Great Ocean Road vibes.

Other journeys definitely worth a cruise include Oahu’s North Shore in Hawaii, a scenic route dotted with surf spots and food trucks; the Great River Road, which follows the mighty Mississippi across ten states; and Blue Ridge Parkway, a spectacular road that snakes through the Appalachian Mountains. So stop wondering to yourself, ‘Can I hire a car in America’ and just go and do it!

Get your American adventure started by booking cheap flights to the United States with Webjet. Then, once you have your travel dates, lock in your USA car hire too. Plus you’ll need somewhere to stay, so search through accommodation options, or combine your airfare and hotel in the same booking with a Webjet holiday package.

Hero image: Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

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