Vibrant culture, rollicking festivals, mouthwatering eats, and steel skyscrapers – welcome to Chicago, a slice of urban paradise that will blow your mind. Little wonder the Windy City has earned the coveted spot as one of the most sought-after US travel destinations.
Whether you plan to chow down on authentic deep-dish pizza, huddle up with football fans to watch Bears, rock to another music shindig at Millennium Park, or visit the glass-floored Willis Tower, there’s a plethora of privileged places to see and awesome things to do in Chicago. Let’s not forget the city’s 580 lush parks and 26 beaches!
It’s true, Chicago has a fine, dynamic public transport network complemented by rideshare companies like Uber, but a car rental remains the most effective way to get in and around the city. And with myriads of the best car rental companies in Chicago, from local boutique companies to multinationals, it’s easy to enjoy the freedom of four wheels without breaking the bank.
Your instinct might tell you to go with the cheapest option, but not all car rental companies in Chicago are created the same. You’ll have to do serious research and exercise due diligence to find a gem in a sea of crummy rental companies that will frustrate you with dodgy repair costs, rude staff, and unfair fees.
Thankfully, we’ve done the legwork, evaluated hundreds of options, and rounded up 9 of the very best car rental companies in Chicago. These are services that will likely provide you with the best ride to suit your needs, offer friendly customer support, and treat you like the treasured customer you are.
The type of car to rent will depend primarily on the number of people in your entourage, specific needs, and of course, budget.
Compact: These go by many labels, including small, economy, compact, or subcompact cars. They include Ford Focus, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Cobalt/Spark, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, and other similar-sized vehicles, most of which feature automatic drivetrain and 2 or 4 doors. Expect these economy fuel models to be the most lenient on your wallet, but they only carry 1-2 pieces of luggage and 4 or fewer passengers.
Mid-sized cars: Sometimes called standard, midsize or intermediate, these bring the best of two worlds – they have more room for luggage and people, and yet they offer great gas mileage. They are comfier than compact-class cars too. Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze are a few examples of car models operated by most rental companies in this class.
Full-size cars: The name says it all; they’ve got the most passenger and luggage capacity. Most 4-door sedans fit into this category, offering nifty features and seat 5 persons comfortably. Here, we are talking about Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Impala, etc.
Premium cars: These are full-sized cars that offer bonus features. In this class, most operators use Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Ford Crown Victoria, and Mercury Grand Marquis. Prepare your wallet for a little bit more dent.
Luxury cars: If you need a car for an extra special occasion (wedding, anniversary, etc.), want to impress someone, or just need to splurge, this should be your go-to category. In Chicago, luxury rentals include top of the class Cadillac ATS, Lincoln MKZ, LaCrosse, and Cadillac STS.
SUVs and Vans: Sometimes you may need something that offers more passenger space, more storage room, and better features to handle rugged terrain than standard cars can provide. In this case, Chicago rental companies have got you covered with a variety of SUVs, minivans, pickups, and vans, in midsize, standard, and luxury classes. They’re much more expensive and offer poorer gas mileage than other categories, though.
The average daily cost of renting from the best car rental companies in Chicago is about $80, which will get you a standard car, typically a 4-door sedan. Mark you, that rate is exclusive of insurance, applicable taxes, and fees. If you choose to upgrade, expect to cough up an extra $20 or $30 for a minivan or an SUV.
On a positive note, going for Chicago airport car rentals presents you with an even wider choice and consequently lower pricing. If you do a quick search for car hire options at O’Hare International Airport, for example, you will be surprised to find $20 or lower daily deals. Note that you may have to call well ahead to make special requests for luxury vehicles.
Your age may also play a significant role in how much you will eventually pay for the car. Under-25 and seniors 65+ are usually deemed high-risk drivers and, therefore, run into higher costs than counterparts aged between 25 and 65.
Unfortunately, there’s no way you can circumvent this. However, for strictly research purposes, you can refresh the page with a different age to see if the company is unfairly upselling their cars, in which case the price difference shouldn’t shoot beyond $10 per day.
Do browse online
Don’t make a mistake of stepping into a car rental shop without doing some due diligence online. Sure, they may entice you with ‘walk-in discounts’, but these are often disguised specials leveraged by salesmen to upsell you on expensive upgrades at the location.
Don’t hold back on insurance – get full insurance to be on a safe side
If something should happen to the car while in your hands, you might be liable for the damage, which is why insurance is indispensable. If you’re lucky, you may already have coverage via your credit card or business/personal insurance policy.
Equally important, you need to be aware of what’s actually covered in case of an accident. Full insurance offered by the best car rental companies in Chicago should cover liability, road hazard, loss-damage waiver, supplement liability protection, and personal effects coverage, just to name a few.
Do note the mileage
Obviously, you want to know precisely what you are getting billed for. Clerical errors and hidden charges can quickly blow up your final bill.
Don’t rent the navigation system (GPS)
It’s not uncommon for some rental companies to upcharge an additional $5-$18 for GPS rental alone. That’s certainly ridiculous since you can use your phone for turn-by-turn navigation.
Do hunt for package deals
The vast majority of travel sites and agencies offer a rental car as part of their package offerings and plans. For instance, a travel agency may offer a package that includes a hotel room, an air ticket, and car rental, of which the total price is deeply discounted. If you’re renting several vehicles at the same time, look for multi-car discounts.
Don’t forget to research airport parking fees
You don’t want to discover at the last minute that the airport parking fees are sinfully high. In most cases, the feel is much lower when you rent at an airport location.
Do check loyalty programs and credit card rewards
Some credit card providers will let you earn or redeem points whenever you rent a car. Even better, join a loyalty program of a car rental company you trust so you can accumulate reward points and redeem them for free rentals, leeway on lateness, expedited services, and other perks.
Don’t go with the first company you find
The worst mistake you can make is to think that the first company you see is the best deal for you. There are millions of deals out there, so don’t hesitate to consider all of your options before you settle on one that best suits your specific needs.