Usually, on a trip to the US or Canada, I prefer to choose a rental company and car right at the airport counter. The sole exception, a couple of years ago, resulted in quite a hassle. When we rented a car from Hertz Canada with a prepaid voucher, at the end it turned out that, contrary to all reassurances from our travel agency, taxes were not covered by the voucher. Had I known that previously, I would have chosen another company. To compound the problem, after my complaints, Hertz decided to charge my credit card with the complete amount – again! – completely disregarding the voucher! It took half a year of calls and e-mails to get a refund, and we ended up losing about US$50 because of credit card fees and fluctuation exchange rates.

This time we checked all major rental companies both from their German websites and through their local representatives, and it turned out that Hertz Deutschland had an unbeatable promotion for foreign renters; all things considered, it was less than half the price I would have paid at the airport counter. And taxes were included, so I closed the deal (with the precaution of getting a letter from Hertz Brasil stating that I had prepaid the full price).

There were a couple of minor snags, though. As we intended to drive into Eastern Europe, only small Ford and Opel (GM) cars were available; other brands supposedly run a high risk of being stolen. And none of these had air conditioning, something it turned out we should have had, as it was Europe’s hottest summer in a decade.

In Germany, you pay a 17% surcharge over the full rental price if you pick up or return the car at an airport or train station, so I carefully chose in-city locations for both. It turns out that such locations have a very small selection of cars to choose from; as I also had to pick the car up on a Saturday (and they close at noon!), there was only a single car available with my requirements: the brown Ford Ka shown below, on the right.

However, the previous owner had neglected to turn in the car’s registration papers – and as I said, no other cars were available. We had to drive by another Hertz location later in the week and tell the whole story; with some persuasion, they gave us an upgrade to the next larger car (the black Ford Fiesta shown above, on the left).

My advice, nevertheless, is to avoid Saturdays and pick up the car early in the morning, so you’ll have more options in case something goes wrong.