Car rental age restrictions can be complicated. Here’s what to know.

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Patrick Boyle learned about car rental age restrictions by accident when he came to Dublin on holiday.

He had booked a sedan from Europcar. But when he and his wife showed the attendant their passports, the employee refused to hand over the keys unless they showed a doctor’s note confirming their health. Boyle and his wife are 76.

“We had never heard of this policy, and the rental agency never asked our ages when we reserved the car,” says Boyle, a retired journalist who lives in Arlington, Va.

Undeterred, the Boyles walked over to try the Hertz counter. A representative then said they had cars but could not rent to the couple without a letter from the optometrist certifying they could drive.

Like many other travelers, Boyle was surprised that car rental companies have age restrictions. They are not always well publicized and can change without warning.

What is known about age restrictions

There are no upper age limits in the United States, but car rental companies may limit rentals to young drivers.

For example, Enterprise and its brands (including Alamo and National) do not allow retail rentals to anyone under 21 in the United States and Canada, except in New York and Michigan, where state laws set the minimum at 18. Avis and Budget are the same.

If you’re younger than 25, there’s one more potential hurdle: Renters may have to pay a daily surcharge of up to $35, likely because younger drivers are more likely to get into an accident. Car-sharing app Turo charges daily “young driver” fees in the US of $50 (ages 18-20) and $30 (21-24), and if you’re 21 or younger, you must purchase a protection plan .

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What it’s like to rent from Turo, a car-sharing app

Age restrictions also vary by country, even if you’re using the same company.

For Fiontar, the minimum age requirement to rent a car in Ireland and the United Kingdom is 25. In Germany, France and Spain, the minimum company age is 21. However, Sixt lists the minimum age for renters in France as 18, as long as the driver has held a valid license for two years. Europcar’s minimum for France is also 18. In many cases, the type of car you want to rent can also affect the age limit.

“In countries where our franchisees operate, it’s a little different,” says corporate spokeswoman Lisa Martini in an email. “Our franchise partners set the lower and upper limits according to local market conditions.”

In other words, the age restrictions are all over the map. There is no maximum age at Enterprise corporate-owned car rental locations in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Spain. But in Bulgaria, it is 75. Some companies that impose an upper age limit allow drivers to go over the limit as long as they pay surcharges.

“If a company doesn’t think renting to a senior is worth the money, it won’t rent to them,” says Maximilian Wühr, co-founder of car donation provider Finn.

You probably don’t need to worry about age restrictions if you’re between 25 and 70 years old. But because age restrictions can change, and because they depend on the company and the country, there’s only one way to find out about them: You have to do your research and contact the company.

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Don’t just call the corporate office. You prefer to contact the site directly. Tell them how old you are and ask if you need to provide any additional documentation for your rental.

Why companies won’t hire young drivers

Managing the age problem is even more difficult if you are young. Hagr Elweshahy, an 18-year-old high school senior, is applying to a tech company in Linden, NJ, and needed to rent a car to attend a weeklong conference. Elweshahy is a straight A student and on track to be class valedictorian. But no rental company will let her rent a vehicle.

“They explained, as nice and responsible as it seemed to me, that there is a statistically higher probability of me having an accident because of my age,” she says.

“In general, there are age restrictions because young drivers are less experienced, take more unnecessary risks behind the wheel and are involved in avoidable accidents,” says Narendra Khatri, principal of Insubuy , a travel insurance company. “This increases insurance rates and makes it financially prudent for the rental company to set a lower age limit on rentals.”

It’s a risk for young drivers that car rental companies don’t want to take, says Simon Mawdsley, co-director of Grand Prix Grand Tours, which offers driving holidays around Europe in exotic sports cars. He will not rent to anyone younger than 28. He told me that while young drivers may be responsible, it is too difficult to screen them.

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How to avoid problems with age requirements

Rent from the right company. Generally, smaller, independent or franchised car rental companies are more strict about age limits. An international chain is more likely to be rented to an older or younger driver. Some major car rental companies will waive their restrictions on young drivers if you rent through your employer.

Ask for a doctor’s note. Get a signed letter from your GP stating that you are fit to operate a motor vehicle. This should take care of most medical documentation needs. Another way to waive the age requirement is to show a letter from your optometrist certifying that you can see well enough to drive. The letter should indicate whether spectacles are necessary to operate a car.

Check in online. I asked Alex Villalobos, director of operations at Costa Rican car rental company Vamos Rent-A-Car, if problems like Boyle’s would persist as long as we rent cars. No need, he said.

“As online check-in becomes much more common, drivers are entering their identification – including date of birth – before they come in,” he says. The systems flag the rental and can then request additional documentation, such as a doctor’s letter.

“That should help with last-minute finding out about restrictions for older drivers,” he says.

Boyle, the septuagenarian who couldn’t find a car in Dublin, asked Sixt if he could rent a vehicle. He let him rent a car without a letter. He drove the car around Ireland for two weeks, “without incident,” he says.

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