Age restrictions for car rentals can be tricky. This is what you should know.

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Patrick Boyle found out about the age restrictions for car hire by accident when he arrived in Dublin on holiday.

I had reserved a sedan from Europcar. But when he and his wife showed the attendant his passport, the clerk refused to hand over the keys unless they produced a doctor’s note certifying his health. Both Boyle and his wife are 76 years old.

“We had never heard of this policy, and the rental agency did not ask our ages when we reserved the car,” says Boyle, a retired journalist who lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Undeterred, the Boyles went over to test the Hertz meter. A representative there said they had cars but could not rent to the couple without a letter from their optometrist certifying they could drive.

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

What to know about age restrictions

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

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

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

What is it like to rent in Turo, a car sharing app

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

For Enterprise, the minimum age required to rent a car in Ireland and the UK is 25 years old. In Germany, France and Spain, the minimum age for the company is 21 years. Sixt, however, states that the minimum age for renters in France is 18, as long as the driver has held a valid license for two years. Europcar’s minimum for France is also 18 years old. In many cases, the type of car you want to rent can also affect the age limit.

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

In other words, age restrictions are all over the map. Enterprise corporate-owned locations do not have a maximum age to rent a car in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Spain. But in Bulgaria, it is 75. Some companies that impose a higher age restriction allow drivers to exceed the limit as long as they pay surcharges.

“If a company believes that renting to an older person isn’t financially worth it, they won’t rent it to you,” says Maximilian Wühr, co-founder of car subscription provider Finn.

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

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

Why Companies Don’t Hire Young Drivers

The age problem is even more difficult to deal with if you are young. Hagr Elweshahy, an 18-year-old high school senior, is interning at a technology company in Linden, New Jersey, and needed to rent a car to attend a week-long convention. Elweshahy is an outstanding student and is on her way to being valedictorian in her class. But no rental company will rent you a vehicle.

“They explained to me that despite how friendly and responsible I appear, statistically there is a greater chance that I will have an accident because of my age,” he says.

“In general, there are age restrictions because young drivers are less experienced, take more unnecessary risks behind the wheel and are involved in more preventable accidents,” says Narendra Khatri, director 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 for rentals.”

Young drivers are a risk car rental companies don’t want to take, says Simon Mawdsley, co-director of Grand Prix Grand Tours, which offers driving holidays across Europe in exotic sports cars. Will not rent to anyone under the age of 28. He told me that while there may be young drivers who are responsible, it is too difficult to assess them.

How to avoid problems with age requirements

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

Ask for a doctor’s note. Obtain a signed letter from your general practitioner 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 must state whether glasses are necessary to operate a car.

Register online. I asked Alex Villalobos, director of operations for the Costa Rican rental car company Vamos Rent-A-Car, if problems like Boyle’s would persist as long as we rented cars. Not necessarily, he said.

“As online check-in becomes much more common, drivers submit their identification, including date of birth, prior to their arrival,” he says. The systems flag the rent and can then request additional documentation, such as a doctor’s letter.

“That should help prevent last-minute discovery of restrictions for older drivers,” he says.

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