Cheap Car Rental Tips & Tricks in Chiang Mai

This article is the most complete guide to renting a car in Chiang Mai. After reading it all the way through, you will know where and how best to book a car, what documents are required, why it is very important to pay full insurance, and much more.

As you already know, our company rents motorbikes, and we always mention that a motorcycle is a high-risk means of transportation. Especially considering that Thailand is the world leader in the number of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists. However, for reasons we do not understand, many travelers who want to rent a bike do not have a motorcycle license and also do not have any riding skills (sic!). This automatically puts them on a par with suicides and Darwin Award nominees.

However, due to the lack of an extensive public transport network in Chiang Mai, and the language barrier between travelers and songthaew drivers, a personal vehicle is a necessity during your vacation. Especially if you are a traveler interested in local attractions and not a seal who likes to lie by the pool 24 hours a day cuddled up with bottles of heavy drinks.

Before 2020, you could find more than 100 private and chain car rentals in Chiang Mai. After the pandemic collapsed the travel market worldwide, and Thailand was no exception, many of these companies went bankrupt. Nevertheless, some of them still exist and offer car rental services.

Let’s get into the details!

If you need a car for a couple of days, it’s better to rent it from international chain companies, so you don’t have any problems. They have everything clear and well-established, the vehicles have low mileage, and the prices are the same as everywhere else. There’s no point in looking for a rental service anywhere else. Just book online, pick up at the airport or hotel, and travel!

Also, the big chain rental companies give you the opportunity to rent a car in one city and return it in another. This is very useful if you start your trip in Chiang Mai and finish it at Bangkok or Phuket.

First class commercial vehicle insurance, which fully covers any damage, in Thailand is issued only on cars that are no more than 5-7 years old, depending on the insurance company. This is very important, because some private renters offering cars for rental at a very low price, have vehicles that exceed this age. That means that no insurance company will cover the damage in case you get into an accident.

But if you are going to rent a car for several months, then look at the local private rental companies, it may be cheaper. But keep in mind that during the peak season (December-January) small companies may not have cars available in the parking lot, and prices can exceed all reasonable limits. The reason for this is that during the high season, it is not profitable to rent cars monthly, because they make as much in just one week of high season as they do in one month during normal times.

If you need a car for a couple of days, it’s better to rent it from international chain companies, so you don’t have any problems. They have everything clear and well-established, the vehicles have low mileage, and the prices are the same as everywhere else. There’s no point in looking for a rental service anywhere else. Just book online, pick up at the airport or hotel, and travel!

Also, the big chain rental companies give you the opportunity to rent a car in one city and return it in another. This is very useful if you start your trip in Chiang Mai and finish it in Bangkok or on Phuket.

Where to Rent a Car in Chiang Mai

Local Businesses

When mentioning local car rental companies, we are referring to small companies and individuals. These companies rent cars on the street or at the hotel, sometimes after a long search or by making a reservation at the reception of your hostel or hotel. Usually it makes sense to rent a car from a private rental place only if the rental period is a month or more, then it comes out cheaper and the time spent searching for the best deal is also worth it.

But in private rentals there can be some problems with insurance (it may not be present at all), with drawing up an agreement, and also there may be no car inspection sheet, which can lead to further problems. Moreover, the smaller the rental place, the “easier” will be the execution of documents and conditions. You may have to come to an agreement in words with a private person, which means that in case of any misunderstanding you will not have any documents confirming the exact conditions of the rental car. In general, small companies are not trusted by all travelers, because there are many uncertainties with them, from search to insurance and rental terms.

chain companies and Rental brokers

Network companies are the ones that operate not only in Thailand, but all over the world. You may know and remember their names from your travels in other countries: Hertz, Sixt, Avis, Thifty, etc. They all have similar requirements, always have insurance (with or without deductibles, your choice), all conditions are clearly spelled out on their websites and in their contracts. In that sense, everything is safe and guaranteed, and they all have a similar registration procedure. And you do not need to waste time looking for it.

All international renters offer their services not only through their official websites, but also through online brokers. These are special online services that display car rental options and rates from all renters at once. Experienced travelers know about these online brokers and always rent cars with their help. Just in case, I will tell you more in detail.

If you want to rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai instead of a car, contact us, and we will rent you one of our 125-300cc bikes from our fleet.

For travelers in Thailand, there are two most popular online car booking systems – EconomyBookings, and RentalCars. Depending on the situation, either one or the other may be preferable, so you need to check both.

It is very important to understand the following:

1. The price of rental cars through an online broker is always 1.5 – 2 times cheaper than the price of a direct rental car. This is why all travelers rent through brokers.

2. Online reservation systems provide a free additional driver option. Then the car can be driven by another person besides you. For example, a friend or your partner. This is very important for insurance, in case of an unforeseen accident.

3. Car rental brokers offer their All Risks insurance with a zero deductible, which means you get absolutely free what you have to pay extra money for at the rental company. So renting through an online broker is cheaper than renting directly and then buying additional full insurance from the renter.

4. Online brokers offer the best choice among all big and well-known rental companies working on the local market. You do not need to endlessly browse through the websites of car rental companies, compare prices and find out what cars are available and on what terms a particular car can be rented. This is especially true during the high season, when travelers take out the entire fleet and there are not enough cars for everyone.

Discovered car rental patterns in Chiang Mai

Generally, if you rent a car with the return in the same place you rented and with a rental period of 2-3 days or more, the cost is lower on Economy Bookings than on Rental Cars. It doesn’t make sense to look at other car rental brokers like Local Rent or Discover Cars because they have a smaller selection and higher prices.

For example, I have chosen the booking dates of December 12 to 18, and I want to return the car at the same place where I rented it, at Chiang Mai Airport. At EconomyBookings, the rental price is only 5,824 baht, while the rental price at Rental Cars is 6,454 baht, which is 630 baht more expensive.

As you can see, in both cases the service provider is Thai Rent A Car. If we check the price on the website of the service provider, we find that the price ranges from 6488 baht to 7340 baht, depending on the payment method. It’s a little pricey, isn’t it?

But if you rent a car for a one-way trip, like renting a car in Chiang Mai and returning it at Phuket, Rental Cars is better value. Your savings when renting a car from Rental Cars, compared to EconomyBookings, will be 4,078 baht. At the exchange rate on the day of writing this guide, that’s as much as $109.

So if you are going to rent a car in Chiang Mai and return in Chiang Mai also, we recommend you Economy Bookings.

But if you rent a car in Chiang Mai and travel to another province, returning the car to somewhere else, then try do it with Rental Cars, it may be much preferable.

In the first case, the service is provided by Hertz, a company operating in the car rental market since 1918 (subsidiaries: Dollar Rent A Car, Firefly Car Rental, Thrifty Car Rental), which filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

If we look at the rates on their website, we see that the cost of service for the dates we need is from 10,696 baht (1,337 per day) to 12,152 baht (1,519 per day), depending on the payment method. At the same time, Hertz does not give you a choice and provides only one model of car for rent.

Even though the price is slightly lower than Economy Bookings’ car rental broker, it’s still costly compared to Rental Cars, which offer only 7,180 baht for eight days.

In the second case, the service is provided by Budget Car Rental. But when I tried to book a car through their website, it turned out that the booking form didn’t work. I tried to do it for a day, but I was unsuccessful. “Please contact our center,” – reads the notice on their website.

Amazing Thailand =) The company invests millions of dollars to the car rental business, but they can’t keep their website up and running. And that’s another reason why we recommend you choose rental brokers.

Features of renting a car in Chiang Mai

Average cost of car rental

The average cost of renting a small car in Chiang Mai is 600-800 baht/day, and a sedan is about 1000-1200 baht/day, regardless of whether the network company or a private individual. The cost depends on the time of year, car model, and rental period. The cheapest are small cars and pickup trucks with manual transmissions. If you rent a car for more than 3 days, the rental company will likely give you some discount.

The price for monthly rent is 15-25 thousand baht/month. Similar prices are offered by international chains, local rentals, and private rentals. But you need to compare and check the costs for the dates you are interested in. Also, the smaller the rental, the better the bargain, especially if you need the car for 2-3 months.

But if you use the rental brokers we mentioned earlier, finding the best prices and terms for a short-term rental vehicle will be easier than calling many private companies on your own in search of the best deal.

Sometimes, in private rentals, you can find old cars for 10-12 thousand baht per month. If you are looking for an old but cheap car, then be sure to check the serviceability of the brakes and the availability of insurance First Class, also known as All Risks or Full Class. [R]

Since Chiang Mai is a predominantly hilly region, driving downhill for 20-30 minutes is common here. Faulty brakes on long mountain descents can cause an accident. Of course, the insurance company is supposed to cover all expenses related to the accident. However, if your car is more than 7 years old, no insurance company would cover such a car with First Class insurance. This is important! Thus, we strongly advise you to avoid such cars.

One more thing, do not forget about the peak season! At the New Year and other holidays, including Buddhist holidays, such as Loi Krathong, the car is better to reserve in advance! Because on these dates, the demand for cars increases, the number of available vehicles decreases, and the prices for rent increase proportionally. Sometimes the price increase can be as much as x3 compared to the regular price.

International Driving Permit

Only two documents are required to rent a car: a passport and a driver’s license. The driver’s license may not be asked for in small private rentals, but large rentals will definitely ask. Be sure to keep in mind that you must also have an International Driving Permit in addition to your national driver’s license. Failure to have this document can cost you a fine of 500 baht. Don’t buy it online. It’s illegal.

Restrictions for drivers

In the car rental shops, there are restrictions on the driver’s age – you must be at least 21-25 years old, depending on the conditions of the particular company. Another rule is associated with using the car – it can not go abroad, that is, to a neighboring country to Thailand. The mileage is usually unlimited, but you should see the contract terms to avoid unforeseen “surprises” because the fine print and inattention can rip your pockets.

Do I need a credit card to rent a car?

A credit card is only needed for the deposit, which will be frozen when signing the contract in the renter’s office. If you book the car with an online broker, you can pay for the rental with a credit or debit card. RentalCars charges the total amount at once, and EconomyBookings charges only 15%. The rest you will pay in the rental company’s office in your own way.

How much is a cash deposit?

A cash deposit is a common practice. Private car rentals often take a cash deposit, while chain rentals always freeze the amount on a credit card. Private rentals may take a deposit of 5,000-30000 baht, while chain rentals freeze 5,000-1,000 baht. For example, HERTZ freezes 5,000 baht in your account, and Avis freezes 8,000 baht. The full deposit will be refunded to the card about 5-30 days after the rental ends. You don’t have to do anything special for this.

In what currency do I pay for the rented car?

The final currency is always specified at the end of the car reservation on the payment page. EconomyBookings, in most cases, deducts money from your card in euros. You will be charged additional fees if you want to pay in dollars.

The currency you will be charged by RentalCars depends on the country you visit on their website. For example, European IP will be charged in Euros, and other countries will use their currencies. For Thailand, it will be the Thai Baht. You can check the conversion rate with your bank. But if the currency is not popular, the reservation system will offer you to pay in dollars.

Rental Car Insurance in Chiang Mai

Always ask about insurance when renting a car from small private rentals! Of course, you can hope for the best and that nothing will happen, but we do not recommend renting a car without insurance. And don’t forget about your personal travel insurance, which is also a must-have.

It is much easier with the big chain companies because their insurance is always included in the rental price. So all you need to do is to choose what kind of insurance you want: regular insurance (it’s already included in the price) or full insurance for extra money.

What are the types of insurance for rental cars?

  1. Third-Party Insurance. The chain companies have it included in the price.
  2. Collision Damage Waiver Insurance, with a deductible. Usually referred to as CDW (Collision Damage Waiver). With chain companies initially included in the cost.
  3. Collision Damage Waiver, no deductible. Usually marked as SCDW or ECDW (Super Collision Damage Waiver or Extra Collision Damage Waiver). Purchased for extra money, either from a rental company or broker.
  4. Insurance against theft (Theft or Stolen). Purchased for extra money. As a rule, such insurance is not necessary in Thailand because cars are rarely stolen.
  5. Life and health insurance for drivers and passengers (Personal Accident Insurance). You must buy it with extra money. Not needed if you have regular travel insurance. But, in some insurance companies driving a car or motorcycle is an additional option for travel insurance. Be sure to check your insurance terms and conditions before you leave for Thailand.

What is an insurance deductible?

This is your limit of liability for car damage. For example, suppose you scratch your car. The deductible covers damage of 10,000 baht. In that case, you will be billed, but not more than the deductible amount. That is, if you have insurance with a deductible (CDW), you will pay 10,000 baht at the most.

In the case of full coverage (SCDW) for any damage, you do not pay anything. But there is an exception. Suppose your car after an accident is written off as scrap (Total Loss), then even with full insurance. In that case, you will be deducted a certain amount. So, for example, Hertz will charge you 30,000 baht. But as you understand, this is not much for a totally ruined car.

Do I have to pay for extra insurance covering absolutely all risks?

In addition to the fact that you may somehow damage the car yourself, there is also such a thing with the franchise. When returning the car, rental workers may try to trick you for scratches, as if they were made during your rental period, and charge extra.

Of course, if you rent a car from a large rental company or through a broker, it is infrequent. But if you read the reviews even of the big companies, then suddenly it turns out that almost all of them have reviews that say, “we didn’t break anything, but we had to pay a couple thousand baht for small damages.” So who’s right and wrong if you didn’t take pictures of the car before jumping in – it’s impossible to find out.

So if you do not want to bother yourself with unnecessary questions and problems, just buy additional comprehensive insurance without a deductible covering absolutely all risks. This is very inexpensive, but it will 100% save you from unforeseen problems and expenses.

Where do I buy extra insurance, from the renter or from a rental broker?

How full insurance from a rental broker works. If there are any problems, you first have to pay for any damage up to the deductible to the renter and then tell the broker, who will pay you back all the money you spent. Don’t forget to get a receipt from the rental company confirming your expenses.

The upside: the rental broker insures glass, mirrors, and tires that are not included with the rental company (except in the economy class). At the same time, the cost of insurance is lower. For example, EconomyBookings will charge 300 baht/day for full insurance for any car without a deductible. In comparison, the renter will charge 400 baht/day for a medium car and 650 baht/day for an SUV.

Thus, at the rental brokers, you will find the best prices for rental cars and more affordable prices for additional insurance covering all damages.

Do I have to inspect the car before signing the contract?

When renting a car, be sure to draw up a contract, which will be spelled out the terms of the lease, the cost of renting, and the insurance terms. Insurance is the most important thing. Small rentals and individuals may not offer you any agreement – you can only guess what may happen in the future. At the same time, network renters always provide a rental agreement and all the necessary documents. They have everything standardized.

Now about the inspection. If the rental agency is significant, they will give you a sheet of examination of the car, and you will be able to mark scratches and dents on the car’s body. Be sure to do this if you do not have full insurance. And be sure to check the windows, mirrors, and tires – these are often not covered even by full insurance for economy cars.

Also, the rental agreement specifies the fuel level. If the rental company is small, they usually don’t bother with such things, neither with the fuel level nor the car inspection sheet. In this case, to be safe, write down all the damage in the contract in an accessible form and take photos and videos of the damage.

Central car rentals in Thailand always provide a car with a full tank, and you must return it with a full tank. Otherwise, you will pay about 300-400 baht for each mark of the fuel level + service charge.


Thailand is the leader among all countries in the world in the number of motorcyclists killed on the roads every year. At the same time, Thailand is not the country with the highest number of motorcyclists in the world. Indonesia has 5 times the number of motorcycles in Thailand, but the number of accidents and deaths among Indonesians is 3 times lower, per every 100,000 motorcyclists. Thus, renting a motorcycle in Thailand is associated with increased risks to your life. And this is no joke. It’s a statistic.

Road Accidents Thailand Vs Indonesia

Moreover, Chiang Mai is one of the leaders in the number of fatal accidents among all 77 provinces of Thailand.

Thai Accidents Visual Data

According to statistics, the population of Chiang Mai province is 1,779,254 people. At the same time, between January and November 21, 2022 (the day of writing this text), there were 9764 accidents with 401 fatalities in Chiang Mai. Thus, there are 223(!) motorcyclists per 1,000,000 Chiang Mai province residents who died in accidents on Chiang Mai’s roads.

Chiang Mai Road Accident Data

By contrast, Bangkok Metro, with a population of 14,626,225, had only 827 fatalities during the same period. Thus, in Bangkok, with its huge population, only 56 people die in accidents for every 1,000,000 inhabitants of Bangkok. That is, the death rate on Chiang Mai’s roads is 4(!) times that of Bangkok, where the traffic is much heavy.

Bkk Road Accident Data

This data was provided by the Thai RSC Accident Information Center, which has access to statistics from insurance companies.

In my opinion, the reasons are quite simple, the inaction of the traffic police. For example, these guys often post videos on their FB page of how they drive on the city streets. In one such video, which lasted only 13 minutes, I counted 9 offenses. The most egregious case happened right in front of their eyes. There was a passenger pickup truck driving ahead of the traffic police vehicle, and make a U-turn right under a “no U-turn” sign. What did the traffic guys do? Absolutely nothing. They just drove on as if nothing had happened.

Chiang Mai Trafic Police

It is this kind of indifferent behavior on the part of the traffic police toward their direct duties that leads local residents to ignore traffic rules that were written in other people’s blood.

So if you want to travel safely in Thailand and Chiang Mai in your personal vehicle, we STRONGLY recommend renting a car. It must be strange to hear that from a motorcycle rental company. Nevertheless, it is true.

Depending on which rental agency you apply for, the minimum driver age may be limited to 21-25 years old. As we said earlier, it is better to contact rental brokers, as they offer more loyal rental terms and better conditions.

The rental price depends on the car model and rental period. For example, if you rent a small car 5-6 years old, with a manual transmission, then, in this case, a day of rent will cost you about 600 baht, and renting a car for a month will cost you about 11,000-12,000 baht. If the vehicle is less than a year old and has an automatic transmission, then, in this case, the cost of renting is from 1,000 baht per day. The price per month will be approximately 15,000 baht.

If you rent a car for a month, the price of a 5-6-year-old small vehicle with a manual transmission will be approximately 12,000 baht per month. By simple mathematical calculations, if there are 30 days in a month, we get the cost of renting 400 baht daily. So, you can actually rent a car in Chiang Mai for only 500 baht a day. Moreover, you can rent it for cheaper than 500 baht a day. All in your hands!

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