What you need to know about renting a car in Japan

So i’ve just made the car rental arrangement for my upcoming Japan trip. This would be my 4th time renting a car in Japan (well the 5th time including the rental on Yakushima Island). You could say i’ve learned quite a bit along the way. For the upcoming car rental, i chose to go with Tocoo. Yes, i’ve been critical of Tocoo in my original post about renting a car in Japan, but, this time round, they make sense.

My trip is happening half a year from now, and i believe that’s the reason i’m not seeing any promotion from the car rental agencies, because booking now is too far in advance. I have a feeling that car rental agencies start to advertise promotional rates only 4 months ahead the expected time of booking, and the discount can be something like 30-40%. I’m not sure though.

Well, Tocoo actually offers now, a 38.5% discount over the actual rental agency rate for the same booking period. Here’s proof:

20250 Yen for a 5 days rental, which is pretty cheap. They mention that only 30 such openings are available, and i’m probably the first person to nab the deal.
32900 Yen if i were to book directly with Nissan.

The downside of booking through Tocoo, is, as mentioned in my original post, the mandatory additional service fee, which they now call Tocoo! Additional Support (T.A.S.). It used to be a fee for nothing – you simply pay extra because you’re booking through Tocoo. Now, you get N.O.C. and towing fees waived in case of car damage or accident. Not bad. But it also costs more – JPY 1375 instead of JPY 1080 per day. A hefty fee if your rental period is a week or more.

Nevertheless, even with T.A.S. factored in, my booking is still cheaper than the current rate offered by Nissan (JPY 27125 vs 32900, before tax). Anyway, the main reason i’m going with Tocoo is the Tocoo Expressway Pass. You pay a flat fee for unlimited usage of Toll roads. Toll cost a lot if you drive long distances. You can get an Expressway pass, but it’s possible you will cross over to other regions where the Expressway pass does not cover. In my case, i’m driving from Tokyo to Sendai and beyond, and the Tohoku Expressway Pass does cover the majority of the places i will be going, but not the area nearer Tokyo. In fact, you can see from the map below that there is not a single Expressway pass that covers the areas around Tokyo.

Image taken from japan-guide.com. You can see that no Expressway Pass exists for the area between Tokyo to Niigata

There is, actually, the Japan Expressway Pass that provides unlimited usage of Toll roads across Japan, with probably just very few sections excluded. However, you’re limited to booking either one or two weeks (costing JPY 20400 and 34600 respectively) of usage instead of the exact number of days to coincide with your rental booking, like is possible with the other Expressway passes. In my case, i’ll have to opt for one week even though i’m just renting the car for 5 days. Simply not worthwhile. By choosing the Tocoo Expressway Pass, i’m paying JPY 14500, so i save JPY 5900 vs the one week JEP, which is a lot. Actually, even the one week TEP is cheaper (JPY 17900). Another advantage of the TEP is that it is truly unlimited, with no excluded sections of toll roads.

The worrisome part about the Tocoo Expressway Pass is that the ETC card will be mailed to you, either to an Airport Post Office, or to the hotel where you will be staying. In case the delivery didn’t work out for some reason, you will be in trouble. Anyway, i do have a lot of confidence in Japanese businesses and their courier service, so i would still give the TEP a go.

With these advantages being offered by Tocoo in mind, i’m willing to put up with the annoyance of paying the T.A.S. and TEP fee upfront.

Anyway, here’s an important tip for those who are traveling around the Central region, who will be making use of the Central Expressway Pass. I booked the CEP for my rental without realizing that, because i would be going to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, i actually also need the Nagoya Expressway Pass. If you looked at the CEP map, it would seem to cover all those toll roads, but in actual fact, you also need the Nagoya Expressway Pass. This mistake cost me more than JPY 5000!

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