Let’s imagine you and the family are contentedly cruising into Colorado Springs, about to embark on a Rocky Mountain RV adventure, when it happens. An unsettling sound — like grinding metal — issues from beneath your rig and the transmission begins slipping.

You nurse the vehicle into town, where you fortunately come upon an RV service center. So far, so good — but the diagnosis is not so great. The transmission is done for. A replacement must be ordered and repairs could take a week or more.

Finding another RV to rent would be the best option — but that’s unlikely in most areas of the country — so the next best one would seem to be renting a car so that you can at least continue your trip.

If, like many others, you’ve never or only occasionally rented a car, you might well heed the advice provided in the following six tips aimed at getting the best deal and avoiding the pitfalls so often involved in contracting for a rental car.

1. Choose the right vehicle

Consider what kind of vehicle you need. If you’re traveling with the kids or lots of gear, you’ll probably want to opt for an SUV or large sedan.

Otherwise, you can save money by reserving the smallest available model. Make sure too that the rental car company offers any extras you may want or need, such as children’s car seats or a GPS system.

2. Shop around before booking

Although your choice of rental agencies might be limited based on your location, if you are anywhere near a town or city of any size, you’ll have plenty of companies to choose from.

Major car rental companies such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty have outlets nearly everywhere – but there could also be locally owned companies offering lower rates. The secret at this point is to take your time and shop around.

Check the top booking engines and aggregator sites — such as Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz or BookingBuddy — to survey rates available at your location. Visit the rental car company’s websites as well because they may offer to lower your rate or give you an upgrade.

Ask about discounts for national organizations, frequent flier or credit car programs to which you may belong. Discounts offered through organizations such as AARP and AAA can be substantial.

3. Review terms and conditions of your rental

If you’re booking online, read the terms and conditions carefully before confirming your reservation. If you book by phone, ask the agent about the company’s terms, conditions and restrictions.

Is there, for example, a fee for additional drivers and must they be listed in the contract? Is your teenage son old enough to drive the car? What are the penalties for either early or late return of the vehicle? What happens if the rental vehicle breaks down?

If pertinent, ask about any restrictions on travel off road or across state or international borders. For one-way rentals, ask about drop-off charges (often exorbitant).

4. Confirm the true cost of your rental

Rates you see ballyhooed in big print can become so inflated with extra charges — state and local taxes, airport surcharges, additional driver fees, insurance, gasoline and drop-off charges — that you could end up paying more than double the advertised cost. Rates can also vary by the season in some locations.

The major booking engines are becoming more transparent than the companies themselves in revealing the total cost of rentals. Because it is very profitable for them, rental companies will often try to induce (read pressure) you into buying insurance.

Assuming you have personal auto insurance or charge the rental to a major credit card, you will more than likely be covered — so you shouldn’t have to purchase the rental car company’s collision or loss damage waiver (CDW or LDW) insurance.

If there’s any doubt, check with your insurance agent or credit card issuer. Avoid signing on to a prepaid gasoline plan (more on that later).

5. Pre-checks at pickup time

Before you leave the pickup station, be sure the lights and turn signals are working properly. Also, check the mileage odometer and fuel gauge to confirm they match up with what’s stated on your contract and carefully inspect the vehicle for any body damage and windshield cracks.

Familiarize yourself with the basic operation of the vehicle (how the lights, wipers, A/C, turn signals and sound system work) before you hit the road. You’d be wise as well to make a mental note of the make, model and color of your vehicle just to help you find it the first time you park in a crowded lot. Always keep your copy of the rental agreement in the car at all times.

6. Tips on returning your vehicle

By declining the prepaid gasoline plan and refilling the tank yourself you’ll be certain you’re only paying for the amount of gas you actually used — and you’ll get it at a much cheaper price than what the rental car company charges. Check GasBuddy.com to find the best gas price in your area.

However counterintuitive it might seem, returning your vehicle early could actually cost you more. You may have to pay an early return fee, or your rate structure might change, leaving you responsible for the difference.

For example, if you’ve rented your vehicle for a week but return it after only five or six days, you will likely end up paying a more expensive daily rate. Late returns will cost you, too. Most rental car companies allow less than an hour of grace time before adding late fees.

Before leaving the vehicle, be absolutely certain you haven’t left any personal belongings. The most frequently left articles include cellphones, sunglasses and umbrellas. Make sure the check-in attendant inspects the vehicle in your presence and that you agree about any damage. Finally, review your rental agreement thoroughly for the accuracy of all charges before signing off on it.