As said before, we booked the car rental along with flights and accommodation with the travel agent and only booked a basic economy level car. There was no room to negotiate over the phone from the UK as you are only dealing with an agent in this country. Leaving the negotiating until arrival worked in our favour and got us Musty for just $10 per day over and above the cost of an economy car. One thing to make sure beforehand is to ensure you have full damage collision waiver (CDW) which basically protects you from any liability for damage however incurred. We learnt the value of having this in Hawaii when we returned the rental car at the end of the vacation to be told : "there's a large dent under the front fender". We had no knowledge of how this had happened - it certainly wasn't us and the rental company said it was most likely down to valet parking. But as we had the full CDW all we had to do was sign a claim form and there was no further comeback on us.
This was a little more awkward than doing so in the UK. As foreigners, we couldn't use any of our debit or credit cards in the "pay at pump" machines. American gas stations don't let you pump the gas and pay afterwards so you end up having to go inside to the cashier first and either leaving something like a $50 bill, charging $50 to your credit card or leaving the card with them. After refueling you go back inside and get refunded the difference between the cost of the gas you pumped and the deposit left (either change returned or a refund on your card), or have your card charged for the full amount, whichever method they used.
Luckily gas is still a lot cheaper in the USA and the UK, so these transactions are never that big, even though a cashier in Cathey's Valley (on the way between Merced and Yosemite which we passed several times as this was the only road between Merced, Mariposa and Yosemite) thought that the cost of filling up Musty from nearly empty was a "big ticket" at $54. As an interesting comparison I calculated the equivalent US $ cost of fuel in the UK - around $7.83 per US gallon compared to the $4.09 in California and $3.24 in Arizona. So, despite Musty's 4.7 litre engine, we only spent around $290 on fuel for the 3000 miles.
Driving in America
Driving in America is generally easier than in the UK, at least in California, Nevada and Arizona where we went on our road trip! It is much more laid-back and the drivers seem to be more forgiving and courteous. The speed limit of 55mph doubtless helps keep things calm and a little easier. There are differences to watch out for (aside from the obvious driving on the right!) :
With lots of freeway junctions (on/off-ramps) the right-hand lane typically exits at the off-ramp. So if you're not exiting you need to sit in the second (or other) lanes rather than staying in the right-hand lane. You will see signs such as "Right Lane Must Exit" to warn you that the lane will suddenly peel off the main freeway and take you to an exit.
On joining a freeway you need to accelerate into the traffic. Other drivers already on the freeway will be expecting this rather
than slowing and giving way or moving over. So find the gap in the traffic and merge left.
In Los Angeles there are places on the freeways where the exits may be in the centre rather than on the right as you would expect. Thankfully there are regular signs either on overhead gantries or in the centre divide that give distances to the next two or three exits.
In some places there are "4-way stops" which are like a crossroads where each car has to stop at each entrance. At these
everyone takes it in turn to go based on when they arrived at the intersection. Imagine that working here !!
On lots of highways, if you want to make a left turn across the on-coming traffic you will find a centre lane marked out with yellow road markings. Just enter the centre lane when the markings allow and stop in the centre until you can get across the opposite side to make your turn.
U-turns can be made at most intersections with lights and are often the only way to get into the opposite direction. As the roads
are quite wide a U-turn is easy to make.
Generally you don't go into an intersection until your exit is clear. Some intersections prevent this by the phasing of the traffic lights, others have warnings showing fines applicable for stopping in the intersection. It's a great rule as it prevents intersections getting blocked up in heavy traffic.