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Rental car gas costs $9 per gallon

By Claes Bell ·
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

Gary Stoller at USA Today has a pretty interesting article this week on the price of rental car gasoline. As you probably know, when you return a rental car with a tank that's not totally full, the rental car company refills the tank, charging you an inflated price for the gas they use. What you probably didn't know, unless you've been dinged for it lately, is that they're charging around $9 per gallon:

A USA TODAY survey of auto rental gas prices at 13 big airports on April 25 found Hertz was charging $9.29 a gallon at all 13. Dollar and Thrifty were charging $8.99 a gallon at two.

At $9.29 a gallon, Hertz customers renting a Ford Club Wagon, which has a 35-gallon fuel tank, would owe Hertz $325.15 for gas if they returned the wagon with a nearly empty tank and hadn't prepaid for the gas.

Renters who pay ahead of time for a tank of gas from Hertz or another car rental company, though, may find the per-gallon price cheaper than at many local gas stations.

Rental car companies, like airlines, have adapted to the age of online travel brokers like Travelocity and Orbitz by lowering their base rates but becoming masters of wringing profits out of customers via add-on fees.

While a lot of the fees at the end of your rental car invoice are government-mandated fees, here are some rental car fees beyond gas top-off costs to watch out for.

  1. Additional driver fees -- Most rental car companies charge a fee of $10 and up to add authorized drivers to a rental agreement. You can sometimes get around this fee if the additional driver is your spouse.
  2. Insurance -- When you rent a car, the customer service representative will likely try to sell you rental car insurance than can cost $20 per day or more. Most of the time, if you carry comprehensive car insurance coverage, you won't need the additional coverage offered by the insurance company. It's a good idea to check with your auto insurance provider to be sure you won't be on the hook for repairs and other costs should you get into an accident. Some credit card companies will also insure you against rental car losses if you pay using their card.
  3. Early and late return fees -- You may not know this, but many rental car companies charge fees to return your car early should your trip finish up early. It's not a huge charge -- usually around $15 -- but it's something to consider when making your reservation. More costly is the late return fee, which can be $10 or more a day, plus the cost of additional days of car rental.
  4. Child safety seats -- Parents should beware that rental car companies tend to charge out the nose -- up to $7 per day -- to rent out their often chintzy and uncomfortable child seats. Fortunately, you can avoid this by bringing your own, especially since most airlines allow flyers to bring on a child seat for free.
  5. Toll bypass option -- Rental cars in areas with lots of toll roads may come with an electronic toll bypass option by default. If you bring your own toll bypass transponder or don't plan to drive on any toll roads, make sure you don't pay for it.
  6. Mileage -- If you're a frequent car renter, you probably know to look out for this, but car rentals carry mileage limits. If you're going to be driving long distances, be sure to choose an unlimited mileage rental, unless you want to blow your budget by paying a set fee per mile for overage charges.
  7. Cleaning fees -- If you return your car with the interior covered with pet fur, filled with garbage or reeking of cigarette smoke, you may get dinged with a sizeable cleaning fee.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten hit with a sneaky car rental fee?

For more on getting a good deal on a car rental, check out the Bankrate feature, "7 ways to save on a rental car."

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May 07, 2011 at 10:48 am

In my experience, particular rental agencies are idiosyncratic and inconsistent in how they apply these fees, too. I've had attendants warn me that my gas isn't totally full and I might want to go next door to the gas station to avoid the fee. On the other hand, I've had other attendants try to insist that I needed their insurance despite my having been covered by a third party. I'm sure that the companies are trying to make money by being as confusing as possible and adding in fine print fees like this, but that doesn't always mean particular employees follow the letter of the law. One consequence of all these fees is that it's harder to compare prices across vendors, which I'm sure is another goal of the industry's fee systems.