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Uncovering Hidden Fees Before Renting a Car



Whether you are renting a car for your next road trip or need a vehicle temporarily, it is essential to understand hidden fees. These fees can cost consumers billions of dollars each year.

Check your rental contract for these junk fees before you sign. Fortunately, by being ready and understanding what questions to ask, you can prevent having to pay these costs.

Charges for Extra Drivers

Many car rental companies charge an additional driver fee to register anyone who wants to drive the vehicle besides the primary renter. This can be $10 or more daily, a nuisance, and a potential liability if the non-listed driver gets into an accident. The insurance on the rental automobile and any credit card coverage can be canceled if you let an unauthorized driver use the vehicle.

The age of a prospective driver can also trigger extra charges, with companies charging young drivers more than older ones to offset the increased risk they pose. Similarly, some rental companies impose a one-way fee for allowing you to drop off the vehicle at a different location from where you picked it up.

Then there are the equipment-rental costs, which can get expensive and include satellite radio, GPS, and roof racks. These can often be avoided by booking a roundtrip rental, using credit card rewards points to lower the overall rental cost, and checking whether your auto insurance or the credit cards you will use for the trip will provide adequate coverage. Explore opportunities provided by a reputable coupon aggregator site like RetailMeNot for potential discounts and special offers.

Charges for Dropping Off the Car Late

Changing your rental car return time at the last minute will likely result in an extra charge, especially if the company has to rework its reservation system. Sister companies Dollar and Thrifty have both been very clear about this in their rental terms, and you can avoid it by calling the company as soon as you know that you will be returning the car later than initially planned.

Many rental car companies have a grace period for dropping off cars, usually two to seven hours, depending on the company. If you go over that window, expect to pay hourly late fees, which add up quickly. You also risk losing a full day’s rate for optional charges like GPS rentals and collision protection plans if you don’t return the car on time.

Many rental companies charge for using their transponders, which let you speed through tolls. This is another one of those pesky fees that are almost impossible to avoid, but you can minimize the amount you pay by avoiding expensive routes or driving to less-used areas where tolls are cheaper.

Lastly, be aware that most rental car companies put a hold or block on your debit or credit card for more than the total cost of your renter. This is done to ensure there are enough funds or credits in your account to cover any extra charges that might come up.

Charges for Damage

Damage to a rental car is one of the most common reasons people are surprised by a hefty bill from a car rental company. This is especially true if you decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver (CDW). The company will claim that new damage has been discovered on the vehicle after your rental, and they may charge you for repairs plus an administrative fee and loss of use fee. You can dispute these charges, but it will only be accessible with proof.

If you can dispute the charges by showing that the damage wasn’t already there when you got the car, you can sometimes have the rental company drop the charge. However, avoiding these charges is best by requesting time-stamped photos and a thorough inspection before driving away.

Additionally, take pictures of the outside and inside of the car to document any wear and tear or damage. If there is any doubt, ask to speak with a supervisor and have the damaged areas photographed again. If you have a smartphone with a camera app, use its notes and photo features to document any damage that is found before the car is returned. Ensure that the damage is noted on the check-in form and that the person at the counter signs off before handing it back.

Charges for Fuel

Unless you rent a car with a fuel policy that guarantees a full tank, expect to pay extra for the gas you use. Many rental companies charge a “fuel fee” when you return the vehicle with less than a full tank, and it’s borderline criminal how much these fees can cost.

Rental car agents are incentivized to sell the prepaid fuel option because it’s not just convenient; it’s guaranteed money for them. But as Frommer points out the “pump price” may be a lie—it’s often inflated to include the taxes you’d pay at a gas station outside of the airport. Most renters decline to refuel at the car rental company’s stations so the agencies can make the money they promised on the prepaid fuel.

If you opt for the prepaid gas option, fill it out before you return the car and keep a receipt. That way, if the agency tries to charge you for a full tank of gas that wasn’t there at the end of your rental, you can prove it. It’s small but can make all the difference when fighting unethical charges after a rental car trip. The same goes for other add-ons, like using the rental car’s transponder to pass through toll roads. Read the fine print thoroughly and initial your agreement before accepting any extras.


I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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