When we picked up our rental car while this past weekend, I was reminded of the many hidden costs associated with renting a car. You can comparison shop until the cows come home, but odds are you’ll still end up paying more than you expected. Here’s a sampling:
It’s no secret that rental car agencies stick it to you if you return your car with less gas than a full tank of gas, but this is starting to get ridiculous. When picking up your car, you have two main choices: prepay for a full tank of gas or refill it yourself.
The upside of prepaying is that they you’ll pay market price for gas. The downside is that you don’t get any credit for unused gallons. Thus, you end up paying for any gas that’s left in the tank when you bring it back. Given the recent runup in gas prices, you’re paying a lot for convenience with this option.
Conversely, if you choose to refuel it yourself and then fail to do so, they’ll gouge you like there’s no tomorrow. in our case, the price per gallon for returning it less than full is $7.99/gallon. Fortunately, I’ve never had trouble finding a gas station when returning a rental car, and I certainly don’t intend to start now.
Regardless of how low the “normal” sales tax in a given area, you can typically expect to pay 10-15% (or more) in taxes when you rent a car. There’s nothing quite like building a tax base on the backs of visitors.
If you rent at the airport, you can count on paying additional “concession” fees. These are fees that are charged to the rental agency for the right to do business at the airport, and they’re pass on to you. Here’s a tip: If at all possible, pick up your car away from the airport. In our case, we rented from an agency about 2 miles from the airport, but we’re returning it at the airport — the concession fees only apply for renting, not for dropping off.
I totally forgot about this one. We found a great price, but neglected to factor in the fact that my wife would need to drive, as well. If we were AAA members, this would have been free. But since we weren’t, they charged us $11/day (capped at 5 days) for her to be allowed to drive. I asked them to drop it, but they wouldn’t budge.
Loss and damage waiver (LDW)
In my opinion, this is second only to refueling charges in terms of price gouging. Rental agencies always push their loss and damage waiver on you when you’re signing up. This option typically provides you with zero-deductible coverage for any sort of loss or damage to the rental vehicle. Unfortunately, it comes at a price — usually $20-$30/day or more.
But guess what? Individual car insurance almost always covers rentals (check with you agent if you’re not sure). Moreover, many credit cards provide car rental insurance if you pay for your rental with the card.
If you pick up at one location and return at another, you might be subject to a drop-off fee, even if the other location is just down the road. This isn’t always the case, though, so check at the rental counter.
Almost without exception, car rental agencies charge for each day, or portion thereof. Thus, if you pick your car up at 10AM, be sure to return your car by 10AM on the day you’re dropping it off or you’ll be charged for another full day. This is actually the reason we’re dropping our car off at the airport — the location from which we rented closes on Satrudays at 1PM and doesn’t re-open until Monday morning.
Since we were planning on returning the car late in the day on Saturday (following a morning pickup the previous week) they were not only going to charge us for an additional day, they were going to charge us the daily rate until they re-opened on Monday. By returning it to the airport on Sunday morning, we’ll pay the same that we would have with a Saturday afternoon dropoff, but without the charges running through Monday morning since the airport location is open 24/7. Better yet, there’s no dropoff charge.
In many cases, car rental agencies limit you to a certain number of miles per day (usually around 150). Exceed this limit and you can expect to pay $0.25-$0.50 for each additional mile.
Frequent flyer fees
Many rental agencies charge a fee (usually around $2/day) if you want to earn frequent flyer miles in return for your rental. This is fine for business travellers (if they don’t mind wasting their company’s money) but it’s not a very good deal for individuals.
Child safety seats
When traveling with kids, it’s important to find out how much you’ll have to pay to rent a child safety seats. In our case, we had every intention of bringing out own. Unfortunately, we forgot two booster seats in our car at the airport. We actually realized it before the plane departed, but security was a nightmare and we didn’t want to roll the dice with a trip back out to the parking deck.
Care to guess what Hertz charges for a child safety seat? $60/week. Plus tax. Our solution? Buy a couple of new Graco booster seats at our destination for $18/each. We’ll probably leave these with family for future trips, but even if we didn’t we’d still come out way ahead.
If you want/need a GPS in your car, be prepared to pay $15-$20/day for the privilege. A much better option would be to print out directions from MapQuest or Google Maps before you depart. Also keep in mind that many hotels have free internet connections for looking up directions. Alternatively, if you absolutely have to have one, you might want to just buy your own and take it with you. For example, you can get this one for $150. This would practically pay for itself with a week-long rental and then you’d have it for future use.
Upsizing and reduced fuel economy
Last but not least, it’s not uncommon for a rental agency to run out of cars in a certain size class. In such cases, the standard practice is to upgrade you to a larger vehicle. That’s all well and good, except that bigger cars get worse mileage, and you might find yourself spending far more on gas than you had anticipated. Fortunately, we weren’t stung by this one. We got exactly what we asked for and the mileage hasn’t been too bad, even considering we’re hauling around six people (ourselves plus four kids).