5 Car Rental Ripoffs You Should Avoid

5 Car Rental Ripoffs You Should Avoid

The lines at the car rental counter can be long, and everyone standing there has a target on them.

For a lot of travelers, by the time you get off the plane and make it to the car rental counter, you're either tired or eager to get where you're going -- or both. And that's just the way the folks who rent you cars want it.

The less in tune you are with what they're doing and the less focused you are on what they're trying to sell, the more likely you are to spend money on unneeded upgrades and get stuck with other charges that you can -- and should -- avoid.

Car rental agents are rewarded for how much they can get you to add. Here are five areas to pay close attention to when renting a car, or you'll run the risk of paying far more than necessary:

1. The fine print. Understand the terms of your rental. If you rent a car for a week for $200 and bring it back after six days, what will you pay? The deal you might have gotten was based on a seven-day rental. You could be charged a far higher rate or even face a penalty for bringing it back too soon. Maybe not, but you ought to know that before you drive away. Make sure what is included in the price and what isn't. Sometimes, airport fees and additional charges can make what seems like a cheap rental expensive.

2. Insurance. Car rental agents can be relentless in their push to get you buy their insurance, which is couched in confusing terms like "collision damage waiver." The best defense against that is to call your car insurance company before you leave home and see what it covers. Then follow up with a call to your credit card company, since many cards offer supplemental coverage to what your auto insurer covers. Car rental companies will charge you for roadside assistance (millions of Americans have access to that through AAA and other services) and the time a vehicle can't be rented because it's being fixed (ask your insurer about "loss of use" coverage).

3. Damage charges. The complaints are repeated over and over again. A consumer gets a bill from a car rental company for damage that they didn't think they are responsible for. If you can't make the case with any evidence, you'll not likely to get off the hook. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle prior to pulling out of the parking spot, and make sure any damage is noted before leaving. Take photos of the vehicle using a camera or smartphone that has a time stamp, paying particular attention to any existing damage.

4. Gas charges. Prepaying for a tank of gas is a sucker's bet. But be clear about the rules for how much gas has to be in the car when you return it and whether you need a receipt, as well as how far you're allowed to drive from a gas station. Seriously. Driving more than 10 miles after filling up your tank could lead to a penalty. Or failing to show your receipt could negate bringing it back full.

5. The upsell. That could be anything from getting you rent a bigger car to paying a daily fee for a GPS or a toll transponder. Anything you're going to get charged for on a daily basis or prepay from a car rental agency is going to be money you could have saved. Do you really need to rent a GPS in today's world of smartphones? Do you really want to pay a premium to pay tolls? Need a car seat? Bring one.

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Class action for the excessive fees charged by car rental companies for tolls. http://www.consumerclassactionlawyers.com/car-rental-toll-booth-fees-class-action-investigation.html

August 27 2014 at 7:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Agreed, all five points are valid and pose a financial risk to renters but in my mind, the most egregious rental car charge is usually the enormous tax and fee rate which can be in excess of 25-30%. The renter has little recourse and the state and municipalities know it, so it's easy to lay on the taxation.

August 13 2014 at 11:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"With that said, it's important to make sure that your personal insurance transfers to your rental car"

The problem is, the rental agreement allows the rental company to charge you for things not covered by your insurance or a credit card, such as diminished value. When the tsunami hit Japan, one renter got hit with a loss of use charge of $7,000 by the rental agency because of the months-long wait for repair parts on a Toyota. Diminished value claims are typically hundreds of dollars and can be thousands. Cars are often damaged when rented.

August 13 2014 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good article. Here are a couple of quick points:

1. Most people don't need the Damage Waiver that the rental car company sells you. It's a bigger revenue generator than the actual rental. With that said, it's important to make sure that your personal insurance transfers to your rental car and that you have proof of insurance with you at all times. It is worth noting that sometimes your credit card will cover the rental vehicle as well with Damage Waiver-like coverage. While it's true that if you have an accident you might have to pay your deductible if the accident is your fault, it's also true that cars are rarely damaged while on rental. Damages occur most often when the individual paid to clean the car after the vehicle is returned bumps it into another car. If you are involved in a wreck and it isn't your fault, your insurance company will go after the other party involved in the accident (it's called subrogation).

If you are traveling on business, ask your company if they need you to accept or decline the Damage Waiver, Personal Accident Insurance, or Supplemental Liability Protection (or any other random coverage). I haven't worked for a company yet that didn't cover me under the corporate policy while traveling for work.

2. It's a known fact that some car rental company employees leave comments on Inc., The Consumerist, and Daily Finance every time that the topic of car rental insurance is breached. It always seems to come out like this: "I once rented a car and ___ happened...wish I had taken the Full Coverage...paid lots of money...not my fault...totally will take the coverage next time...people that don't take coverage are idiots..." There are several examples of this in the comment section of this very article. The bottom line is that coverage sales (by the rental employee) are incentivized. Some companies (like National, Alamo, and Avis/Budget to name a few) pay a commission on sales made at the rental counter.

Drive safely, make informed decisions, and keep your rental contract and proof of insurance with you at all times.

August 13 2014 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A customer should check the gas immediately after you rent a vehicle. More than once the B****t on Wilmington Av in Dayton, Ohio has rented me cars that have been at least two gallons empty when they were supposed to be full. I got receipts and took pictures of the odometer, made copies and made sure I got my money back. I now use a different rental company

August 13 2014 at 3:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I find this article very useful though I know most of these facts already. But letting consumers know is very good thing on DF's part.

If you are using your own insurance for CDW, make sure to inspect the vehicle for pre-existing damages and document it before you leaving the rental car premises.

August 13 2014 at 2:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

One other really good thing to know. If you do end up with some type of damage to the vehicle, BEFORE you take it back to the rental car company (if possible) stop at a Body Shop and get a written repair quote. I scratched a AVIS car once against a parking lot poll. I got a written repair quote of $400 from a local dealer. AVIS sent me a bill for $800 for repair. When I submitted my own repair quote, AVIS dropped the charge to the $400.

August 13 2014 at 1:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Donald Harwell

My son used to be a dealer for a naional truck rental chain. What little I know about how these guys operate, I would never consider renting a car and especially a truck without the LDW wavier, period.

August 12 2014 at 9:49 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I was attempting to return a rental car at an airport terminal, when advised that I did not fill the vehicle full of gas, and that I would be liable for a $35 charge. I offered to go get some more gas, and was told that I could not do so. (really?) After a few calls from the gorilla sales agent in the rental booth, to her boss, she advised that he had agreed on ONLY an $8 penalty! I agreed. I promptly went to remove my items from the rental vehicle and took the front license plate off. Used it to drive the new car I had purchased on the trip, thru 5 states and to sell it. Thanks for the cheap Drive out tag! Don't get mad...get even.

August 12 2014 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to phil's comment

Or you could have just filled up the tank before you returned it. But I guess that was too complicated for you, huh?

August 12 2014 at 10:07 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I rent cars about 50X per year and never had trouble with AVIS. I was screwed by Hertz once for switch and bait. It offered a special price on mini-van and SUV, but only SUV was available. At the airport, the agent told me that she had a mini-van. I picked that car, but found out later that I had to pay the regular instead of sales price.

Reading the "fine print" is BS because there were so much info, and the line always was long.

August 12 2014 at 8:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply