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Car Rental ripoff scheme

Travel Forums North America Car Rental ripoff scheme

1. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2003 posts) 4y Star this if you like it!

Thought I'd take the time to warn travelers coming to America about a ripoff scheme being used by one of the major American car rental companies (Advantage). Got conned on this one myself when I finished my trip (with my wife) to visit Austin and San Antonio (Texas).

Turns out that the company offers various fuel options, and two of these fall into the "ripoff" category.

Option 1 is to offer to let you prepay for a full tank of gas at the time of picking up the car--and at a slightly discounted fee (for example, in Austin, Texas, the offer is to let you buy the fuel for $3.05 per gallon, instead of the going rate of $3.22 per gallon). However, what they don't tell you is that you receive no refund if you return the car with any gas at all in this case--so if you have a trip for only a few days and travel a short distance, you may be paying for a 15 gallon fill-up ($45) and then returning the car with 8 gallons or so--thus rewarding Advantage with the equivalent of $26 in gas that they don't have to pay for (but you do).

Option 2 is to let you take the car out yourself with a full tank, and then tell you that they will just charge you for the gas you use upon its return--but not mention (as they didn't when I got my car in Austin) that the charge for them filling up the car at this point is $8.99 per gallon. If you are short on time, (and who isn't when they are trying to catch a plane?) you may think--oh, I'll just pay them for the 3 gallons I used when I return the car, not realizing that this will be a $27 charge, not a $12 charge added to your bill.

Worst even that this is that you will also get charged the local taxes on the extra fuel charges in both cases listed above. I found this out the hard way just today, as I returned my rental car at the Austin airport at the end of my 3-day trip and got hit with a $27 fuel charge (when I returned it 3/4th full, as well as an additional charge for city tax, state tax, and other fees that totaled over $16 more. Thus, for not taking 5 minutes and putting in $9 in gas, I ended up paying $43 instead. Glad I didn't return is only 1/4 full--as they would have been an additional $129 charge above the original total.

The only way to beat their two schemes above is to refuse their fuel options, and to refill the car with gas just prior to going to the airport to return the car. Also, don't be even one minute over the scheduled time of return--as they then charge $9.34 per hour extra (and that will incur additional taxes also).

P.S. This is how my discounted three day car rental originally quoted at $28 per day ($84), and which would have actually come to $134 after all the taxes and fees ended up costing me $177. Also, I should let you know that similar schemes may also be taking place by other car rental companies--but I'm just not aware of them. Bottom line, read the contract carefully and ask questions at the time that you pick the cars up--because the guy/gal behind the counter is not your friend. Their job is to bump up the total bill as much as possible.

Three other common schemes they always try to pull at the rental counter (at all car rental firms) are:
(1) having you pay for multiple drivers on the same car--usually at about a $10 per extra person per day (avoid this by having one person do all of the driving),
(2) asking you to take out liability on the car at $12 to $15 per day (almost all car insurance offered in the US covers damage to cars you rent while in the US)--but not to Mexico--in that case you do need to take the insurance they offer (also people coming from overseas should check their own insurance policies before arriving to know whether they are covered or not, and
(3) trying to get you to rent a larger car than what you originally booked. (for example,a full-sized car will be $15 per day more than a compact car, and a mid-sized car may be $11 more per day). And once again, all of the extra charges will incur the extra (exorbitant) tax charges.

Notice how they quote everything at the lower per-day rates ($10, $12 to $15, $15 or $11) to make it sound cheap and entice you into taking the extras offered.

However, let me show you how these add up: If I were to go to Austin expecting to pay only $134 for three days, but instead returned my car with no gas, took out the option to let my wife also drive, took the liability insurance at $15 and decided to get the full-sized car, my new final bill for the three days would have come to approximately $497.

Enjoy--but be careful out there.

[ Edit: Edited on 12-Jun-2013, at 03:31 by Calcruzer ]

2. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5644 posts) 4y Star this if you like it!

I am actually on the one hand not surprised by this (it's common with others too in some cases) and on the other hand surprised that you mention this as it does sound pretty normal to me. And you are an experienced traveller on these road trips in the USA so figured it would be not a big surprise to you either.

1: Advantage is not a big one and usually when going with broker websites, you will get a car from Alamo, National, Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Enterprise or Thrifty. And considering the fact they charge per hour after one minute too late is proof of them being not competitive with others. Although with some big ones and showing up way to late (an hour or so) you might pay for a whole day. Also normal!
2: If you know you are just going to drive several hundred miles or less, people should think about the first tank of gas indeed. But is that a rip-off then? In my opinion it's not.
3: The 'they will fill it up' option is a rip-off if they don't tell you it's going to cost you a lot more per gallon, and it's good to let people know, but this will also be the case at other places, although they might actually tell it of course. But begin to late for a never actually, also to do with experience and there gas stations close to pretty much any (bigger) airport too.

Also all the other things are good advices, but prett obvious and not something I consider rip-offs either. It's the same as with budget airlines and then complaining about charges for suitcases or stuff. I understand people make mistakes, but no...not a rip-off to be honest, sorry.

O, about liability: that's a nasty one in the USA mainly. In most countries for third party accidents the amount up to which one is insured is like a million or more sometimes. But in the USA it depends on the state, but is rarely more than 50,000 dollars and sometimes even just 5,000-10,000 dollar. That's just not enough so Supplemental Liability Insurance is usually something to consider in the USA. Mostly not other countries. But checking with your own car, health or even creditcard insurance is a good idea.


3. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2003 posts) 4y Star this if you like it!


The reason I consider it a ripoff mostly relates to the way it is hidden in the contract and in the advertising. Handing one a five page contract at the counter and asking them to sign it on the spot--and then finding in the fine print on the bottom of page 4 that the fuel cost is $8.99 a gallon to me is far from the ethical way to do business. Also, not mentioning all this anywhere when the reservation is made is not my idea of "above-board" business.

Seems to me that any company that does this is just trying to trick people into paying lots of money on a first rental with the knowledge that return customers will be few. I'm sure that Advantage will soon be out-of-business as a result;--at least here in the US where people travel often by plane and will quickly refuse to do business with them as a result--regardless of any promotional rates or discounts they may offer in the future.

As far as the $9 charge on late returns--I agree--this is just a standard charge done by all the rental car companies. I only mentioned it for less experienced travelers who might not be aware of it.

P.S. Thanks for the feedback. It is good to get a different perspective on these fees.

4. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5644 posts) 4y Star this if you like it!

Your're welcome Gary And agree about first time customers.

It's definately on the thin line between what's officially allowed but also a bit consumer unfriendly towards customers not familiar with the concept of car rental and all the hidden fees.

I don't like the way they are trying to get more money that way either. But it might be the reason, just like budget airlines, why rates for customers who are used to this are relatively low. They try to make money in a different way. Again a bit vaguely sometimes. But if they go to far, they should run out of business like you mention.


5. Posted by Daawgon (Travel Guru 2012 posts) 4y Star this if you like it!

I always use Budget or Enterprise, and have no complaints. I always pay for my own gas and never get their insurance. My last 3-day Budget rental in March came to $106. total for a Kia Optima - I consider that an excellent deal (Portland, OR). Budget is owned by the group that also owns Avis and Zipcar (car sharing).