The 7 Biggest Car Rental Rip-offs

When car rental goes smoothly, it’s convenient, cost-effective and enjoyable. There are many different rental companies on the market, ranging from country to country with big international brands, medium regional operators, and small local businesses too, that may operate in only one city. But car rental can also result in unexpected charges, so watch out for common car rental rip-offs.

Steve Dennis, managing director of, an international car rental broker, explains the biggest rip-offs in his 15 years of experience in the industry.  From sneaky fuel charges to unnecessary upgrades, these are the rental rip-offs to be aware of.

Car rental rip-offs to avoid

A combination of brand reputation and price are often the main attractions when comparing rentals. The cheapest may often be the most appealing, and in many cases is going to offer good value for money. But amongst these cheap offers on the market, there can sometimes be hidden costs that aren’t particularly clear on the face of it. Additional unknown costs and policies can be well hidden in the terms and conditions, so take note!

Here are 7 of the main rip-offs to watch out for when selecting your rental car:

1) Fuel policies

Some sneaky rental companies offer pricing tiers based on the fuel policy given, while the industry standard is that companies will offer FULL/FULL or “Return same as collected” on the fuel there are still a few that will offer a crazy low price for a FULL-to-EMPTY policy, whereby you pay for a full tank of fuel (often at a premium) and whatever level of fuel you return will not be refunded back to you. Other variations of this include an offer of a full tank and offer a refund of the difference but with an admin fee making it just as expensive. Opting for a FULL/FULL or “Return same as collected” policy will save you money as you are in control.

Action: Check that you understand the fuel policy of the rental, the most cost effective is generally full to full.

2) Upgrades

Are you offered an upgrade when you arrive? It could well be that the rental provider is genuinely providing you with a better choice at an extra cost. Sometimes this is welcome and you can decide to accept the additional cost in return for a better car, model or specification. However, some rental providers will offer an upgrade at a higher cost because they do not have the car you booked. If you do not need to upgrade you would naturally say no. In the case that your chosen car is not available you will be given the upgrade anyway as it is the only car available, it’s just a case of avoiding the hard sell.

Action: Only agree to pay for an upgrade if you really want it, and ask whether the reason for the upgrade is because they don’t have the car you ordered in stock, in which case it’s fair to argue the upgrade should be complimentary.

3) Unlimited mileage/kilometrage

Reducing the price that the customer first checks is the best way to get the consumer to part with their cash and make a booking. As with the fuel policy, removing certain benefits means the rental providers are relying on the customer not checking and reading the terms and conditions.

You might expect unlimited miles/kms as standard, but that’s not always the case. Often you can find yourself renting a car with a very small limit on the distance that you can drive before being charged an extra amount per mile/km. The price of the original rental will be cheaper but once you add on the excess miles/kilometres it can work out much more expensive overall.

Action: Always check whether the rental includes “unlimited mileage / kilometrage”

4) Toll management fees

One thing well worth a check when renting a car is whether the routes you intend to drive involve any toll roads and if so, how much they will cost. It is common practice to offer a toll transponder. For example “vignette” or “sunpass” to allow you to skip the line and go through without stopping and paying. However, these can be expensive and often based on the number of days you are renting for. If you only plan on using them occasionally you may be better to decline the offer of a pass and pay as you go.

Action: If you know the route you are going to drive, research in advance what the costs of the toll roads will be.  Then you will be prepared to know how the rental company’s solution stacks up on cost, compared to paying as you go.

5) Insurance

This is the amongst the most important and amongst the most confusing topics when it comes to car rental. But a little bit of research in advance can help to avoid taking additional insurances when arriving at the desk to collect the car and complete the documentation.

In the USA and Canada it is common to have cover via your credit card which will protect against any 3rd party damages, however this does not stop the pushy sales representative from trying to convince you to purchase their own insurance on top, when you arrive at the desk.

In Europe and Australia it is normal for customers to be required to leave a deposit on their credit card equal to the maximum excess which can be deducted in the event of damage. How to save you paying over double on the insurance for your rental? Reading what is and what isn’t included and checking against your own cover via credit card or any other external policy can help.

Action: Check in advance what cover you may already have and be prepared to say no on arrival at the desk.

6) Onsite – Offsite

When you come to reserve your car, you will find numerous options and companies offering different products and prices. If traveling abroad, you are likely to collect the vehicle from the airport where you land. The bigger brands may have a dedicated desk in the terminal, or close to the terminal in the rental area. Others might be a shuttle bus journey away.

There can be some significant savings if you take an off-site supplier; most will be based on or very close to the perimeter of the airport so it can make sense to use them. However, some will only allow the driver to take the shuttle bus and charge an additional fee for any additional passengers. While this is not that common it is worth checking… Your off-site saving becomes much less if you have to pay to use the shuttle or leave you family in the terminal whilst you take the journey to collect your car.

Action: If your rental company advertises that they are a short shuttle bus journey away from the terminal, check whether there are additional fees for additional passengers to use the shuttle bus.

7) Damage

Damages are closely linked to insurance options but can be very easily avoided by taking a little bit of extra time when collecting the car. If you take a walk around the car to inspect it then why not take pictures too? Focus on the common parts that are damaged: wheel rims/alloys, the bumpers and where the luggage is entered and removed from. If you have these photos then you can compare them on drop off and show the pre-existing damages on your pictures. This avoids the risk of being charged for damage which may have already existed.

Action: Always thoroughly inspect your vehicle before driving away, and take quality photos on your mobile device of any damage no matter how small.

Martin Mansell
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