Bad service at a rental car office driving you up a wall? Us, too. As hyper-frequent car rental customers ourselves, we here at AutoSlash encounter our fair share of annoyances with all-too-prevalent rental car industry practices. Let's take a look at some of our top irritations.
While we're not optimistic they'll change anytime soon—the reality is they're simply too profitable—we hope that by bringing some of these practices to light, you can prepare and make sure you're not taken advantage of.
High-Pressure Sales Tactics
Team members Andrew and Ludo both object most to the high-pressure sales tactics at rental car counters. The rental car companies have practiced these sales pitches over billions of cumulative transactions, as these are how the rental car companies make a real profit! Ludo mentions the continual attempts to present optional coverages or services as being a great value even when they're obviously overpriced and have very little value except in the case of a highly improbable event, while Andrew intentionally directs most of his rentals to companies with frequent rental programs that allow him to specify his preferences in advance and skip the rental car counter interaction completely.
Fees for Skipping Toll Plans
Eric brings up a nuance of many of the rental car companies. In areas with cashless tolls, the rental car companies will sell the option to pay tolls electronically—for a daily fee, of course. What happens when a customer doesn't enroll in the rental car company's toll plan and then drives on an all-electronic toll road, intentionally or accidentally? In some cases, the rental contract says that incurring tolls effectively automatically opts you into the toll package. But in other cases, there's a penalty per toll that often starts at $15 per toll and may not be capped until you've hit $90 in penalties!
Pushing Prepaid Gas
When we check out a vehicle, we know there are three ways to take care of refueling on longer rentals:
- Agree to bring it back on full (or the level at time of pickup),
- Pay a high per gallon fee if the car's not returned full (usually $9.99 per gallon), or
- Prepay for an entire tank of gas -- based upon the car's listed capacity -- at a rate that seems competitive.
Sometimes that prepaid rate looks great. Usually, it's not. Chris notes that it's hard to return a car with effectively no gas (a requirement to get the most value out of the service) but that's not the real reason he dislikes the concept. Based upon the laws in place where the rental contract is written (or the rental office management's competency in interpreting the law), that prepaid tank of fuel might then be subjected to the various airport taxes and fees we rail against! So while it might seem like a good way to save time, that "competitive" price might spike by 50% after taxes and fees are assessed.
Damage We Don't Want to Record, Until Return
Enterprise is famously strict with damage, and their suit-clad agents often carry measurement devices when they walk around the car with you at check-out. The agents will say that it's only necessary to notate damage when it's a "dent larger than a quarter or scratch longer than a dollar bill". But when returning, these same agents will find damage smaller than these limits and ask if it was reported at check-out. This is my biggest pet peeve of any rental car company. I notate every speck of damage at checkout and make videos and we frequently recommend that renters take photos of pre-existing damage that's noted on the contract. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sixt helpfully includes a complete list of known pre-existing damage on the rental car contract.)
We prefer pre-existing damage to be noted on the contract and highlighted before departure.
Insurance That's Optional, But Mandatory
Jonathan really, really hates this one - we answer a lot of questions about this topic. On many overseas rentals, it's required to purchase extra coverage if you don't carry a local insurance policy. These coverage requirements are listed in the terms and conditions of the reservations that (we hope!) renters read when booking. The problem? While there's technically a way to get out of paying for this coverage by having existing insurance (and so the rental company can claim it's optional and thus doesn't include it in the rates), the vast majority of renters won't be able to get out of paying for it, and so it's effectively mandatory.
Mexico is the most common example, where it's a legal requirement to have a liability policy purchased from an insurance company in Mexico in order to rent a car. A few renters can avoid the fees for insurance company imposed by the rental car companies—anyone who already has a liability policy in Mexico is exempt, but that's a very small proportion of people in line at a typical Mexican rental car counter. (That said, if you expect to be in Mexico long-term, you can purchase this type of policy, and it can save you quite a bit.) But for the renters who don't read the terms and conditions, it's a technically avoidable insurance payment that effectively becomes a mandatory add-on at the rental car counter, significantly increasing the price from the often very cheap rates you see when you book. But want to know a secret? Not every company goes along with hiding really important facts in the minutiae of the rules. We'll give credit where it's due: Avis—as a matter of policy—includes the Mexican liability when the other rental car companies do not!
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