If you're going on a long road trip across the U.S.—or just crossing state lines—there's a good chance you'll run into a toll road along the way. The majority of states have toll roads, with New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma racking the most miles of paid pavement.
Luckily, tolls don't have to be a surprise. Here's how to get a heads-up on your road trip costs with a toll calculator.
How to Avoid Rental Car Toll Gotchas
Rental car companies will often offer you the option of paying for tolls through E-ZPass or FasTrak transponders, but don't fall for it, since you'll end up paying extra fees to use the service on top of the tolls. The bottom line is that you're paying more for tolls than you have to.
There are essentially two cheaper strategies. The first is to try to pay tolls in cash, but this is becoming less and less feasible as toll stations increasingly rely on electronic readers instead of manned booths.
The second, smarter strategy is to bring your own toll transponder with you. For example, you can bring your E-ZPass with you in a rental car for significant cost savings.
No matter which method you use, it's crucial to pay the tolls, as unpaid tolls or tickets can land you on a rental company's Do Not Rent list if you're not careful.
Remember that driving on a road with a cashless electronic tolling system will result in a later charge from the rental company at a certain point. These systems take a photo of a license plate and then send a bill to the vehicle's owner, which the rental company will eventually pass on to the driver. So not only will you end up paying the toll anyway, but you'll pay the ticket for blowing off the toll and you'll pay an administrative fee to the rental car company. It's going to be pricey.
Best Toll Calculator Websites and Apps
Trip Toll Calculator by TollGuru: Looking for an E-ZPass calculator or a way to estimate tolls for a long trip? The popular and free TollGuru app calculates toll and gas prices when paying in cash, including E-ZPass and other options. The app covers all of North America and, somewhat surprisingly, India.
Toll Calculator GPS Navigation: The Toll Calculator GPS Navigation app, available for Apple and for Android, shows tolls on routes in the U.S. and Canada and includes a variety of payment methods, including E-ZPass and FasTrak. Some features are only available through in-app purchases—for cars this costs $2.99 per month. This app does not include Mexico routes.
Tollsmart Toll Calculator: The Tollsmart website and app bills itself as the "most accurate and comprehensive" toll calculator across North America. It uses an interface that looks like Google Maps but includes toll information along the way. This app is currently rated lower than similar apps in this category, and some features can only be unlocked through in-app purchases.
E-ZPass Toll Calculators Get a Thumbs Down
The E-ZPass program, which collects tolls electronically through transponders mounted on the car windshield, is available in 17 states spanning from Illinois to New England.
Unfortunately at this time there is no universal multi-state toll calculator for E-ZPass. You have to go to the E-ZPass website for each individual state to look up the amount you'll spend using E-ZPass vs. cash. For example, the Pennsylvania Turnpike provides a four-step calculator that provides expected tolls based on the points of exit and entry as well as vehicle class and axles. While this will be sufficient for single-state trips, using one of the above-mentioned apps is a better choice for longer journeys.