Large swaths of Canada epitomize the definition of "remote." We didn't expect to get search requests for towns that were five hours from the nearest rental car office, but it turns out that's not a rare occurrence in Canada. In addition to wide open spaces and endless forests (at least occasionally dusted in snow, of course), Canada may be known for its citizens' politeness, but crafty rental station managers (combined with the diverse Canadian climate and government regulations) set the stage for a multitude of fees worth a look by the Fee Detective.
I Love Montreal
Most of the AutoSlash team remembers the “I Love Montreal” brand campaign (in English and French, of course). We’re a little less enamored with the city after finding some tricks played by our friends at Dollar and Thrifty. In the example below, the rental car prices out at a reasonable $30.91 CAD per day base rate.
Except then we look toward the taxes and fees at the bottom right to find … a vehicle fee of $4.71 per day and a vehicle maintenance fee of $3.95 per day? The Thrifty location here gets to advertise the car as having a $30.91 CAD rate, then slips in $8.66 CAD for the day for the car and maintenance. If the vehicle and maintenance are line items, what does the base rate cover?We’ve seen this ruse before (also with Dollar and Thrifty) at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Having a low base rate helps the company show up higher in search results, even though the total price of the rental may be higher due to these made-up fees. Sadly, we already knew some rental car stations like to play games with consumers. That’s why AutoSlash never plays games with pricing. If the rental car company throws in garbage fees on a Canadian rental, an AutoSlash user is not going to be impacted. The guaranteed rates we provide to help consumers compare prices already account for the tricks like these played by rental car companies. And while the rental car companies choose to play around with pricing, the government can always decide to impose taxes and fees, which always get passed to the consumer (somehow, some way). And that puts us on a quick flight further north in Quebec province to Quebec City.
A Quick Drive Around Quebec
The weather in Quebec City can be rather pleasant during the summer. The climate report for Quebec City suggests much of the year has reasonable temperatures. During the peak of summer, the average July high is just 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit).One could almost go without air conditioning. In the winter, Quebec City is cold, with January average high temperatures that are below freezing (18 Fahrenheit). Given moderate summers and very cold winters, how does this play out for rental car users? The Summer Wind, Came Blowing In …
- The summer temperatures make air conditioning a borderline selling point.
- Canada (the whole country) requires a tax on vehicles equipped with air conditioners.
- It’s exceptionally difficult to find a new vehicle without air conditioning in the U.S. or Canada.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside …
- Quebec law requires winter tires on all vehicles registered in Quebec between December and March.
- As a result, Quebec is one of the few places in North America where snow tires are even offered with rental cars.
- Rental car companies must figure out what to do with winter tires between seasons.
- Dollar and Thrifty warn us of the possibility of a Tire Management Fee or Snow Tire Fee (TMF).
Figured out where this is going?
The Ingenuity of Dollar / Thrifty
Dollar and Thrifty have come upon a novel solution:Step 1: Charge customers a fee for the air conditioning that probably isn’t even needed. Step 2: Charge customers a fee for the snow tires that are mandated by law. Step 3: Profit. How do Dollar and Thrifty get to profit? In some cases, the companies simply decide to charge customers both fees year-round. Driving in the snow on a January rental? That Quebec renter may be paying for snow tires under the “Seasonal Tire Fee” of $2.81 per day and simultaneously paying for the Air Conditioner in the car, under the “VLF and Air Conditioning” line item of $2.15 per day. The VLF (Vehicle Licensing Fee) is itself one of AutoSlash’s least favorite fees -- every car on the road must be licensed/registered. Adding the “Air Conditioning Fee” is just a further affront.
In this case, we can give Dollar and Thrifty partial points for transparency. We also get to call the situation a bit of a racket for a well-managed location. Do we have evidence? You betcha!Hertz – the parent of Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty – declared an 81% vehicle utilization rate in the most recent SEC Form 10-Q. At an 81% utilization rate and the fees of $2.81 and $2.15 per day, the Quebec City location would be pulling down $1,466 a year, per car, to license the compact car, pay the one-time $114 air conditioning fee, and manage snow tires.* * We didn’t ask about the safety of repeatedly storing tires for 8 months at a time. In fact, we didn’t even know storing snow tires in a warehouse was an industry before this blog post. In any case, these fees are allowed with the Quebec rentals and originated from government mandates. The rental car locations may even create -- with effective management of their fleets -- a little excess profit from the fee revenue for themselves.
A Final Question
As we depart, we know one of the questions that might be sitting in a reader’s mind.“Can’t a customer just avoid the Air Conditioner Surcharge (AC Fee) for their January ski trip by renting a car without air conditioning?” The answer is “no”. Dollar and Thrifty don’t have any vehicles to rent without air conditioning installed—but Enterprise does! However, Enterprise tends to price vehicles (such as compact cars) with or without air conditioning at the same rate. Enterprise understands that providing air conditioning in a car is just a cost of doing business in Quebec.
Fees, facility charges, and taxes got you confused and/or down? The Fee Detective can explain. Send your query to email@example.com and we may feature your question in an upcoming post.