Encountering tolls can very easily turn a cheap car rental into an expensive car rental. The key to avoiding extra costs is being prepared. Here's how.
How to Avoid Paying Too Much for Rental Car Tolls
Don't opt for a toll pass from the rental car company. Rental car companies know that many drivers will pick up their rental cars without even considering toll roads. The rental car agent may tell you that your route will take you on many toll roads, and opting for a transponder is the best way to seamlessly pay those tolls. In fact, you will be billed for the tolls and also charged a per-day fee for the transponder—and tax on top of all of it. There are less expensive options.
One notable exception: Silvercar charges only for the tolls without any additional fees.
Do bring your own toll transponder with you. Do you have a toll pass on your personal car? Research other states where it works. If you're traveling to a state with reciprocity, your toll pass can save the day.
For example, a trip from Washington, DC to Maine—traveling through D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine—can be completed with a single transponder from E-ZPass. In fact, E-ZPass is valid from North Carolina to Maine, west to Indiana, and you don't need to live in an E-ZPass state to get a transponder.
By our calculations, the best-value toll transponder is the NC Quick Pass, which costs less than many other toll passes and is good for travel in 18 states.
Do beware the cashless toll gotcha. More and more states are moving to a model where toll roads are entirely unstaffed. On these roads, everyone drives right through toll plazas, which read toll transponders on windshields. If there is no transponder, the technology captures the vehicle's license plate number. If you've rented a car and do not have a transponder, you can be certain that the toll charge will be sent to the vehicle's owner—the rental car company—which will promptly forward that charge to you, the driver. That toll charge will be accompanied by an extra administration fee.
Dollar and Thrifty have a PlatePass all-inclusive program. For a set daily fee, all tolls are covered. If a customer doesn't enroll in the service and runs a cashless toll, there's the cost of the tolls plus an administrative fee of $15 for each toll that wasn't paid, up to a limit of $90.
Consider the sad tale of the retired teacher from Michigan who took a family trip to Texas and got a rude surprise when he returned his rental car. "His toll bill from tolls: $9.96. His bill from Advantage Rent a Car: $102.37. The difference: $92.41, or the $12.99 daily pass fee for six days plus taxes and fees," according to the Chicago Times.
Do choose routes without tolls where possible. The majority of states have toll roads, but tolls can be avoided completely on many trips. Even a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. can easily be completed without ever encountering a toll, thanks largely to Interstate 40.
If you're willing to take your time, you can even avoid tolls between Washington, D.C. and Augusta, Maine. Buck conventional wisdom, which recommends taking Interstate 95, and you can make the trip without encountering any tolls at all—but it will add about two hours to your trip. The upside is that you'll save more than $50 on tolls.
Do your homework when renting from Sixt. This rental car company has a different toll transponder policy in every state, which is incredibly annoying. If you're renting from Sixt, and plan to opt for a toll transponder, be sure to check on fees in your pickup state.
Don't even think about running a toll plaza in a rental car. Dumb idea. The rental car company's going to send a hefty bill, including the toll, the fine from the toll authority, and an administrative charge for the rental company's time and trouble. If these fees are not paid in a timely fashion, you are headed directly to the DNR (Do Not Rent) list.
Toll Policies of Major Rental Car Companies
- How to Avoid Toll Surcharges When Renting a Car
- Florida Tolls Are a Rental Car Gotcha
- Use a Toll Calculator to Estimate Your Road Trip Costs