You never want pay more than you have to for a rental car. Does your route include a lot of toll roads? There's no reason to pay through the nose for the rental company's expensive toll pass. If you have your own E-ZPass transponder, just bring it along.
That's especially good advice in a time when you may end up unknowingly driving on a toll roll. In states like New York, for example, toll plazas are disappearing and being replaced by cashless toll overpasses that record your car as you drive underneath.
Who Pays for Tolls in a Rental Car?
No matter how you cut it, you will end up paying a price if you drive on toll roads in a rental car. If you don't bring your own transponder, you have three options and none of them are good.
Pay a daily fee to use the rental car company's toll pass. This is expensive, since you will be charged a daily use fee for the pass plus the cost of the tolls.
Drive through the toll plaza without stopping. This option is even worse, as you'll pay a huge penalty on top of the cost of the tolls.
Stop and pay cash every time. It's not easy to pay as you go anymore, as more and more toll roads are converting to all-electronic tolling where cash won't do you any good. And who wants to wait in a long line of traffic to pay a toll, anyway?
How to Use Your Own E-ZPass in a Rental Car
If you bring your own toll transponder, you avoid those three negative scenarios. Your tolls will be billed right to your own account as you pass through the electronic toll plaza. Better yet, you'll often get to take advantage of discounted tolls for paying electronically. In contrast, if you use the rental company's pass, you will usually be charged the higher cash rate on top of the daily fee.
There are three major groups of toll agencies around the country, plus a few states that run their own toll programs independent of any reciprocal affiliation with other states.
The largest toll consortium is E-ZPass, which oversees basically all of the tolls in a region stretching from Illinois to Virginia and up to Maine—the entire Northeast and a good chunk of the Great Lakes region. An E-ZPass transponder is almost certainly a plastic box that's mounted to your windshield with velcro—so it's portable and easy to use in any other car.
As long as you're renting a car in the E-ZPass service area, your rental car probably also has a plastic E-ZPass transponder mounted on the windshield, likely mounted in a lead-lined box that can be opened and closed. To use your personal transponder, just make sure that box is closed and then hold your transponder up to the windshield whenever you go through a toll plaza. You can use the Express or E-ZPass Only lanes just as you normally would.
While you're technically supposed to add the rental car's license plate to your E-ZPass account, the way that the E-ZPass system's computers work means that it doesn't have any practical effect. Just make sure you firmly hold your transponder up to the center of your windshield. If for some reason the toll plaza doesn't read your transponder, it'll bill the rental car company anyway, so adding the plate number to your account won't help.
Don't own a transponder and like the idea of having your own? It's cheap and easy (and sometimes even free) to get your own, no matter where you live. We recommend ordering an E-ZPass transponder from Massachusetts since there is no monthly fee and the cost of the transponder gets credited to your account and made available for tolls. But for even more flexibility, we recommend the North Carolina Quick Pass E-ZPass. Although it costs a few dollars to order, it works for virtually every toll east of the Mississippi river, including anywhere E-ZPass and Florida SunPass is accepted.
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