When we rent cars, we assume some risk. If we cause an accident, we should expect to compensate the rental car company for the vehicle, per the contract that we initial here, here, here, here, and here while signing here. An accident while driving a rental car is a clear instance where we might directly pay to replace the vehicle.

That's not what this article is about.

When renting a car from a reputable, national firm, we expect the base rental rate to include most of the operating expenses for the rental car firm. Especially in the U.S., we expect to see the base rate plus mandatory taxes and fees imposed by government entities.

In a few places around the country, you would indeed by wrong. Previously, we lightly mocked Sixt car rental for reserving the right to charge a "Vehicle Upkeep Recovery Fee" at some locations (Miami and Phoenix, we're looking your way).

Today, the Fee Detective takes a non-stop to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and needs a car to visit Franklin Barbecue. And we encounter an egregious example of a fee.

Dollar/Thrifty Car Rental in Austin (AUS), come on down!

An ambitious Dollar/Thrifty franchisee agrees with Sixt's philosophy and implemented the Wall of Shame worthy "Fleet Recovery Fee". A fee … to recover the cost … of the rental cars themselves …

We can only imagine our interview with the franchisee would go like this:

Michael @ AutoSlash: How do you respond when a customer asks about the Fleet Recovery Fee?

Franchisee: We remind customers that it's a fee that pays for current and future rental cars.

Michael @ AutoSlash: Your rental cars aren't included in the base rental car rates?

Franchisee: No.

Michael @ AutoSlash: Given the industry standards for rental car depreciation, what type of cars are you buying that depreciate less than $6 per rental day?

Franchisee: This interview is over.

The Fleet Recovery Fee in Action

At AutoSlash, we provide guaranteed rates that include the mandatory taxes and fees for rentals. Our users wouldn't get stung by the fee, as it's already in the quoted rental rates. But here's a breakdown of the pricing from Dollar and Thrifty's own websites, where the franchisee was advertising a weekend rate of $5.35 per day at Dollar and $5.59 per day at Thrifty for compact cars.

This Dollar weekend rental looks like a fantastic rate! $5.35 a day plus taxes and fees.

Same with this Thrifty weekend rental --$5.59 a day plus taxes and fees.

When we break down the total pricing, we see that the taxes and fees are effectively three times the base rate of the car. Why? There are two major reasons.

Reason 1: Airports like taxing rental cars, as the renters at airports are considered to be visitors. Austin is a comparatively egregious example. There are four required taxes / fees on the rental - an Airport Concession Recovery Fee, Customer Facility Charge, State Tax and City Excise Tax. And some of the taxes are taxed -- the quotes provided above by Dollar/Thrifty aren't in order of tax computations.

Reason 2: The entirely bonkers "Fleet Recovery Fee", which is then taxed. The airport, city, and state still get their share(s) of revenue.

Interestingly, the Dollar and Thrifty corporate entities do provide extensive lists of fees that might apply to a rental. We'll let you click through and search for the (non-existent) details about the $6 per day (plus tax) Fleet Recovery Fee...

What's the Purpose of the Fee?

The franchisee may claim that the fee is needed to help pay for rental cars (current and future). Yet none of the other competitors in the Austin market have this location-specific fee. And the fee's not exactly new - Dollar and Thrifty have come up on the RipOff Report previously for this fee .

What's the reason for adding the charge as a "tax and fee"? In our estimation, there's absolutely no valid reason. It's simply an attempt to grab cash from unsuspecting renters who are looking for the lowest possible base rates on rentals.

Renting from AutoSlash, we provide all-inclusive rates and Dollar/Thrifty's fake fee is included in the rates for comparison. Rent elsewhere, and that total price might not be apparent until reaching the rental car counter...

Examples for Longer Timeframes

Longer rentals are when this fake fee would become most apparent for the average renter. Here's a set of price quotes among the competitors offering vehicles for a longer rental.

Note that Enterprise has the lowest TotalPrice for each vehicle type and is highlighted. However, Dollar has the "lowest" weekly base price for each of the three vehicle types. Thrifty has the "second lowest" weekly base price for each of the three vehicle types. Yet the two firms have the highest all-inclusive price totals. The "Fleet Recovery Fee" allows the locations to advertise the lowest base rates while charging the highest overall rates.

AutoSlash provides rates that include the mandatory taxes and fees for rentals - fees like this location-specific Fleet Recovery Fee are the reason. Like renters, we care most about the total cost of the rental, and we focus on the total price to help you quickly compare rental options.

If a renter was using a service other than AutoSlash that reports base rates, Dollar and Thrifty would show up first despite being the most expensive options for this rental period.

Closing Regulatory Note

The United States Department of Transportation requires airlines to list full prices clearly within advertising and on websites . For consumers, it's a beneficial practice. While the Department of Transportation doesn't regulate rental cars, the day may come when total prices (the AutoSlash way) are required.

Fees, facility charges, and taxes got you confused and/or down? The Fee Detective can explain. Send your query to feedetective@autoslash.com and we'll feature your question in an upcoming post.

Quote me Track a reservation! Learn how you can save 30% or more on car rentals