Hidden Fees Make Rental Car Quotes Bogus

by on November 26, 2012 · 8 comments

I have rented a car three times in my life. The first was on a memorable first business trip to Fargo when I was 23 (a difficult feat, as rental companies get nervous about customers under 25). The second car rental was for the two days leading up to our wedding in PA. We had so many errands to run and places to be that, while I normally borrow a car from my Dad or Mom when we are home, I decided it was best to rent one. And my third car rental was just several months ago when I splurged while on a business trip by driving an hour outside of the city of Denver to go to a hot spring.

Paul has rented several vehicles this year due to business trips, and my aunt and uncle rented one when they came to visit us. Since I have not rented many cars I haven’t really paid attention to the rental car industry and all of the fees that come with it. But looking at each of our receipts over the past year made me realize that rental car advertised prices on websites (you know, the kind that promise “rentals from $11.95”) are bogus. With the passing of the new Department of Transportation rules, airlines now must list all of the fees and taxes within the quoted airfare. Unfortunately, there appear to be no such rules for car rental companies. Here are some examples of fees/taxes that showed up on our receipts (and not in the advertised price):

  • A Rental Car from Hertz in Texas: This receipt included a Concession Fee Recovery (11.11%), an Energy Surcharge ($1.03 per rental), a Busing Cost Recovery fee ($5.49), a Customer Facility Charge ($3.75 per day), a Vehicle License Cost ($2.46 per day), and a tax of 15%.
  • A Rental Car from Avis, Colorado: This receipt included an energy recovery fee ($0.60 per day) and a Road Safety Fee ($2.00 per day).
  • A Rental Car from Dollar Rental Paul, Washington: This rental included a surcharge ($24.00), a fee to use GPS ($59.75), a Vehicle recovery fee ($1.75), a Concession fee (11.10%), a Customer Facilitation Charge ($6.00 per day), and VLF ($0.35 per day).

On top of these fees listed above, there are many others that might show up on your own receipt. These could be fees for earning frequent flyer miles, local government fees to fund specific projects, a fleet recovery fee (literally you are being charged a fee because one day the company will have to replace the vehicle you are renting), administrative fees tacked onto any fines/violations incurred or for using a device that allows for high-speed electronic toll collection, refueling charges, etc.

How to Save on Rental Car Fees

So how can you save yourself some money if you do need to rent a vehicle? One way is to never rent a car from the airport counter. Find local transportation (bus or train; paying for a taxi cab might eat up all of your savings) that you can take to a nearby rental facility and you could save on the Concession fees. Check with your car insurance ahead of time and see if they cover you when renting a vehicle. Many car insurance policies do, and this will save you from purchasing the rental company’s liability insurance. Finally, there are several sites that have popped up that allow you to rent people’s personal vehicles. These sites offer insurance coverage for the vehicle and there are few fees, if any, involved. I have not tried one of these sites out yet (such as RelayRides.com), but the next time I need to rent a vehicle I am certainly giving it a shot.

Of course, the easiest way to save on rental fees is by not renting a vehicle at all. But this is certainly not always possible. I hope to not have to rent a car for years to come, but the next time that I do, it would be nice if all of the fees and taxes were included in the quote.

What types of rental fees have surprised you?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Beagle

I read the blog of Chris Elliot (not the awful actor), who acts as an ombudsman for the travel industry, escalating complaints from people who don’t get anywhere, and I’d say at least half of the ones he gets involved with have to do with rental car companies and how they constantly misquote or overbill or charge people for questionable damages. You really have to be careful with them, they seem very sketch.
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I have not heard of Chris Elliot’s blog, but will check it out.


a different Michelle

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve rented a vehicle and the taxes and fees were more than the original rental charge! Unfortunately, we’re pretty much forced to rent when we fly back to my parents – they live 2 hours from the airport and we don’t expect them to give up half a day of driving round trip to/from the airport.

Some fees are citywide – meaning that you’re going to get hit with them regardless of if you rent from the airport counter or from a “local” outpost. Also, you have to factor in convenience – at some places, the local transportation is so sporadic that any dollars saved by waiting until you get to the hotel to rent are wasted in time waiting at the airport.

Skip the extra insurance (most personal insurance policies and several credit cards will cover), use the maps feature on your smart phone or bring your own GPS, and look for deals to bring your rental rate as low as possible (decreases any % based taxes and fees).

If you’re staying at a hotel near an airport, take the hotel shuttle to get to the hotel when you land. Then the next day, take the shuttle back to the airport to get your rental car. If you’re flying out in the morning, return the car the night before and take the shuttle to the airport. One hotel that we stay at often will even take us directly to the centralized rental car center at the airport instead of a terminal if their schedule permits. Of course this really only works if you’re flying in late afternoon/evening and don’t need to be anywhere in particular that night!



Thank you for all of your tips! That is a long drive for your parents to the airport.


Eric Szvoboda

Definitely check with your personal car insurance company to make sure that they cover any rentals. I shudder to think about how much money I’ve wasted before I understood that about my insurance coverage.



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