How to Avoid Unexpected Car Rental Fees

Renting a vehicle used to be a relatively straightforward and easy process, but you can be hit with a lot of fees these days, if you’re not careful.

Your usual costs, which are largely optional, might include insurance, upgrades, damages, extra day charges, and processing fees, but you can end up being charged for early returns, frequent flyer fees, stadium taxes, and more. What it all boils down to is that you need to ask about every possible fee you can face, and state that you do not want them.

Insurance

Rental car insurance is coverage for your rental vehicle in the event you get into an accident or otherwise experience damages. With rental car insurance, you are covered for crashes, car theft, damages to others’ vehicles and property, and your injuries.

The thing about car rental insurance is that it’s completely up to you whether you add it to your policy, and rental car companies tend to overcharge for this fee anyway. Car rental companies will make it sound like you need it, but there are some ways around it.

Generally, your personal car insurance policy will cover your rental vehicle usage. However, you might have to pay your usual deductible. Your personal liability insurance will cover damage to others’ vehicles and property, so you can avoid getting the rental car company’s supplemental liability protection. Your personal health insurance will cover your injuries, so you don’t need to get personal accident insurance. If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you can skip getting your rental car company’s personal effects coverage to cover your stolen possessions. Your deductible will apply if you go this route. Your credit card company will cover your rental car, but it will come as a secondary form of insurance to your personal car insurance policy.

Even if you don’t have any of the above options, you can opt to get a policy through another company and decline the rental car company’s coverage, which oftentimes ends up costing less.

Upgrades

Not all upgrades are free, and it stands that rental car companies make money off any and all fees that can be tacked on to your total cost. Rental car company employees earn commissions off of any fee you are charged. Besides a car upgrade to a bigger vehicle that has more features, you could be charged extra per day for satellite radio, a portable GPS, electric toll transponders, and car seats, amongst other added expenses.

Ask for free upgrades because you might be able to get them, but you can certainly pass up ones they’ll want to charge you extra for. Ask ahead of time because they might try to surprise you by not mentioning them. You might be able to get a booster seat for free if you show the car rental company your AAA card.

Damages

If your rental car company finds damage on the vehicle you rented, they could charge you with the damages.

A loss-damage waiver, which can also be called a “collision damage waiver,” covers you for theft or damage to the vehicle. This waiver prevents the rental vehicle company from holding you liable for damages to the vehicle. You need to document existing damage at the time you rent your vehicle. Some companies offer forms that can be filled out before you leave. You should inspect everything on your vehicle, take pictures, and alert the car rental company staff so that they can inspect the damage. However, this can be difficult at airports because staff may not be available. Car sharing is also a concern for this reason.

Extra Day

You can get charged extra for your rental vehicle if you go over their time limit. However, the problem with this is what they consider as an extra day. For example, most car rental companies will give you a grace period of 29 minutes, but anything past this is considered as an extra day.

You can avoid this fee by showing up on-time and up to the allowable 29 minutes, if the rental company you’re using allows for that. Be aware that returning a vehicle ahead of time can cost you too. Have the company document your time so that you won’t incur extra expenses at a later point. If you can’t avoid being late, you might as well use the car for the entire day.

Processing Fees

Processing fees can show up if the rental car was being used during the time a traffic violation occurred. Unfortunately, this can mean using the car on toll roads unbeknownst to the driver at the time.

Read your rental agreement very carefully because it might show up in fine print that you’ll be charged by a company like Highway Toll Administration, which tacks on extra charges per day for this type of “convenience” fee. Pass up on these “convenience” fees where possible. Even if you want to make an account to pay for these tolls directly, you may get blocked from doing so and end up getting charged in fees by the rental company. Also, look up your routes ahead of time to avoid toll roads.

It’s always best to use a credit card when paying for your rental car. This provides extra protection to you in case you’re in need of insurance, but you can always dispute extra fees through your credit card company. Above all, don’t blindly accept rental car companies’ intimidation and other means of charging you for extras.

James Brey / Getty Images

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