6 car rental rip-offs to avoid

I've been doing stories about saving money and avoiding rip-offs for more than 20 years, so you'd think I wouldn't have fallen into this fee trap.

By Stacy Johnson May 26, 2011 11:29AM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


On a recent trip to New York, I needed to rent a car for one day. The goal was to pick it up at JFK airport and return it the next day to a town about 15 minutes away.


I shopped several rental car websites and ultimately chose Enterprise. While their prices weren't great ($62.50 for a subcompact), they were competitive. And most importantly, I knew they had an office in the nearby town where I needed to leave the car.


There was no way to indicate online that I wanted to return the car to a location other than JFK. But rather than do the smart thing -- call Enterprise and ask them if there would be an extra fee -- I did the dumb thing. I said to myself, "I'm sure there's going to be a fee for not returning the car to the airport, but how much could it be?"


Answer? $75: more than it cost to rent the car.


This is something I learned only after stepping up to the Enterprise counter at JFK. I did manage to talk the rental agent down to $50, but there's still no excuse for putting myself in this position, especially considering my experience with this exact type of story. Post continues after video.

The reason I was renting a car was to drive to Yonkers, N.Y., to attend a conference at Consumer Reports. Ironically, about the same time I was leaving JFK in my Nissan Cube, Consumer Reports was issuing a press release titled "CR warns against rental car gimmicks."

While their press release didn't mention what happened to me, it did warn against some other interesting rental car fees to watch for:

Treat a rental car like a hotel mini bar: Don't take any goodies without knowing the price. This includes GPS navigation, satellite radio, and child safety seats. One Consumer Reports reader was charged $9.50 for $2 worth of tolls after he used an E-ZPass toll payment transponder he found inside his Hertz rental.

Other things they warned about:

Damage waiver. Even though you know you're already covered by your car insurance policy, rental agents pushing their company's damage waiver coverage will sound so convincing that you'll feel like you're risking it all for refusing their extra coverage. Fall for it, and according to Consumer Reports, you could end up shelling out an extra $60 to $250 a week.

Damage claims. Consumer Reports says one of their readers was charged $304 for "damage" to a rental car after dropping it off when the place was closed. Their advice: Always pay by credit card so you can dispute inaccurate charges. My additional advice? Use your phone's camera to take pictures of any scratches on the car before you rent it, and to document its condition when you return it.


Fill it up. This is old news. Everyone knows by now that if you're supposed to bring it back full and you fail to do so, the rental car company will mark up the gas price you'll pay. What you may not know, however, is just how much they're marking it up these days: according to CR, up to $8 per gallon.


Then there's the other side of the same coin: When I rented my car, Enterprise offered to charge me less than the going price for gas. The catch? I had to buy a whole tank's worth. While I didn't know exactly how many miles I'd be driving, or what kind of mileage the car would get, I declined. Good decision: When I filled up the car prior to returning it, I found my entire trip from JFK to Yonkers and back took less than 4 gallons.


Stick with the cheapest cars. In days past, rental car companies would often give free upgrades. Now that cars are in shorter supply, this is less common. While still worth asking for, if you can't get a free upgrade, don't get talked into paying for one. Smaller cars are typically easier to drive and park, use less gas, and if-- God forbid -- something uninsured does happen, cost less to replace.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


May 26, 2011 8:54PM
So Stacey, you couldn't indicate on the Enterprise website that you wanted to return the car to a different location. Really? When I look at their website, "Return the car to a different location' is right above the 'Pick up Location' field. Live and learn.
May 27, 2011 9:09AM

I used ENTERPRISE often until my company was charged $250 for a door ding, a chip less than the size of a pencil eraser. It hacked me off that the site manager constantly referred the car as "the damaged vehicle". Despite my protests of it being pre-existing, I had the car for a day and it was not parked next to another vehicle the entire time, they got the money. I tried to make a pencil rubbing but the door ding would not make an impression.

They have lost tens of thousands of dollars in rentals since then as I have stopped renting from ENTERPRISE. In twenty years of renting cars (30-40 rentals a year) that still remains the only time a rental car company has had a damage claim against me.  The ENTERPRISE site manager called me again a year later and offered me a free weekend rental to get them back in my good graces. I replied I would use ENTERPRISE only if my company put a gun to my head and told me I would be fired if I did not use them.

This happened over ten years ago but I tell this story about ENTERPRISE every opportunity I get. They have earned the customer dissatisfaction.

May 26, 2011 10:59PM
Here's a trick I learned recently...  We were flying in to Louisville for 5 days, enroute from a vacation to South Carolina.  We were going to rent a vehicle the 5 days and then drive home (near Chicago) and drop it off the following morning (6th day).  I booked the lowest rate available according to Expedia and Travelocity for this 6-day rental with a 1-way drop-off, and it was over $600.  I was floored it was so expensive, so it made me curious what the premium was related to the 1-way drop-off.  To determine the amount of the premium, I booked 2 separate cars from the exact same rental car company.  The first was a 5-day rental with a pickup and drop-off in Louisville.  The 2nd was a 1-day rental with a 1-way drop-off between Louisville and my home near Chicago.  The total?  Less than $350!  For the $250 in savings, I decided to make the 2 separate rentals.  When I got to the car rental line, I saw that a different company had nobody in line, and they had a sign saying "We have cars to rent".  I stepped up to that line, explained my situation with the headache of the double rental, and he gave me a price of $310 for the full 6-day, 1-way rental solely because I asked for it.  He was able to steal the business from his competitor, and I got a lower rate and avoided the trip back to re-rent the same vehicle.  Nice way to save nearly 50% on the best rate I could get online.
May 26, 2011 9:24PM
I worked for Enterprise in So. Cal ~8 years ago & in order to get promoted we were told to do some pretty slimy things.  Hopefully things have changed. 
May 27, 2011 3:21AM

I rented a car with enterprise this year & I noticed that it had an odor like someone had been smoking in it, before. I returned it & asked them to check it more than once before I took the other car they gave me. They refused. Got a call an hour later informing me of a "noise" the car was making. I told them that there was no way that car was making any noise & I gave them the opportunity to check it before I left. I said "Wait a minute! I left that car with no problems to it. What's to say that within the hour one of your employees did something?" The manager's response was "Well, since you decided not to get the insurance, you do know that you’re responsible for anything that happens to the car?” Me, " So even though I didn't do anything, because I declined I'm screwed?" Him "[chuckles] Yeah". I hung up on him.

I immediately called my insurance company & they recommend waiting until a full inspection was done from Enterprise. Enterprise got back to me (within 72 hours) & stated that the ENTIRE undercarriage was destroyed & the car was deemed a total loss. I was responsible for paying more than $10K or legal action would be enforced. Progressive launched a full investigation & after repeated attempts of wanting to see the car & Enterprise finally letting them after months of giving them the run around, they denied the claim & even offered representation if they decided to pursue legal action.


Oh this was from the Enterprise located at the El Paso International Airport. Thanks guys!!!

May 27, 2011 12:07PM

I used to work for enterprise. Once i found out someof their business practices, I quit.




May 27, 2011 12:49AM
I rented a car with Hurtz in California last year, one month after bringing it back they sent me a bill for $600.00  in damages.  I laughed and said I want all video camera footage from your security cameras on the day I returned it and I will get the video from the gas station a block away were I filled up to prove there was no damage... They mailed me a letter stating the charges would be dropped...it's a scam to get your money people...they hope you just turn it in to your insurance company and they get there money....I will always take pictures when I drop a car off from now on.
May 27, 2011 11:35AM
my daughter totaled her car so we went to enterprise to get a temporary rental - i told them that i didn't want the insurance - they shoved the papers in my face and said quick sign these so we can get you out - i read them and they checked off the 3 boxes that said that i wanted all of the extra ridiculous insurance charges - i complained and all they said was I'm sorry i checked off the wrong box - bs - enterprise is full of it
May 27, 2011 11:18AM
If you think customer satisfaction is low at Enterprise you should look at employee satisfaction.
This company screws its employees in so many ways.  Unless something has changed recently, you are not fully vested until after 7 years and only have a partial investment after  3 years (like 20%).  They know and want employees to turn over because they don't want to pay out anything (for retirement) not to mention for the day-to-day.  The worst behavior that I saw there was how area managers (and up) treated branch managers and below.  One of many examples:  Back in the day before United Way started having their issues, ERAC demanded that you donate to the United Way.  My boss drove an hour  at the close of a business day and stood over our desks until we completed paperwork and gave money.  Our pay was more in line with someone who needed help from the United Way.
Just like with damage waiver - they would not take no from employees.  
May 27, 2011 2:29AM

Being a frequent traveller in the USA in the past, I had to use rental cars extensively. Rates vary considerably from city to city (I found NYC to be the most expensive, and locations in FL to be cheapest), so you do have to do your shopping online.


To save money on car rentals, this is what I do:


1) Make sure that either your Car Insurance and/or your credit card will cover damage and excess liability if you have an accident with a rented car. If they do, then you do not have to take the option of the collission damage waiver, which can cost nearly $ 25.00 a day, and the excess liability coverage which can cost about $ 10.00 a day.


2) If your car insurance and/or credit card do not have the features indicated in 1), consider buying a collision damage waiver with a higher deductible if you can afford the deductible. At a recent trip, my car insurance and/or credit card did not have these features, I then selected a $ 3000.00 deductible, and cut my collision damage waiver to $ 10.00 a day.


3) Rent out of favor cars, which in most cases includes subcompacts, and very large vehicles (subcompacts are out of favor due to the small size which cannot carry a family, and very large vehicles due to the poor gas mileage).


4) if you can do so, pay online in advance. By doing this, you can knock off 15 to 20 percent from the base weekly online rate.


5) Always book in advance either online, or by telephone. Showing up at a rental counter and asking for a rental without an advance reservation is an invitation to disaster in terms of getting the best rental price, especially in peak travel periods (summer, Christmas, etc.) ..


6) When shopping online do your comparison on price on the total requirements that you want to get for the rental. For example, some rental car companies wil give you a cheap  "teaser" base rate for a rental, but when you add in all the extras that you want, the rate may not be attractive compared to other car companies. And by all means, shop around online.


7) Consider car rental companies with nearby "off airport" locations if you are renting at an airport. Many jurisdictions/airport authorities will have two sets of surcharge rates with the cheaper set of rates being at near "off airport" locations.


8) If you are going to rent for more than four days, consider the weekly option. On a recent trip that I took, my daily rate for a subcompact was $ 85.00 a day in Seattle, whereas for a week, it was about  $ 280.00 Since I was renting for more than four days, I took the weekly option.


9) When you rent, read your rental contract thoroughly. In some locations (especially in  CA), most rental contracts allow you to only drive the car within a certain jurisdiction (eg in CA where I recently rented a car, the rental contract only allowed to drive the car in CA, and if you  drove the car out of state, you paid a real hefty surchage, which may total hundreds of dollars). The car rental companies track their vehicles through GPS in most cases, and will definitely know if you drive out of state.


That is all that I do have. Happy renting, and enjoy your rental. 

May 27, 2011 7:52AM
Maybe you missed the "Return the car to a different location" option. You know, the one right at the top of the page...
May 26, 2011 9:52PM
Rental places have the last laugh when you decline the insurance coverage. I had to say no about six times before they finally agreed not to add the coverage, but I ended up with a purple car for the weekend.
May 27, 2011 11:12AM

For renters with no insurance/plpd, haggle with the guy renting you the car. At times you'll find someone who will lower the rental rate to offset the cost of the damage waiver. If you have only liability/plpd insurance and you'll be renting 5 days or longer, call your insurance agent to bump up your insurance to full coverage and then lower it back after your rental is done and the rental company has verified whether there was damage or not.


Last money-saving tip:

If you reserve a car type with Enterprise, realize that they don't actually plan on having that car type...they cross their fingers and hope it's there when you show up. Reserve an economy car...if they have it on site when you get there, great...if they don't, you get a free upgrade. If they do have the ecnomy car, you might be able to upgrade to something larger for only a couple bucks more...which will be less than the reservation rate when you originally set up the rental.

May 27, 2011 12:55PM

This article and posting absolutely makes me laugh.  Yes, I understand that there are pushy sales people out there but read the fine print people.  This is true in most every business you go into.  In most states rental car companies can charge a max of 50% on top of pump price, that means that the local gas price would have had to be $5.35 a gallon for her numbers to be accurate.  Doubt it.  On top of that, the Enterprise website asks you specifically where you plan to return the vehicle.  I would do your homework before posting something that makes you look like an idiot.


Rental car agents have you walk around the car and document damages before the rental, I advise doing a thorough job of this.  The coverage isn't suited for well insured renters.  These are for the liability customers and is a great deal.  Read the fine print before you sign anything.  Be a smart consumer and don't assume the company is fraudulant when you just plain can't read the fine print.



May 27, 2011 10:30AM
Never ever rent from Hertz. We were charged fo an upgrade even when we told them we did not want one. We fought it and fought it but the BIG MEN always win. Never ever again. HERTZ you lost a customer for life.
May 27, 2011 9:45AM

What the author should have done was call Enterprise at the point where she wanted to return the car. They'll pick you up at the airport.


I've had some counter people get quite rude when you turn down their insurance coverage. Not the best way to keep frequent customers.

May 27, 2011 8:42AM
Last time I used Enterprise they got down right nasty when I refused the additional insurance.  I told them I could rent from anyone.  I was very meticulous about insuring return inspection was done, documented and recorded.  I have never had a positive rental experience with any rental company!
May 27, 2011 9:05AM
We use Alamo....they arent pushy, always have what we need and their rates are the best around.
May 27, 2011 11:27AM
When ever I had to rent a car I always went with Enterprise. They've treated me well and had no major problems. The last time I had to rent, was for my sister. They gave her a good vehicle and even waived the gas charge. I actually rented from Budget a couple of times and wasn't pleased with their service.
May 27, 2011 12:28PM
One thing to keep in mind as a former travel consultant.  Although, you may have insurance on your own vehicle and it may indeed cover your rental car, just keep this in mind.  If you decline the insurance on your rental car and have an accident whereas you are at fault, you will have to pay your deductible.  This means you could pay anywhere from $250 to $1000 out of your pocket depending on what your deductible is with your insurance company.  Regardless of whether you rented the car for one day or 10 days. 
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

How much to insure that car?

Check out rates for more than 850 vehicles.

Step 1
Step 2
Vehicle make
Vehicle model