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Renting a car? Learn from my mistakes

Blogger's 3 omissions and blunders caused him to spend $100 more than he needed to for a rental car.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 31, 2011 11:39AM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.


My family and I were in Florida recently visiting colleges for my son and daughter. We rented a car from Thrifty in Orlando for four days. While I thought I did everything possible to get the best possible deal, it turns out I made three critical mistakes that cost me about $100.


So before you rent from Thrifty or any other car rental company, learn from my mistakes. Post continues after video.

Mistake No. 1: Not subscribing to travel sites. We booked our car rental directly through But before confirming the reservation, we compared prices on several travel websites, including So we knew we were getting the best available price at the time we made our reservation. And that's the key point. It turns out that prices dropped about a week later. How do I know?

Because friends of ours who went with us and also booked through Thrifty received an email notice from several travel sites alerting them to the better price. They called Thrifty and received the lower price on the rental, saving about $10 per day. Because I wasn't subscribed to email alerts, we missed out on these savings. So even if you book directly on or another rental car company's website, subscribe to several travel websites so you can easily monitor price drops and special deals.


Mistake No. 2: Paying a set fee for an E-ZPass. This was our biggest mistake, at least in terms of my own stupidity. When we got to the Thrifty rental counter at about 1 a.m. (ugh), the person behind the counter tried to sell us about a billion extras (see insurance discussion below for an example). One of the extras was the use of an E-ZPass for tolls for about $6 a day. I should have known it was a rip-off.

Instead of just saying no, I asked her how much in tolls it takes to drive from Orlando to St. Pete Beach and back. I'm paraphrasing, but her answer went something like this: "It's all toll roads and it will cost you a trillion dollars." So we spent a total of about $27 to use an E-ZPass for four days.


Actual cost of tolls: about $5.


Lesson learned. And if you want to become a rental car ninja, remember to bring your own E-ZPass on the trip.


Update: An alert reader raised the possibility that using your E-ZPass in a rental car could be a problem. I researched the issue, and it appears that you can register a rental car to your E-ZPass account via the Web or by phone. But to be certain, contact E-ZPass first.


Mistake No. 3: Filling up near the airport. We never bring a car back on empty. While prices vary, rental car companies charge more for gas than they do for the use of an E-ZPass. I believe Thrifty's price of gas was about $7.50 a gallon. So we did the "smart" thing and filled up near the airport just before returning the car. It cost us $5.50 a gallon!

It turns out that the gas stations near the Orlando airport have jacked up the price of gas to take advantage of travelers. Everywhere else in Florida the price is about $3.50 a gallon. I'm told these gas stations have even been in the press for ripping off customers with ridiculous gas prices. So when you fill up, make sure you don't go to a gas station right next to the airport.


Mistake avoided: Paying for unnecessary insurance. There is one mistake I managed to avoid -- paying for rental car insurance. The Thrifty representative did everything she could think of to get me to buy the blasted insurance. Her primary strategy was to tell me that if the car were in an accident, I'd be responsible for paying the rental fees while the car was in the shop. I didn't go for it.


I have rental insurance coverage through Nationwide and through the American Express Gold card I used to pay for the rental.


If you know of other rental car gotchas to avoid, please let us know in the comments below.


More from The Dough Roller and MSN Money:

Mar 31, 2011 5:48PM

several good points. but most rental places will let you prepay for a tank of gas at average prices and bring it back on empty

Apr 1, 2011 12:16PM
All good tips, but I have to say, we did not buy a Florida Sunpass  from our rental car company (may have been Thrifty) and after driving from Orlando to Boca Raton, realized that we had racked up $150 in tickets because we could not go through the Florida Sunpass lanes, so it looked like we were dodging the tolls.  At our specific exit, cars without Sunpasses could not get off, and we would have had to drive 10 more miles to a "regular visitor car who pays cash for tolls" enabled exit.

We tried to call Sunpass to explain our dilemma and pay the fines, but they were closed on weekends. When we returned the rental car, we told the agent our story, and he said it happened all the time. They would get tickets from Sunpass, then pass them on to renters and charge an additional $25 processing fee.  Instead, he offered to sell us a $20 Sunpass after the fact, and said that when the tickets came in, the rental car company would just give Sunpass the confirmation of a Sunpass purchase and all would be forgiven.

So we were grateful that they saved us money. It's a totally screwy toll system, but we heard the governor insisted that all residents get Sunpasses and forget about tourist problems!

May 27, 2011 9:31AM
I know many are against the insurance from a car rental company but consider the following before you completely dismiss it.

1. Does your car insurance policy REALLY cover rental or fleet vehicles? Some insurance companies do not and may state this in your policy paperwork. A simple call to your provider can clarify this. If in fact they do not you are footing the entire bill.

2. If your insurance company does cover rental vehicles and you have to make a claim a couple of things will happen. First your deductible kicks in (lets assume $500 dollars) so right off the bat you're adding $500 dollars to your vacation that you don't even get to use. Obviously if the damages are more then your company kicks in for the remainder and your insurance rates have the potential to go up. I know that some companies offer accident forgiveness but again you need to see if that applies to rentals.More importantly at the end of the day do you really want to sacrifice your insurance rates and accident forgiveness on a car you will more than likely never see or drive again?

3. I've lived in Orlando for the last five years and seen more than my fair share of close calls, accidents, and distracted drivers. Orlando is an international travel destination and as a result we have every type of driver on the road. When traveling to a place new to you consider how many other people like you are there as well. We all have certain driving habits and believe me they come with us on vacation too. Now take into the account Orlando had 51,000,000 visitors last year not including the residents of Orlando. Assume a quarter of those visitors are driving so now you have 12 million different ways of driving (poor judgement, aggressive, or otherwise) to encounter with many of those drivers in rentals that are beyond their capabilities. We all live in the hope and assumption that it will never be "me" involved in an accident but when you are visiting and driving in an international destination your odds, I believe, increase.

In conclusion that rental insurance of $200-$300 has the potential to be a piece of mind from having to pay to fix or replace a vehicle you don't own, affecting your insurance rates, and being able to walk away from the vehicle in the unfortunate event you hit someone or they hit you.

May 27, 2011 7:41PM
If you and your spouse both wish to be drivers, you are charged a fee per day. Clerk said "no problem" when we asked to be both listed  - never did mention there was a charge.
May 26, 2011 12:33PM
I live in  So. Cal. and I rent a car about once a month for long weekend trips. I use Priceline to get the best deal, so each time it is a different rental company, the last time I rented it was 11.00 a gallon if I wanted THEM to fill the tank if I brought it back empty, 11.00 a GALLON!!! Highway Robbery! Also, I found out it cost more if you rent from an airport location.
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