Rental Cars and Ridiculous Charges

I’ve recently rented a few cars, and I am fascinated by the lack of knowledge by the rental car sales representatives.  I understand that they are supposed to offer extra features and additional insurances, but their explanations for why are truly entertaining. In order to be sure that you are only purchasing the additional features and insurances that you want and need, you have to come to the rental car counter with a little knowledge. You need to understand what things you need or want, and you need to understand what insurances you already have. Today, I’m only going to talk about extra charges.  Tomorrow, I’ll cover insurance issues.

Child Seats

If you haven’t brought your own child seat on the plane, consider their fees and the costs of buying a seat.  I am always shocked at how much they charge to rent an essential piece of safety equipment.  I’ve seen fees in the $10-$15 a day range – you can buy a pretty good car seat for just a few days rental. Plus, I haven’t been too impressed what they’re offering for car seats.  One time, I rented the car seat for one day, bought a new car seat, and returned the rented one.  It was worth an hour of my time to return the car seat, because I got a clean, quality car seat AND saved money on our long trip.

GPS

If you are in an unfamiliar area, and your cell phone doesn’t have GPS capability (or will charge you extra fees because of your location), it might be worth the cost of renting one.  Again, weigh the length of your visit:  $12-$20 a day adds up FAST. For example, my husband often travels to Stuttgart, Germany, and he’s usually only there for a day or two.  He likes to rent a GPS from the rental car company because his phone doesn’t have GPS capability, he find Stuttgart to be confusing (and often-changing), and the GPS has current maps on it.  He could take our personal GPS, but it needs updating and we’re not going to bother because my phone has GPS.  Plus, it is one more thing to carry, and the cost isn’t much for two days.

Roadside assistance coverage

I really think this should be included in the rental cost, but apparently it is not any more.  Your own auto insurance coverage might include roadside assistance, or your AAA or other roadside assistance probably covers rental cars.

Pre-paid fuel

I really think this is an amazingly clever way for rental car companies to make extra income.  You pre-pay for a full tank of gas, then you don’t have to worry about filling up before you return it.   The per gallon price is much less than the penalty price if you don’t return the tank full.  However, who is going to manage to return the car close to empty?  Life is just not that predictable. On my current rental, the counter representative was pretty sure I should buy the pre-paid fuel option.  He knew my ultimate destination, and said that I would easily use up a full tank of gas just driving there and back.  Not only does that not change the non-sensibility of prepaying, but he was flat out wrong.  I’ve driven to my destination and all over the area, and I’m just at 1/2 tank.  Even after my drive back to the airport tonight, I’m not going to be on empty  (unless this gas gauge is really off).

Satellite Radio

C’mon folks, do you really NEED a satellite radio in your rental car?  I can think of many places you could spent that $10-$15 per day

Automatic Toll Payment Boxes

If you’re visiting an area with many tolls, those little boxes that pay your tolls automatically are a great convenience.  They can also be a great expense.  Most contracts charge you per day of rental, regardless of whether you use the box or not.  So, for example, let’s say you are visiting Maryland for a week and you go over to the Eastern Shore for two days.  If you use the EasyPass box to pay for your toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, you’ll pay $3-$5 per rental day for the one day you pay the toll.  I know I’m cheap, but I can’t figure out why I would want to pay $21 to use the box ONCE.  Maybe, maybe if the bridge was backed up and the Easy Pass lanes were miraculously open.  But otherwise, no way. Some of these extras can be important for safety (child seats) or convenience (toll thingies).  However, even the “essentials” can often be made cheaper with a little planning or flexibility.  It is a lot easier to make good decisions if you’ve planned it out before you get to the rental counter and have helpful representatives pressuring you to buy all the extras.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.