Jeff Pearlman

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The Great Rental Car Scam

Rented a car yesterday.

Approached the Hertz counter. Woman greeted me, said, “You should pre-pay for gas.”

I should pre-pay for gas?

“You should pre-pay. If you pre-pay, we charge you $3.42 a gallon to fill up the car. However, if you don’t pre-pay and you fail to return the car full, we charge $9.50 a gallon.”

I’ll return it full.

“Are you sure? Because unless you fill the car up within a mile of here …

I’ll return it full.

“Just so you know …

I’LL RETURN THE CAR WITH A FULL TANK OF GAS!!!!!!!!!

“OK, but …”

This is what we call a scam. It’s so widely practiced that it’s an accepted scam. But an accepted scam is a scam nonetheless. To begin with, if one agrees to have the rental car agency fill the car, then returns the gas with anything but an empty tank, he is actually buying gasoline for Hertz, Avis, Budget, etc. Think about that—unless the gauge is on zero, with the empty light flashing for the last 50 miles, you are saying to a multi-million dollar corporation, “Here’s my gift to you … free gas!”

Second, the whole $3.42 vs. $9.50 thing is nothing short of arbitrary bullshit. Just so I get this straight—gasoline runs you a low price one minute, a high price the next? And the reason is … uh … eh … hmm … what?

Answer: Greed. Pure greed.

Somewhere one there, a decent, kind, friendly independently owned rental car agency (Jim’s Cars or Rentals by Steve) is telling customers, “If you can’t return it full, we’ll just charge you the price for gas. Don’t sweat it.” That, however, isn’t the corporate way.

Why, after all, miss the opportunity to bilk people?

  • Duncan Idaho

    Agreed 100%. The other rental car scam is how aggressively they try to upsell you to purchase insurance. I’ve never figured that one out given that as a driver I have my own auto insurance that covers me. So, why pay a dramatically increased rate just to cover this one car for a few days?

    Drives me crazy.

  • Ted

    1) Gas in Reno is now at $3.97 at my usual station.
    2) Clerk was very upfront to you about the terms. VERY upfront. It may be a ripoff, but a scam, to me, involves subterfuge.

  • http://Www.soudcloud.com/djsweatdjwhiteowl DJ WhiteOwl1

    SCAM or SKAM if you rap like I do;)

  • http://sunbeltnissan.com/rentals Jay Reynolds

    I think that a lot of these scams come from small rental lots that don’t worry too much about their reputations. Its always important to find a car rental lot that you trust, I have one right here in Augusta, GA. Have any of you been victims of these ridiculous charges?

  • Frequent Traveler

    Not only are they ripping you off if you don’t push the car into the lot because the car is totally empty….look at how they are charging you and comparing the price of fuel if you prepay versus the local price of fuel. Some deceptive rental agencies will quote you their price and the local price but not tell you that their price does not include sales tax! Gas station’s advertise their price with sales tax included.

    So if they say they are going to charge you $4 a gallon and the local gas station charges $4.20 a gallon, and you have a 10 gallon tank, you should save $2 right? Well not true…say sales tax is 6%. Then you are actually paying $4.24 a gallon at the rental company and it’s going to cost you 40 cents more than if you just paid the local gas station.

    That’s just simple math.. but given the sales tax rate, price difference, and fuel tank size of the vehicle rented, I’ve seen the cost of fuel being more than $10 higher had I prepaid the rental company versus bought locally. That’s $10 more before you even consider what others have said about giving them free gas. So you can easily pay $20 or more for the convenience of not having to fill up the vehicle before you turn it in by taking their rip off of pre-paid fuel programs.

    If they were just honest, I might pay for it if my time is worth $20 to save 5 minutes. But because they are deceptive, I am willing to lose that five minutes and plan to stop at the gas stations before turning the car in.

  • mibtp

    I know what you mean. Just returned a car to a local Hertz today. Boy did they try to push the pre-paid gas. I said no. They even had another employee chime in on what a great deal it is. I had to say No about 6 times. Next time I’ll shut them down immediately and tell them “No, end of discussion.”

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