Tips to avoid rental car gas penalties and other fees

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Medium shot of a National auto rental front counter.

Ask about the “hidden” fees before you rent a car. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Michael Gray/Flickr)

The average price of gasoline in the U.S. is nearly $4 per gallon. But if you return a rental car without topping off the gas tank, you’ll pay more than double that for each gallon the rental service puts in to fill the tank. This is one of the hidden rental car fees that can cost you a bundle if you aren’t careful. Equip yourself with knowledge now so your rental car bill won’t sting your wallet later.

Rental car gasoline at $9.29 per gallon

A recent USA Today survey of car rental companies at 13 large U.S. airports found that Hertz is charging $9.29 per gallon to top off gas tanks, while Dollar and Thrifty charge $8.99. This price can be reduced significantly if renters pay for a tank of gas ahead of time with the rental company, but the price gouging illustrates how add-on fees can strike after low base rates reel in customers.

Other rental car add-on fees you should beware

1. Additional driver fees – Most rental companies charge an additional $10 per driver.

2. Insurance – Never purchase additional insurance if you have an automotive insurance policy of your own, particularly if you already have comprehensive coverage on your policy. To be safe, see if your credit card company insures against rental car losses.

3. Early/late return fees – It pays to be on time when returning your rental vehicle, as it can cost $10 or more for each day late. However, you should also know that many rental companies charge about $15 for early returns.

4. Child car seats – If you have children, bring their car seats with you when you travel in a rental. Otherwise, you’ll pay about $7 per day for each child safety seat rented through the company.

5. Toll bypass – Some rental companies will sell you an electronic toll road pass. If you already have one of these for your daily commute or aren’t worried about this option, just say no.

6. Mileage – Watch the mileage limit. If you know you’re going to be driving long distances, opt for an unlimited mileage rental or be prepared to pay an exorbitant amount per mile over the limit.

7. Cleaning – Clean up your mess, leave the cat with family and don’t smoke in your rental car. Cleaning fees can be sizable.

More tips for finding a cheaper rental car

To find the least expensive rental cars, start by searching travel websites like,, and for deals on rental cars. Plan ahead and you may even be able to find a good rate that comes as part of a package deal with airline tickets and hotel. Discount code sites like and entertainment coupon books may have codes you can input online for additional savings. Most importantly, don’t rent more car than you need. An economy compact will get you there safely, provided you don’t have gear to haul around.


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