As the weather heats up and fuel prices continue to rise, the last thing travelers want is to have to pay even more when they hit the road this summer. Rental car companies used to try harder to put the consumer in the driver seat with ease, but today’s rental car companies are putting the gas on gotcha pricing, pushy pitches and costly extras.
In its June issue, available online at www.ConsumerReports.organd on newsstands now, Consumer Reports outlines some costly and common car-rental hassles and how consumers can fight back.
“It used to be that car-rental companies made it as easy as possible to get you signed up and on the road,” said Consumer Reports senior editor Jeff Blyskal. “These days, consumers need to slow things down and be more guarded to make sure they don’t pay more than necessary.”
Consumers have a choice when it comes to pricey add-on services and liability coverage. Consumer Reports recommends watching out for these gotchas the next time a salesperson puts the pressure on.
• There is a fee for every extra. 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 EZ-Pass toll payment transponder he found inside his Hertz rental.
Don’t take it. Consumers faced with undisclosed surcharges should dispute them with their credit card company. Be sure to ask about these possible hidden fees – late or early return of the car, going through an unmanned, electronic-only toll gate, road service in case the driver runs out of gas or locks keys in the car, and administrative fees related to parking tickets and moving violations.
• The insurance hard sell. Rental agents might strongly sell renters on a loss damage waiver that limits the renter’s liability for damage for $60 to $250 a week.
Don’t take it. Consumers may already be covered on their own auto insurance policy if it includes collision and/or comprehensive coverage. Some credit cards also provide protection. Just make sure the personal policy covers rentals and business travel and that it pays the “full value” of a loss, administrative fees, towing and “loss of use.” Also, check if it’s valid abroad and covers a second driver or comprehensive claims (such as fire, theft and vandalism).
• Scratch-and-dent claims. Always pay by credit card so any inaccurate charges can be disputed. One Consumer Reports reader was billed $304 for “damage” after he dropped off an Avis Rental in Lyon, France, at the locked return lot before business hours.
Don’t take it. Fully inspect the car at pick up time, noting any damages in the paperwork and request a signed, dated copy. Do the same at drop off. If it’s before or after business hours, take photos to document the car’s condition.
• Return the car with gas. If not, expect to pay as much as $8 per gallon to have the rental agency fill the tank. Other gas overpricing might not be so obvious. For example, Hertz’s fuel purchase option—buy a full tank at the prevailing local per-gallon price—might seem like a good deal, but renters pay for a whole tank even if they only use a fraction of it.
Don’t take it. Always fill it up before returning the car.
• Decline the upgrade pitch. In good economic years, agencies had more cars than they could rent. Now inventories are tighter, so don’t expect to be offered a roomier car at no extra cost. Worse, agents might try to convince the renter into taking a costlier car.
Don’t take it. If the agent talks down a specific model, ask about other cars in the same group.
Consumer Reports also suggests looking for deals on websites like Travelocity and Expedia and then calling a specific location to negotiate the cheapest rate. Also, check off-brand companies. Groups like AAA, AARP, Costco, labor unions and other groups might offer discounts.
For more tips on how to get the best deal on car rentals, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.