Anyone else experienced the gas gauge scam?

By | June 22nd, 2007

Car rental companies are among the most inventive in the travel industry when it comes to fees and surcharges designed to line their pockets. But just when you thought you had heard it all, along comes a new scam.

Reader Penny McLain brought this one to my attention. Let’s call it the gas gauge rip-off.

On two separate occasions with two different car rental companies, she had returned her rental with a completely full tank of gas.

“Both times, the attendants had supposedly checked the gas gauge — we saw them do it,” she wrote. “And although we knew the tank was full, we were issued a receipt that reflected a big charge for gas.”

Good thing she had kept the gas receipt and checked the print-out handed to her by the attendant before leaving the returns area.

“Once brought to the attention of the attendants at the respective agencies’ counter, the ‘mistake’ was rectified,” says McLain. “But for the most part, no apology or explanation was forthcoming.”

Quite the contrary. At one agency, the attendant who had checked the gas gauge just laughed at her.

“So much for customer service,” she says.

McLain believes most renters are in a hurry to get to their flight and probably don’t bother to check their bill until they get home — if they do at all. Her advice is to read the receipt carefully before catching your flight home.

And I would add one other piece of advice. When you fill the tank, ask for a receipt and keep it. It might save you some serious bucks if it ever comes to a dispute.

Related story:   The most unfair fees in travel

It’s no secret that car rental companies are trying to make money any way they can. It is also true that fuel-purchase options are a lucrative business.

But misrepresenting the gas gauge on a receipt? C’mon.

Has anyone else experienced the gas gauge scam? If so, with which car rental agency? How did you resolve the dispute?

  • Evert

    Yes, I did: yesterday… in Rome… and this story goes beyond the previous one… where you cannot even GET a receipt!!

    Before you might read my complaints letter, be aware of the following FACTS that augment this reality: around the airport of Rome, most (if not ALL) gasstations do NOT accept ANY credit/debit cards at all… Some are simply closed, ALL have a ‘out of order’ paper on the card slot and ALL pump attendends say ‘CASH only!’… well, as I said, try to get a receipt!
    I took pictures of all places where I fuelled, and next time will even make movies where I film myself filling the tank and SPILLING it… I recommend everyone to do so! Ok, rediculous, but hopefully safer!

    And here is the letter!!

    Dear Sir, Dear Madam,


    As a returning Dollar client and a Dollar Express Member
    (0100642524) I’m sorry to inform you that I’m very disappointed with the
    services delivered by the rental office at the airport of Rome Ciampino on May
    22nd between 1700 and 1800. Apart from previous good and very good experiences
    I inform you about this issue because (imho) what happened today does not
    represent your company well.

    I would like to know what the follow-up of this issue
    will be, so I can decide if I would like to stay a Dollar Member and client or


    I’m talking about the Car Rental xrf 610692 / RA
    n.2526570 at the Airport of Roma Ciampino, which we rented for one day.


    When we returned the car to the rental office for the
    first time, the desk manager (Ciara) told us the car was not filled up and the
    additional charge would be 27euro.

    Having driven not even 120km with a small car (final
    milage 17538km – starting milage 17419km), and having filled up 7liters
    ourselves (10euro at about 1.5euro/liter) I found the additional charge way to
    much. The amount would be about half a days rent with full insurrence – 57euro
    for the initial contract for a day with full coverage. On top of that, the type
    of car (peugeot 206+) would probably not need more than 10-12liters for the
    trip in total. I estimate the average full cost at about 6-8liter/100km. Having
    checked several reviews online, most tests have about 1:16.9 or better, scoring
    between 5.8liters/100km up to 8.5liters/100km in a city.


    So I decided to go and fill the car up myself, knowing
    that for another additional 10euro, I could add about 7 more liter to the tank
    and have it full.

    Please note that we visited about 12-14 gasstations
    around the airport, NONE of them would accept any credit or debit cards. About
    six stations were out of order, the others accepting cash ONLY, not giving any
    return money. An obvious trick to disappoint people when filling up their car
    imho, thus forcing them into buying the gasoline at the rental place at about
    1,8x the regular price (+ an additional fee).


    So we went and got cash, and did exactly as described
    above: filled the car up with another 10euro (7liter) and drove back. The fuel
    meter did NOT show any difference however, the car being fuelled for little
    more than 14liters now, good for a trip of about 150km so to speak.

    When we returned to the desk, your employee (Ciara) told
    us again: the car is not full. I asked how many more liters were needed. She
    answered first six, later five. That would mean the car needed a fillup of
    about 20 liters for a trip of about 120km. From this point on, I realised
    something was wrong with the meter and/or the way we were being handled. A
    small car as the peugeot 206+ does not use about 17liter/100km. I told this but
    your employee would not listen, claiming her English was not good. She said she
    was going to charge the 27euro additional cost. I did not (and do not) approve
    any of this this.

    Finally an Avis employee explained there was a fee for
    filling up and the petrol charged at a higher price, but as explained before,
    this did not cover the 17liter/km story. So I drove out for a third time,
    filling up the car with another 10euro untill the tank literally spilled! This
    time, I could only add 3,93liter, so not the 6 or 5 your employee told me. The
    meter AGAIN had not changed its position at all.


    When I drove back with a spilled tank, your employee told
    me again: the car is not filled up, I’m going to charge you 27euro. At that
    time I had to leave to catch my flight, tired of not being heard and not
    wanting to go into the discussing that the initial 27euro had to be revised
    since I had added more gasoline since the first measurement.

    So I left and while doing so told Ciara that I was going
    to contact you about this issue and unfair business, so I do.


    To summarize: I’ve paid 30euro for a 18liter fill up, for
    a 120km trip (with a car that would milage about 6-8liter/100km) AND will be
    charged an additional 27euro?

    I guess not! Therefor I decline all of these extra
    charges and do not accept any additional charges on top of the initial contract
    of 57euro. I’ll pay the cost of the initial contract without any questions, as
    I find this only natural for using your service.


    I hope to have informed you of a bad experience that I
    trust is only an exception and not the usual way Dollar Car Rental works. I
    hope you will correct the additional charges made and judge this way of handling
    as incorrect too. As stated in my prologue, I would like to know what follow-up
    you’ll give to this complaint so I can decide whether or not I want to do
    further business with Dollar Car Rental. It would give me great pleasure if
    indeed I could do so, because I was a happy customer before and would like to
    know if I could trust your service again in the future.




    Evert Vandenberghe

    Dollar Expres Member: 0100642524

  • Claska

    I was recently scammed this way – Budget Rental Eyre square Galway Ireland. Filled  the car up, returned – charged for half a tank. Showed receipt, but still have not gotten the refund. Complained to Chase Visa and filed a dispute – was overturned on account that I cant plrove the 25 litres of fuel was put int my rental car. I am now pursuing video footage from the gas station and contacting the police.

    in my case the return of the car to Budget occus via a 3rd party at a parking garage, and the man that receives the car is not in a budget uniform  so I assume this is a great way for them to fill up their own vehicles – its childs play to remove the fuel and fill their own car. Free gas paid for by unsuspecting tourists.

  • Diesel Truck

    Tell me if you’ve heard this one. When I returned the car—in excess of full according to the guage—I was billed an additional fractional gallon amount of fuel @9.99,9 a gallon based on the fact that the car has a “digital calculator” that indicated that the vehicle had 19.7 gallons of fuel when I picked it up. I was not told this when I picked the car up. Is there some grace amount of fuel say within 2 gallons or more where there is such a discrepancy? Oh BTW this was Budget. What’s in a name, huh?

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