Hey Thrifty — I didn’t want this insurance or this toll transponder

Wherever you go these days you see people looking intently at their smartphone screens. They’re very absorbed in what they’re reading on those small screens while ignoring distractions such as traffic. If more people paid as much attention to the screens that display the contracts at car rental counters, we would have far fewer complaints about surprise rental car charges.

In Robert Goodbar’s case, the car rental contract was displayed on what Thrifty Car Rental calls an “electronic signature capture screen.” If he had paid attention to that screen, his rental bill would have been a lot lower.

Goodbar’s surprise charges included not only the optional collision damage waiver (CDW), which he says he declined, but also daily fees for a toll road transponder.

All around the country, entities that operate toll roads and bridges have been switching to automated toll collection systems because it reduces their costs and speeds up the flow of traffic. In some locations, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, toll booths have been completely eliminated, with no place to stop and pay the toll. But that doesn’t mean it’s free. They now collect the tolls via transponders. If a vehicle doesn’t have a transponder, the system can still identify the car and bill the registered owner. If that owner is a rental car company, it could cost the renter a lot more than just the missed toll.

Here’s how that’s relevant in Goodbar’s case. He rented a car from Thrifty in Denver for 10 days. Thrifty has a prepaid toll road option called PlatePass All Inclusive. For a daily fee – $12.49 in Goodbar’s case – unlimited tolls are included. While Thrifty says the PlatePass system is optional, they also point out the potential cost of not using it:

NOTE: If you decline the optional PlatePass All-Inclusive service at beginning of the rental period, but still use electronic toll roads and/or bridges during the rental period (including “cashless” or “all electronic” toll roads and bridges, as noted above), you will be liable for and we will charge you: (a) all tolls incurred for such use (at the highest, undiscounted applicable toll rate); (b) a $15 administrative fee for each toll incurred (subject to a $90 cap for such toll-related administrative fees for the rental period); and (c) all other applicable toll charges or fees, if any.

Goodbar says he never approved the PlatePass transponder. But the money he could have saved by not having that transponder on his contract would have been at least partly lost to fees imposed by Thrifty for the four toll roads he says he drove on. The company would have charged him at least $60 in administrative fees plus the tolls, plus “all other applicable toll charges or fees.” If the number of toll roads had been larger, the extra fees might have been more than the total daily transponder charge.

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Thrifty is not the only rental car company offering prepaid toll transponders or charging hefty fees for incurring tolls. Christopher Elliott wrote about how to protect yourself from those “gotcha” fees in this article.

Going back to Goodbar’s situation, he contacted Thrifty’s customer service asking to have the CDW and transponder charges refunded, claiming he never approved them. The company declined, writing that he had accepted both of those options:

Review of your agreement shows that you accepted optional coverage. The costs of all optional items are listed on the electronic signature capture screens provided at the start of the rental. The use of the electronic device has taken the place of a traditional paper contract for the protection of our renters and to lower the amount of time needed to review pertinent information. The first screen you encounter will list any optional items you have requested and the total cost for these items. Another screen is presented that lists the total cost of the rental including optional items and by accepting this screen and signing the agreement you acknowledge that you have read and understood the terms and charge breakdown.

In what the company called a goodwill gesture, Thrifty said it would issue a credit to Goodbar for $163, which was half of the CDW charge.

But he wasn’t happy with that and contacted us. Our advocate got a copy of his rental agreement from Thrifty. It shows that both the CDW and the transponder were included, along with the cost for each and it has his signature, indicating acceptance. The company representative told our advocate that there was nothing more Thrifty would do.

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I had just finished writing this story when I got a surprise update. I can now report a happy ending.

As suggested by our advocate, Goodbar decided to give it one last shot and wrote a letter to an executive contact for Hertz, Thrifty’s parent company.

Then he sent the following note to our advocate: “Thank you. I wrote ONE letter to one of the contacts you gave me. Two hours later I had a reply advising me that they were issuing a second credit – We received $423.78!!!!”

While Goodbar got those extra fees credited back, too many people don’t. We continue to get cases every week involving vehicle renters who don’t take the extra time to review what is on the rental agreement before they sign.

You may be tired from your flight or in a hurry to get to your destination. There may be a line of impatient rental customers behind you. With more rental counters using electronic signature screens, it can be so easy to just touch the button that says “accept” so that you can hurry up and get to your car.

Instead, take a deep breath and spend an extra few minutes to review the critical pages of your rental agreement. Double-checking the rental contract will help you avoid unexpected charges. And it will definitely cost you a lot less in time and aggravation than fighting with the rental car company after you get home.

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

  • The Original Joe S

    “The use of the electronic device has taken the place of a traditional
    paper contract for the protection of our renters and to lower the amount
    of time needed to review pertinent information.”

    “for the protection of our renters” – this is outright balderdash! “To enable us to SHAFT the renters” is what it REALLY means!

    Yeah? And where on that electronic form does it allow you to write in “I don’t want your insurance, GPS, Toll Transponder nor any other extra money-making fees that you are trying to include.”?

  • KennyG

    Just wondering. The consumer indicated that he did in fact drive on several toll roads during the time he had the rental car. Did Thrifty [or Hertz] wind up eating the cost of those tolls?

  • The Original Joe S

    Wrap their transponder in aluminum foil several layers, and put that into a Faraday bag. Use yours.

  • cscasi

    You should not have to write any of that on the electronic form if you take a couple moments to review what is on the electronic form before you sign/accept it. That is the time when you catch these add on’s and have them removed. Sure, it takes time and holds up the line (if there is any), but it is incumbent on one’s self to protect him/her self. Once you sign a document agreeing to what is on it, it becomes your fault if it is not correct.

  • Bill___A

    Car rental companies in particular continue to not offer a fair and economical method for renters to use toll roads at an economical rate. This business of charging a daily rate during the whole rental whenever a person uses even one toll road on one day is absolutely absurd. The process of finding out which renter is responsble for which toll charges on which day can be accomplished by the third party company using API’s with the rental company, matching them up and billing them. Although I don’t expect this to be free, I also don’t think the charges for it are reasonable at all,. Does anyone think it is reasonable to charge this much to match the renter to the toll charges and then do the billing? I don’t.

  • cscasi

    Sure looks like. Looks like his cost for the toll tag and the CDW would have come to about $450.90 (plus taxes) and the two refunds it sent amounted to $586.88. I’d say he was extremely lucky and this time, he made out.

  • Jeff W.

    This is a prime example of why people should enroll in car rentals membership program. You are not going to get any meaningful benefits, but you create your profile with the CDW and all of the other “extras” declined. Then everything is filled out for you. For many rental companies, all you need to do is show your driver’s license, get your car and go.

    No chance to upsell.

  • rwm

    Good advice. And I consider free rental days a meaningful benefit.

  • Kairho

    Cannot very easily do that if the transponder is permanently attached to the vehicle. (Much as I would wish.)

  • greg watson

    I must say that some executive at Thrifty knows how to treat a customer…………..almost too well, as he did sign the electronic contract. Over the top customer service at the end of the day, but nice to see !

  • The Original Joe S

    Well, just get out your handy-dandy .600 Nitro Elephant Gun, and calibrate it.

  • The Original Joe S

    True. However, Toads in line in back of you will bleat and moan, which is what the car rental dirtbags WANT to happen to pressure you to let them skewer your wallet.

  • Jeff W.

    Just remember if you wish to use your own transponder, make sure it is compatible to where you are traveling. If you have EZ-Pass (NE US), it does not work with SunPass (FL) nor many of the other toll-systems beyond the East Coast/Great Lakes region. EZ-Pass does interlink with I-Pass (IL).

  • sirwired

    In every rental car I’ve been in, the transponder has a mechanism to disable it; usually a metal box, sometimes a switch. No need for tinfoil or an anti static bag.

  • Mel65

    Ok but who’s paying for the tolls he went through. I think he agreed to the charges for insurance sake and complained after he didn’t need the service.

  • Kerr

    Ignore them. You are the one paying the rental charges, not the folks in line behind you.

  • Joe Blasi

    they are being sued by SF over both billing the full undiscounted rate (when the city is only being paid the ETC rate) + the daily fee

  • Travelnut

    Not only that, but if there will likely be unmanned toll roads in the metro area you are renting from, it may not be a contractual obligation but I think it should be an ethical obligation to inform the renter that they will not have the ability to pay cash at a tollbooth and to lay out your options. I’ve been “surprised” a couple of times getting on a toll road in an unfamiliar city and realizing I didn’t pay the toll because there was no way to pay it. Amazingly, I was never charged for the toll but I felt bad about it.

    As someone mentioned above, there really needs to be some kind of national umbrella program for all the different toll companies where one transponder will work and you just bring it with you. (I would probably accidentally leave it in the rental car but that would be on me.) Even in Texas, you would think it is all one company but I got dinged once for not paying tolls in Houston that I thought were covered on my TxTag. (My city doesn’t even have toll roads but I got the tag for when I go to other cities.)

  • The Original Joe S

    In checkout line in a store [ now bankrupt – customer unfriendly ] where they tried to over-charge me. I insisted on correct price. Inbred single-tooth stump-jumping clod-kicker in line with his wife/sister complained that I was holding up the line. Told him that HE could pay the overcharge if he were in such a hurry to get out of there, otherwise just shut your blessing mouth before I stomp the snot out of your stupid anterior. He understood that message….

  • pauletteb

    Thanks for the advice!

  • RightNow9435

    One thing that will quickly give the customer a clue as to whether the contract has been padded with unwanted add-ons: if the bottom line Estimated Total is still the same amount as on the original confirmation.

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