You’re not paranoid. Someone is watching you — it’s Thrifty!


As Marc Markowitz drives out of the Thrifty car rental lot in St. Louis, he has no idea that his whereabouts are being tracked. But when he returns the car, he receives an expensive surprise — someone was watching.

Question: I picked up a Thrifty rental car in St. Louis. At that time, I was told that I had unlimited mileage and no one mentioned a restricted driving area. I was charged for a six-day rental per Expedia.

When I returned the car, the agent gave me a receipt showing the Expedia rate. But when I received my credit card statement, it showed that I was charged $250 (the Expedia rate), plus an additional $121 and $181.

I called Thrifty about this, and I was told that the unlimited mileage plan was dropped when I visited a neighboring state and an additional surcharge was added. Also, I was charged for all six days for being out of the zoned area when I was there for only two days.

I am shocked that no one told me that if I drove into a different state Thrifty would detect this and charge me over $300. Can you help me? — Marc Markowitz, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Answer: It’s not unusual for rental agencies to restrict driving into foreign countries — but “foreign” states?

That’s new to me.

After all, we live in The United States, so it was unclear why crossing the border into another state triggered over $300 in additional fees.

But more importantly: Why weren’t you made aware of this restriction or the fact that your car was equipped with a GPS locator that was tracking you?

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The paper trail you provided was limited, but what you did have was a rental receipt. This showed the regular rate with unlimited mileage— no mention of driving restrictions.

Taking a look at your original Expedia reservation, I noted that your itinerary said “special.” But there was no explanation of what made this rental special. I continued to scour the page for a justification of the charge.

I finally found it — but it wasn’t easy.

When I clicked on your actual rental voucher and scrolled to the very bottom of the page I saw this:


UNLIMITED MILE RATES ARE FOR THE STATES OF MISSOURI, IOWA, INDIANA, MISSISSIPPI, ARKANSAS, ILLINOIS, KANSAS, KENTUCKY, NEBRASKA, OKLAHOMA, AND TENNESSEE. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE OF THE LISTED AREA, RENTERS MAY NOTIFY THE COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL
ADVISORY: CHARGES ASSOCIATED WITH THE BASE RATE ARE THOSE WHICH ARE APPLICABLE AT THE TIME OF BOOKING AND COULD BE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. ONLY THOSE CHARGES LISTED AS MANDATORY ARE INCLUDED IN THE TOTAL RATE FOR THE DISPLAYED RENTAL.

GEOGRAPHIC DRIVING RESTRICTIONS: UNLIMITED MILES RATES ARE FOR STATE AND BORDERING STATE MO,AR,IA,IL,IN,KS,KY,MS,NE,OK,TN. IF TRAVELING OUTSIDE LISTED AREA RENTER MAY NOTIFY COUNTER AGENT AT TIME OF RENTAL TO RECEIVE UNLIMITED MILES FOR ADDITIONAL CHARGE 20.00 PER DAY OR 100.00 PER WEEK. IF THE VEHICLE IS TAKEN OUTSIDE THE LISTED STATES WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL FROM THE LOCATION, A GPS SERVICE FEE OF $150.00 WILL BE CHARGED IN ADDITION TO THE $20.00/DAY OR $100.00/WEEK. VEHICLES ARE NOT ALLOWED INTO CANADA OR MEXICO.

Where had you gone?

Unfortunately, Thrifty caught you traveling to the forbidden land of Michigan.

Gasp!

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That short trip to visit your friend cost you an additional $300.

This didn’t sit right with me. The fact that the Thrifty representative had not reviewed the geographical “no-drive zones” before you drove away, seemed particularly unfriendly to a loyal customer. And although the information was located on your confirmation, it was quite difficult to find.

Such unusual terms should be made crystal clear at the time of the reservation and at the rental counter.

Not to mention, that it should be disclosed that if you rent from this branch, a GPS locator will be monitoring your travels.

I reached out to Hertz, the parent company of Thrifty, to find out what went wrong here. Our executive contact told us that this particular Thrifty branch is a franchise — so the investigation was a little more involved.

In the end, Hertz agreed that you were due a full refund of these charges. It’s still unclear why this branch of Thrifty finds Michigan so objectionable, but you are pleased with this outcome and will use an alternative agency the next time you plan to visit your friend.

Should rental car agencies be permitted to track their customers' locations with GPS locators?

View Results

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    I wonder if this is a Thrifty thing… The Tampa airport location where the contract said I couldn’t go to the far-off land of Georgia. Luckily I noticed it while I was still in the parking lot, and they let me return the keys for no charge. I just walked up to the Hertz counter and got a car from them instead. (Luckily I can get a corporate rate even for personal walk-up rentals; this would have been an expensive problem if I couldn’t.)

    The restriction for this particular case makes sense; long road trips are not really priced into the “unlimited miles” and they’ll lose their proverbial shirts in depreciation cost, but they certainly need to be more up-front about it.

  • Joe Blasi

    didn’t the law crack down when one rent a car place did do GPS speeding fines?

  • Jeff W.

    I am going to guess that that this location is allowing for unlimited miles, but the car must be within the state, a border state, or possibly x amount of miles from the franchisee (which accounts for IN and MS being allowed). I would also guess that this is an off-airport location, as such terms would be highly unusual for an airport location.

    I have encountered restrictions such as that before. In all cases, it when I have received a loaner car when my car was in the shop. With Enterprise, I would told that I could not drive out of state. Normally, not a big deal, but since I am in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, WI is a frequent destination. And when the dealership provided a car, I was told to not drive too far into WI since the car had “dealer plates”, which are only for in-state use, but the border towns typically do not write that up. When I rented a car in Hawai’i, I was told not to go off-road or that certain state-park roads were prohibited.

    The key fact about all of my cases is the person TOLD me about the restrictions before I drove off the lot. It is not necessarily unusual, but it should have been communicated verbally and not buried in the fine print. So the refund of the extra charges is appropriate.

    As for the GPS in cars, that is trickier. They are giving you a $20K+ asset and need to protect it. It would not be just for tracking where you are. If the car is stolen, maybe they can find it. If you drive the car well in excess of normal speeds, that is an issue too. Just needs to be disclosed.

  • Dan

    I’m mostly bothered by the unlimited mileage that, in fact, has limitations. How it’s legal that the fine print can contradict the word ‘unlimited’ is beyond me me. I’m no lawyer but if the investigator on this case had to actively search for the fine print clause, the it would seem to violate the “clear and conspicuous” requirement based on proximity.

    Where does it stop? Will some franchises limit their unlimited mileage to the same state, same county, same city, same neighborhood, etc.?

  • Dan

    I’ve heard some shady stories about going ‘off-road’ in Hawaii. Some of those roads truly are more akin to off-road trails that require some skill to not damage the car. However, many a just unpaved roads that are graded and otherwise maintained so that even a sedan can drive on it without issues. The problem is that every rental place defines the off-road sections differently and most don’t spell out the prohibited roads clearly. I rented from National at the airport and they gave me maps of exactly where I couldn’t drive so that was nice.

  • Joe Blasi

    and under there rules a main road under construction with rough grooved surface can be seen as offroad / unpaved road. They can even use that to bully you in to buying the Insurance say you know that main road in under construction so you must buy it or we can hit you with the offroad fee.

  • Joe Blasi

    Well how can they say unlimited but can’t go to Mexico or canada?

  • ctporter

    I have rented a car multiple times where I had to put my initials in a slot where I agreed to the specific limitations such as not driving in restricted areas, or put fish in the trunk, etc. This is the way it should be. If a rental car facility is going to put limitations or restrictions on where or how a car is used the customer needs to be told and acknowledge the specific restriction.

  • redragtopstl

    Jeff W., you are correct; this Thrifty location is, in fact, not located on the airport grounds but is a few blocks away. And yes, it is a franchise (owned by a local car dealer).

    We almost never rent from them, mostly because we use Costco Travel to rent cars and Thrifty’s price is never the best deal there (if they show up at all). That said, any time we rent a car, I’m very careful to check for unlimited mileage before I click the “buy” button.

  • Jeff W.

    Most US based car-rentals prohibit taking their cars into Mexico. Or if allowed, it would be a surcharge. Not saying it is more dangerous, but the insurance requirements are different and if there is a mechanical breakdown, that is more complicated.

  • Jeff W.

    Yes. Unlimited miles means you can drive it for as many miles you want. It does not imply that those miles can be anywhere you want. They are not one in the same.

    The rental agency is well within its rights to limit where you can drive. This could be for insurance purposes or for maintenance/service reasons. As long as these restrictions are disclosed at the time of purchase, you are free to accept or decline the purchase.

  • Michael__K

    Some Enterprise locations do this also.

    Enterprise US locations allow unlimited travel in the renting state and will usually allow vehicles to be driven into the bordering states of the state where you rent the vehicle.
    [..]
    Mileage Out of State
    If you wish to drive outside of the bordering states, locations restrict mileage with a per-mile charge if exceeded. When booking online, you may view any restrictions once a location and vehicle size have been selected.

    https://www.enterprise.com/en/help/faqs/unlimited-mileage.html

  • Annie M

    The need to train their employees to disclose this at the desk.

  • Mel65

    I voted “Yes” with the caveat that the customer should always be notified. This is an asset that belongs to the company, so I have no problem with being tracked (but I also wouldn’t be doing anything I’d worry about anyone else knowing, sooo); but it’s incumbent upon the company to alert customers, and not in a 6 point font at the bottom of some 40 page contract, either.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I have no problem with the vehicle being tracked, and I don’t have any fundamental problem with rental companies limiting where the car can be taken, but that needs to be clearly disclosed upfront.

  • Alan Gore

    GPS tracking has a lot of worthy uses, such as being able to get help to you quickly when you need service on an unfamiliar highway. The poll should have referenced its use in geoblocking your driving.

  • jsn55

    Things are getting out of control with car rental companies. Thrifty can do whatever it wants to the car it owns … but they should be required to inform the customer. To bury this information is just plain rotten. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Bill___A

    All vehicle rental contracts should make it very clear what is expected so that people are able to get the rate applicable to their intended purpose, This will ensure that the rental companies and renters are treated fairly. Highlighting each crucial point is very important. And one should drive with the expectation that everything is being tracked…even if it isn’t.

  • Bill

    I’m with you. They have a right to know where THEIR car is. I doubt they really care where YOU are, except that YOU are in THEIR car. The only reason I can see to get worked up about this is wanting to break the rules and not get caught.

  • jim6555

    The most ridiculous car rental restriction that I’ve run into was back in the 1980’s when I rented a car from Dollar (Thrifty’s sister company) at the Philadelphia Airport and was told by the counter agent that could not take the car into any other state. I asked if that included New Jersey and was told that it did. That threw me for a minute because my destination was in nearby Cherry Hill, NJ. I then asked the agent about what he would see if he went out the door of the rental office and looked across the river. He responded “New Jersey”. I asked how he could justify preventing me from driving to a state that could be seen from the car lot and was less than two miles away. He then whispered to me “I think that the rule is silly. If you drive to NJ, the only way that we would know is if you get into an accident. Drive carefully and you’ll be okay”.

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