What’s with all of these tolls on my car rental bill?

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Christopher Elliott

After he returns his Budget rental in New York, Jamal Alqiwani gets a shocker: a $729 bill from his car rental company for tolls he’s already paid. Should he have to pay twice?

Question

I rented a car from Budget last summer in New York. After I returned, I received a bill from Highway Toll Authority for $729. It automatically debited this fee from my credit card.

I paid for all my car rental tolls in cash. I’m sure this is a mistake.

Unfortunately, I do not have any toll payment receipts. I did not ask for a receipt, and they normally do not give them unless you ask. I’ve rented cars many times in New York, and I always paid my toll by cash. I never had any problem.

I am requesting that either Highway Toll Authority or Budget investigate these toll charges and refund the $729. Can you help me? — Jamal Alqiwani, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Answer

If you paid for your toll with cash, you shouldn’t have been charged an extra $729. But beyond that, how could your bill be so high? You’d have to cross an awful lot of bridges and tunnels to run up that kind of tab.

Turns out Highway Toll Authority adds a service fee to your car rental tolls. In New York, its transponders automatically identify the car and charges the standard cash fee for toll roads as published by the toll authority, plus a “convenience fee” of $3.95 per day, to a maximum of $19.75.

By the way, this is so much better than it used to be. Two decades ago, toll violators paid hundreds of dollars per violation, at least when a car rental company was involved. You could have been on the hook for much, much more if Highway Toll Authority didn’t exist.

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Budget’s page is clear on how to avoid the charges: You can either pay cash or avoid toll roads entirely. You were just following the company’s advice.

This case is a real head-scratcher. There’s no way you should have a $729 bill unless your transponder was working improperly. And if that was the case, then Highway Toll Authority or Budget should have quickly assisted you. Instead, Budget referred you to Highway Toll Authority, and it did not respond to your request for help.

Getting this car rental tolls removed from your bill

You could have avoided this by keeping better records, specifically those toll receipts. I know it’s a hassle, but in this age of automation, an old-fashioned paper receipt is your trump card for resolving disputes.

You might have appealed your case to someone higher up at your car rental company. I list the names, numbers and email addresses for Budget’s customer service executives on my consumer advocacy site.

My advocacy team contacted Budget on your behalf and it refunded the full $729.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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