Look out! Here comes electronic fuel metering

Karen Freeman thought that she’d returned her Chrysler 200 Sedan to the Richmond airport with a full tank. She thought wrong.

“An agent noted that the tank was full,” says Freeman, an architect from Atlanta. The gauge also registered that the tank was at capacity, she says.

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But a few days later, when she reviewed her credit card bill, she discovered that Avis had charged her an extra $7.43 for 0.8 gallons of gas, or about $9.29 per gallon. She called the company to complain.

“A representative told me that according to a satellite, when I picked up my car, it had 16.9 gallons in it,” she says. “And when I returned it, it had 16.1 gallons. I checked the ticket from pickup and there’s no mention of the fuel quantity other than ‘G8’ — which means full.”

Avis isn’t the only car rental company measuring fuel down to a tenth of a gallon. Hertz is installing this technology, which is referred to by the industry term electronic fuel metering, in its fleet over the next few months in an effort to ensure that every drop of fuel is accounted and paid for.

Mark Frissora, Hertz’s chief executive, says that his company loses $50 million a year in fuel. Its new system, called Zibox, is capable of shutting off a car engine remotely and operating car locks from afar. It relays location data, tire air pressure and fuel-level information back to Hertz, too. In other words, it will know exactly how much fuel you have in the car at any given time. “This is going to be good for customers,” Frissora says.

An Avis representative said that the technology is part of the company’s effort to be “more transparent and precise” in the fuel measurement process.

“Our new technology automatically measures and records the precise amount of gas in the tank at the time the customer exits the rental facility, and measures and records the fuel level again when the vehicle is returned,” says Avis spokeswoman Alice Pereira. “Both readings are printed on the customer’s rental receipt when the vehicle is returned. Through this method, customers can clearly see exactly how much fuel they are being charged for and the amount of such charge.”

When Freeman phoned Avis to question her bill, it quickly deleted the fuel charge. But she’s unhappy with the way the technology is being used. “Not only do I think it’s unreasonable to hold the consumer to a data point we have no access to,” she says, “but I am certain that there would be no credit if I had returned the car more full than the ‘full’ I received.” (Avis says it would have credited her for any additional fuel.)

Fuel purchasing has always been a hot topic among car rental customers. That’s because the systems either favor the car rental company or the renter but are never entirely fair to either.

As things stand now, if customers choose the fuel-purchase option, prepaying for a full tank of gas, they must return the car with little more than vapors in the tank if they want to break even. Otherwise, the car rental company profits. On the other hand, if a renter agrees to fill the tank before returning it, the rental company — or the next renter — can take a hit if the gauge erroneously registers a full tank.

“It’s difficult to get customers to always return the car with a full tank,” says Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association. Privately, some customers have admitted to her that they watch the gas gauge while they’re filling the tank, waiting for the needle to reach “F” and then stopping, as opposed to waiting for the gas pump to cut off automatically.

“A car can read ‘full’ for a number of miles, but the next customer, who gets the car almost full, is the one who is hurt if it isn’t,” she says.

No one knows exactly how much the car rental industry as a whole loses — or profits — from selling fuel. But the new fuel-metering technology is likely to tip the scales in the industry’s favor, say observers.

Chris Brown, who edits the trade publication Auto Rental News, says he believes that the car rental industry is losing money on gas, which is why it’s moving to electronic fuel metering. But the technology is relatively new and little is known about it or how it would be implemented. Freeman’s run-in with Avis didn’t look right to Brown, because once an agent marks the tank as “full,” an agency doesn’t normally reverse course and declare the tank to be partially empty. “Procedurally, it doesn’t make sense,” he says.

For anyone renting a car, the path forward is only slightly clearer.

If you’re renting a high-end, low-mileage car, your chances of having a vehicle with electronic fuel metering are good. You can either prepay for a full tank of gas through a rental company’s fuel-purchase option and time the return of your rental to the moment the tank reaches the “E” mark, or you can fill the tank to the top just before you return it and hope for the best.

It’s always a smart idea to save the gas receipt, which should note the time and the amount of fuel you added to the tank. If there’s a dispute, the invoice could prove to be useful.

And don’t forget to review your credit card bill after you rent.

“You have to watch your car rental company like a hawk,” advises Freeman.

Should car rental companies use electronic fuel metering to pursue customers who didn't fill their tanks all the way?

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102 thoughts on “Look out! Here comes electronic fuel metering

  1. 9.29?! i know all rental places have a “punishment price” but i am used to seeing maybe 2 dollars over average (unless gas at a gas station is 7.29 where she lives).

    1. I’ve seen street legal gas selling for almost $8/gallon. It’s 100 octane racing fuel though, and most drivers either use it for heavily modified cars or blend it with normal 91 octane premium if their vehicles can use 93 octane fuel.

  2. Hmm – they are charging people based on what? Have the fuel measuring sensors been calibrated? What is the recalibration schedule? If it hasn’t been calibrated I see problems here. After all, fuel gauges measure crudely. But if they are going to measure down to 1/10 of a gallon then they need to prove to me their instruments are accurate. There is a big difference between measuring data for your own usage (fleet improvement) Vs using it to charge people. I would think that they would have to get their instruments inspected/approved by the state department of weights and measures, just like gas pumps.

    1. 9.29 is the standard Hertz per gallon refueling charge in the US if you don’t purchase the full tank option regardless of the local price of gas. Yes it is ridiculously high.

        1. No. Gouging, occurs when the price of certain goods (especially commodities) are priced substantially higher because of shortages, real or imagined, occasioned by a disaster, civil unrest etc. Basically, its opportunistic behavior of the worst kind. Its also a crime.

          What Hertz is doing doesn’t qualify. Specifically, such costs are easily avoidable. If you return the car with less gas then you received it, then that’s merely a choice or poor planning.

          1. I don’t believe – as a free market economist (in the Milton Friedman tradition) – that there is gouging…it’s a free exchange of money for goods. But we don’t live in a free market, we exist in a regulated market.

            However, I – though a layman, not an attorney – would argue that this too is opportunistic behavior. Most gas stations are a distance (1-3 miles from a given airport). Given the average MPG is 24.9 for new cars, that means a 0.05 (which rounds up to 0.1) change in the fuel level is achieved in 6600′. So, I would offer to you that this IS opportunistic behavior consistent with the behavior you noted above. Given most areas around airports are heavily trafficked, traffic signaled and time is spent in lines at car rental companies, this 6600′ is more likely 4000′ or so due to poorer than average mileage.

            Opportunism is not just restricted to disaster or civil unrest…it is also when a market is restricted from a number of factors and that is used to competitive disadvantage of the consumer.

          2. Interesting argument. It’s persuasive power is lacking as it assume a specific scenario which may or may not be accurate. But allow me to digress for a moment.

            The economic definition of gouging turns primarily on one’s economic perspective. Personally, as much as I support economics, I find that economics without a moral or ethical guideline turns evil fairly quickly. From that perspective we would have no minimum wages, no employee safety laws, no child labor laws, etc. In fact, we could even have voluntary slavery, debtor’s prison’s, etc. Anti-gouging laws, much like any consumer protection law, are based on the citizens making a choice as to what type of society we wish to live in.

            But as to the opportunistic behavior of the car rental company. The question becomes purely fact based. Will consumers be able to avoid this expenditure through reasonable means. Answer: It depends. If the car company only fills it to the F line, then there is no opportunistic behavior as most cars can accept a few gallons above the “F” line. A customer filling up at a reasonable nearby station should be able to reasonable avoid tis charge.

            If however, the car company fills the tank to capacity, so that most renters cannot avoid the fee, then the action far exceeds mere opportunistic behavior but would probably be fraudulent.

          3. pt2.

            I would also opine something else. We need to consider the business model of the major car rental companies.
            Car rental companies divide customer into two groups. Frequent renters and infrequent renters.

            Car rentals companies make money from frequent renters via repeat business, not penalty charges. Frequent renters (e.g. elite members of Chris’ much maligned loyalty programs, often business travelers) are not targeted for extraneous fees. They don’t get the hard insurance sale, less likely to be dinged for minor scratches, etc.

            This system, if implemented as some fear, would be to effectively add a couple dollars in fuel charges to each rental. That would cause great turmoil and angst amongst the frequent renters especially when the travel department doesn’t reimburse them for penalty fuel charges.

            So ultimately, I expect this to be much ado about nothing. But as always YMMV

          4. Hertz has started badgering me about getting the insurance because “something might just happen to the car, not sayin’ it will but yous never know, so yous will sleep better at night if you get our protection plan, if you get my meaning.” And I am one of their top level frequent renters. I am highly disappointed.

          5. I’m guesssing that you rent at locations without the gold service, i.e. go directly to the car and bypass the counter. I have yet to be asked about the insurance and I’m a very middle level renter. I think the last time I had a rep ask me for insurance was in the late 90s at Budget prior to me joining the programs that permit you to bypass the counter.

            They do ask you about the fuel option but it’s a very soft sell. A “no thanks” is sufficient.

          6. This is at large airport locations where I get the gold service. It just started about a month ago. Since you have to wait for them to print your contract at the gate now, they have started pushing the extras.

    2. You bring up the best point, LadyLight. However, people are on to them for their charging cars for fictitious damage so they’ve moved onto something more surreptitious, the nominal “fuel charge”.

      While most people would be up in arms for the damage claims they send out days, weeks, months later, a small charge of less than $10 upsets them, but hardly warrants putting too much effort into. If they do this 1,000 times a day, times 365 days a year, at $10 each time, that’s quite a bit of scratch.

    3. Not only do they need to provide proof that the reported amounts are accurately measured but they also need to give the customer access to the data. How can they make you responsible to fill the vehicle to a specific amount when you don’t know what that amount is? The only thing the consumer has to go by is the F on the fuel gage. You got it full and, far as you know, you returned full. And I seriously doubt they will be sending refunds to those who overfilled.

  3. If the machines work, I don’t have a problem with it. If receive the car with X gallons of gas, then its only right that I return it with X gallons of gas.

    I actually could have used this system last February. I was in Southern California for a trial. I always stop at the same station to fill up before returning the car. I spent $99 on the fill up less than a mile from Hertz LAX. A week later, I was charged $133 because someone claimed that I returned the car almost empty. I got it resolved relatively easily, but it would have been nice to have an electronic confirmation at the time of the return.

    1. Sure, but only if that reading is available and displayed “live” in the car, so I can verify not only how many gallons the system claims is present at rental, but also see whether my final fill has replenished that. To come in with a reading only after it’s too late to fix it is dishonest, IMO.

      And if filling a tank until the pump clicks off and the gauge reads “F” isn’t sufficient (note that most agencies and car manufacturers do NOT recommend “topping off” the tank), then that needs to be written out, stating that it’s required to top off until gas is spilling onto the ground (because that’s the only way to be sure), and stating that the renter is not responsible for any damage done to the fuel system by doing that.

      1. There are any number of ways that the system can be implemented that would be fair to customers. I don’t think its useful to speculate about specific implementations. The main issues are

        1. Transparency
        2. Avoidability

        Basically, no gotchas.

  4. The “wiggle room” at the top of the gauge should be considered part of the “cost of doing business.” Nickel and diming customers like this serves little purpose other than annoying customers (and providing a nice profit bump; in this case they got about $6 of “free money”.) Of course, if Hertz and the other brands all start doing it at once, you won’t be able to escape it.

    And $9.29 / gal, charged a couple weeks later? Really? That’s just stupid.

    In any case, fuel senders are nortoriously inaccurate, although the precision isn’t horrible. That said, it certainly WOULD be pretty easy to measure fuel consumption (and distance driven) since the last fill-up, as they can certainly tell if the car has more gas in it when you start vs. when you stopped, and using injector cycle data, they can tell how much gas you used since that point to a reasonable degree of accuracy.

  5. I have no problem with a company doing that if the tool is accurate. With this technology there is no reason that the customer would not be informed about this discrepancy immediately.

  6. So are those two stations near MCO that advertise one price and charge over $8/gallon still in business? Those places are just asking for me to bring a rocket launcher next time I have to make the dreaded trip and take care of the problem.

    Note to government watchdogs: That is hyperbole. I do not actually own a rocket launcher.

  7. ”(Avis says it would have credited her for any additional fuel.)”

    Really? Good luck with that.

    I won’t be surprised if agencies start renting cars with random amounts of fuel, hoping to get some free gas. I already know of an Enterprise location which does this.

    1. I wonder what price they would credit you? I seriously doubt it would be the going rate. What option do you have…siphon out 3/10 of a gallon?

      1. Don’t know about Avis, but Hertz credits you $10 per quarter tank (which is 4 gallons for most modern American vehicles), if you yell loud enough and the manager authorizes it.

        1. So they purchase the fuel from you at $2.50 per gallon but charge you $9. 29 for the fuel they sell you. That hardly seems fair.

    2. Now you know of four: one airport and two city locations where I live. The three Enterprise locations in my area all rent cars out with whatever fuel amount the last renter returned them with. That was a major surprise for me when I picked up my rentals and found anywhere from just under full down to 1/8th of a tank left. Because I’m disabled they offered to take the 1/8th of a tank car down to the gas station to fill it up for me, but they wanted to charge me the gas fill up charge for doing so! The other I was assured that I would only need to return with that level of fuel. I made darned certain that it was noted on my receipt how much I was driving out with, and I know for a fact that I returned them with more than I got them, but I didn’t get a credit for it. I didn’t even get a thank you. That’s no way to treat a customer.

    3. The three Enterprise locations I have used do it that way and I hate it! Makes it feel like I’m being taken advantage of because how am I supposed to get the gas take to the exact amount that you gave it to me.

  8. This only helps the customer if I have access to the same fuel reading as the rental agency. How am I to know the car had 9.5 gallons of gas when I picked it up but 9.3 when I returned it? The gauge in the car was on F each time. Plus, when I fill the rental car tank before I return it, I fill it until the gas clicks off. I wouldn’t think of monitoring the gauge and stopping it when the needle gets to F; seems like a lot of extra work when I’m in a hurry. So I guess I don’t have a problem with the monitoring unless I don’t get to know the same information as the rental agent. Otherwise, I think it’s just one more way they are trying to screw an honest renter out of extra money.

    1. One of the many reasons why I give always top it off even after it clicks off. I use Avis 99% of the time I rental because I’m a preferred member, so I don’t want this to happen to me.

      1. Except that you’re told specifically not to do that because it’s supposed to be dangerous…so it’s understandable why most sane people don’t want to do this.

  9. The proposition that car rental companies are losing money by topping off returned cars, with almost-full tanks, is absurd.

    After you return a car, with a full gas tank reading, the next thing that’s going to happen is the car will be given to the next renter, with the same full gas tank reading.

    I have absolutely no doubt whatsover that, in the case written here, the car rental place simply tried to simply charge her for some mythical fuel shortage, and simply pawned off her to car to the next renter in line, without bothering to actually top up the car. After all, the gas tank reads full, doesn’t it? Here you go sir, here are the keys to your rental, with a full gas tank.

    Does anyone really doubt that this is what really happened?

    1. I agree. When I have rented a car with less than a full tank, I call it to the attention of the rep when I pick up the car. The answer is always: OK, just bring it back with the same (non-full) reading and we will not it on the receipt. That is impossible, so I just fill it up before the return. The rental car company loses nothing.

      The other scenario is when the gauge shows full but drops appreciably after driving a few miles. It is obvious that the car was not returned full. Again, I just fill it up and go about my business. The rental car company again loses nothing.

      1. On occasion I receive a car with less than a full tank. Very rarely. But on those days, I make my last fill up far away from the rental return. For each 1/8 tank, I assume about 40 miles per 1/8 tank.

    2. I suspect the “fuel loss” is employees running the cars through the washer, around the lot, turning the car on and idling for preferred customers. Average fuel economy (new car) is 24.9 mpg. So, just 1.25 miles (or 6600′) around a lot is enough to tip the fuel register 0.05 (which, of course, rounds to 0.1). That threshold is lower when the mileage is lower for a given car.

  10. I assume they are installing a new meter on the dash of these cars to inform the renter how much fuel is currently in the vehicle so when they stop to fill up before returning it, they know it is full. Telling them after the fact is not acceptable or, as Avis said in the story, “more transparent and precise”. Transparent would mean they tell the person up front the level and the person knows the level before they return it.

    I’m wondering how credit card disputes would go on something like this, or even a legal challenge. How can a person be expect to comply with a metric they have no information on?

  11. Oh. One other things with the OPs case. WHEN did they take the reading of the fuel remaining? I know with some return locations, after you drop the car off, it can get driven around a lot being readied to be rented again, engine left idling consuming gas, etc. Since it wasn’t recorded on her return form, the OP has no way of knowing.

  12. As a former frequent business traveler, I’ve rented my fair share of cars. There are many places where there is not a gas station within 5 miles of the rental location. Am I going to be penalized for driving those 5 miles since that’s going to use a fraction of a gallon?? This is not at all reasonable!

    1. I hope you don’t rent a gas-guzzler! Those five miles would make a serious dent in the fractions on a Bugatti. They only get 8 mpg. :p

  13. Just one more example of being nickeled and dimed to death. If the car rental company is losing money through its fuel situation, raise prices to cover it. I already pay a boat load of money buying the more expensive gas that is sold near the airport and I absolutely don’t want to pay an additional $9 a gallon after i return the car. I don’t for a second believe the rental car company is going to credit me $9 a gallon if I overfill either. But, then you read how much airlines are making in ancillary fees so I can’t be surprised at this.

  14. The only way this would be fair to customers would be if the company imstalled a gizmo that told you what the satellite reading showed both when you got the car and as you filled it. How is anyone supposed to hit an unknown target. Without some such gizmo it’s just robbery.

  15. If they insist on using the electronic metering then make the price of the gas more in line with market. $9.29 is highway robbery!

  16. This happened to me also at Ronald Regan airport with Avis.. I always return my cars full, usually with more gas than I received (and no, I have never received a credit for this). I noticed the charge on my receipt when I turned in the car, even though the receipt said I returned the car with a full tank of gas. I also managed to get it waived. I had just come from the gas station where I had filled it up. If we have no way of measuring the gas level other than by the gauge and the gas station pump telling us when it is full, they should not be allowed to tack charge us for something we have no way of measuring. My company will not reimburse me for fuel on a rental car receipt, and I rent cars almost every week!

  17. I have absolutely no problem with this. You’re being held accountable for the fuel you’ve used. I don’t see how this isn’t the best way to handle it. Without coming from a place where I think the companies are purposefully looking to set up a scam, this seems like a positive step in the right direction.

    It will be important to give the renter that information though. When I pick up the car, my receipt or rental agreement needs to say 10.4 gal. And I need access to that information during my rental so I can accurately return the car with the proper amount of gas. And I need the returned amount of gas printed on my final receipt as well as the pickup amount… AND I want money back if I return with additional gas.

    I’ve never been one to game the system and I like to have the proper data to prove I’m not being gamed myself. Past that, this is a good idea.

    1. Agree with you, but I think that not one of your contingencies will be met. And would you trust them if they told you the car had 10.4 gallons in it when you rented it? How do you know? I guess if there was a way to constantly monitor the EXACT amount of gas in the car, you could watch is go down throughout the rental period.

      1. Yea, I agree with you. They’re going to make it as difficult as possible since thats just how things seems to happen but we’ll see. Maybe they won’t? I’m not holding my breath.

  18. If the rental companies are going to the expense of using this new electronic fuel monitoring, let them install such a gage on the dashboard.
    I’ve been told that some rental agencies have two people refuel a car before a rental. One puts the gas in the tank, and the other is in the car watching the gauge. As soon as it shows “full.” They stop.
    Renters, on the other hand, refuel stopping when the pressure on the hose shuts off the refueling… and that’s usually 1/2 gallon past when the dashboard gage indicates full.
    I see these “nickle and dime” tactics as a boon to the smaller agencies, who if they are smart, will avoid (and perhaps advertise) their avoidance of these measures.

  19. There is no justification for charging higher than the average price of gas in the area. Car rental places have a pump or an arrangement with a company that does. It is purely a money making scheme.

    1. I disagree. 7-11 charges more than the large grocery store. Its because they don’t have the same economies of scale to spread around the fixed costs. Same here. Plus, this is a well disclosed and easily avoidable fee.

        1. …and a restaurant charges me $3.95 for a soda that costs 50 cents in a store.

          …and CVS charges me $12 for my Sudafed, but Target only charges me $7.

          Any comparison across business models is plainly meaningless. The key is the transparency and reasonable avoidability of the fees.

          1. The rental car companies have obviously taken a look a their market and have seen an “opportunity”. In these cases, I believe it’s one of both convenience and an understanding that a certain percentage of rental car customers do not properly plan for their departure. It’s inevitably a hurry-up mode on the way to the airport. They take advantage of this “opportunity”. Some people think that this is wrong and some believe, as I think you do, that, as long at it is fully disclosed, such tactics are fair and reasonable. There’s a line somewhere in the middle where I fall, I think, though I’d have difficulty defining it.

          2. Fair enough.

            Although, it’s not merely the adequate disclosure, but the fact that its so easily avoidable that gets me. I see it in the same vain as room service and mini-bars. The most minimal of planning saves you from incurring those charges.

            We pay “convenience” surcharges all the time. At the gas station snacks are more expensive than 7-11 which is more expensive than the grocery store.

            The hotel mini-bar is more expensive than room service which is more expensive than going to the hotel restaurant which is more expensive that leaving the hotel.

            So that’s why it’s difficult for me to be sympathetic to someone who fails to return to car with gas.

          3. I’ve always viewed the VERY heavy “fee” that rental car companies put on “their” gas as their attempt at deterring you from using the service. I think they’d rather get the car with a full tank – less hassle, etc. – than have to deal with filling it up. Therefore, they stick this outrageous fee on top of it. But, some folks are willing to pay…or unwilling to plan.

          4. Makes sense. I have a few deterrent fees. Some things I just hate doing, but if I must, I’ll charge an arm and a leg.

  20. How do you allow for the rental car company being able to fill the car up to the absolute max with their own fuel tanks right at the airport, but I have to fill up at the gas station 3 miles away from the airport. They then get to charge me $9.29 for the difference??!!! Give me a break!

  21. Come on, this is bull. Many airport rental return areas are fairly remote. You may have to drive 3 or 4 miles after filling the tank before you can turn it in. There’s no way to EVER turn in a completely full tank that way.

    1. A lot of them have gas stations right across the street or down the block. Denver, Houston, Washington DC, Orlando, Los Angeles….I always assumed they didn’t fill up the tanks any more once people returned them “full” so the next renter would bear the cost of the gas as they drove it to get washed, checked, etc.

      1. Your assumption is correct. I rented a car this weekend and it showed full on the gas gauge. Looked down right as I exited the lot and the needle was done from full. No way did they fill the vehicle after return. They looked, saw the gauge showed full enough and gave it to me.

  22. So, how do you lose money at $9.29 a gallon? I am all for free enterprise, but when you check out, it’s check out. Don’t go reaching into my pockets after I am 1000 miles away and have no say in the matter. Let me know what I am spending, what is expected, help me measure it…or, alternatively, raise my rental rate $1 a day. If I were off by a gallon – and, God, I hope a fuel gauge would measure to the nearest gallon – $1 a day ($3 for a 3 day rental [just about 1 US gallon]) would surely offset any loss.

    What’s next? Charging depreciation on spark plugs? Consumption fee on the percentage of the oil change life for the duration of the rental?

    Please keep us posted on which ones are doing this. I will avoid using them during any travel.

  23. While I can see the rental agency’s point, people DO bring cars back with “less than full” in order to game the system out of a few pennies (/sarcasm), there are those of us who DO return it full, less the couple of miles or so it took us to get from the gas station to the rental agency.

    Unless they’re going to put gas pumps right there at the return queue, that .8 of a gallon should fall into a grace section (for lack of a better word, it’s still early here in Arizona). What if that .8 of a gallon was what it took the renter to get from the gas station to the rental drop-off point?

    Also, that’s quite a feat of contortionism to look at the gas gauge while pumping gas when you consider most people just let the pump go until it shuts off on its own. It takes a pretty type-A personality to worry that much over a few pennies.

  24. My problem with this is that often the nearest gas station to the drop-off point for car rentals is often 2 or 3 miles away. We can avoid this by making sure (in some way) that we hit the station closest to the rental return. Wish that more airports had fuel availability for rentals on the property. They could charge an extra 50-cents or dollar per gallon if they wanted to, but at least the returners would not be eating up gas after a fill-up just to return the car.

  25. If the rental company tells you the level and has a method for the customer to check that they can return with the same level I see no issue (except like when the new Denver airport opened and there was no gas station within 20 miles). Springing this charge on the customer without a word of warning or verification is wrong. Also I do wonder about the accuracy of this, gas stations are required to have there pumps checked by the government (State, county or local) should this be checked and “certified” also?
    On a additional comment, has anyone run a car dry by letting it idle at the check in lot to use the last bit of fuel as a payback to the rental company? Just curious.

  26. I voted yes, but need to add a proviso. Yes, if first, I know to the tenth of a gallon how much gas is in the car; second, the fuel gauge tells me accurately to the tenth of a gallon how much gas is in the tank at any time; and third, the gas station closest to the rental car return lot must be easy to find and within one tenth of a gallon driving distance. At some major airports, the closest gas station is a quarter or half a gallon of gas away.

    1. Don’t laugh; it’s coming. Didn’t Chris run an article several months ago about car rentals companies in Europe charging you if the car broke down due to no fault of the renter, but because the car wasn’t properly maintained? Charging you for oil, filters, tires, etc, can’t be too far away.

  27. I’ve been on the end of the car rental when the tank wasn’t totally full from the last customer. Granted it was a few years ago, but it irked me that I had to top off the tank when it wasn’t topped when I picked up the car. If I know the area and know there is a gas station within a mile of the airport, I’ll fill the tank myself. However, I do take the option of returning it empty when I don’t know for sure that I can fill the tank. Because I often rent cars that only get 22 to 25 MPG, I have to take into account the mileage from the station to the airport. I know all this crap in advance; I know that if the tank is 9/10’s of a gallon low, I’ll end up paying an outrageous price – it’s in my contract. In July when I rented a 4WD truck, in New Englad, I didn’t know where the closest gas station was to the airport so I returned the tank almost empty. Hertz charged me their posted price for a tank of gas; it was 10 cents lower than local gas stations were charging. I didn’t feel ripped off at all!

  28. Chris,

    What is your source for the claim by Hertz that they LOSE $50 million a year on fuel? The only thing I can find after extensive searching is in their 2011 annual report stating they MADE $43.7 million on fuel charges paid by their customers.

  29. A few weeks ago, I received a charge notice from Hertz in Denver for 3.9 gallons of fuel. I filled the rental at the gas station right down the street from the rental returns area, and happened to still have my receipt. After a call to the dispute line, I was told to scan and email my rental agreement, fuel receipt, final return receipt and copy of the dispute letter to them and I would hear back in 3 to 5 days.

    7 days later, I had not heard back, so I called again and was told that the charge would stand because there was no evidence that I actually filled the tank, only that I put 8.72 gallons into it.

    I ended up speaking with a supervisor and we walked through that I drove 182 miles in the 2012 Subaru Legacy which has a MPG rating of 23/31 and a fuel capacity of 18.5 gallons. Since the return receipt listed the tank as “8/8 Full” and the fact that missing almost 4 out of 18.5 gallons of fuel would have been noticeable on the fuel gauge, as well as that the 8.72 gallons I added to the tank before returning is well within the consumption based on the stated MPG average and miles driven, he agreed to reverse the charge.

    To me, it seems like the location tried to commit fraud, but what do I know…

  30. Yes, I don’t see an issue with it. Since we all tell the truth all the time this won’t affect us. The real question is whether you should be penalized for the fuel used from the time you refuel to the time you return the car, if it’s a small amount. 0.8 gallon could be 20-30 miles. That’s not refueling just before you return.

  31. First, I have to say it’s been 4 years since I rented a car. Scanning the cost at the gas stations surrounding the rental office, I noted that the price the rental company had per gallon to refill the car was about a dollar less than the nearby stations. Since my contract locked the price at that per-gallon rate, I actually took the car home prior to returning it and siphoned nearly 10 gallons out of the tank prior to returning it on fumes. Meanwhile, the local prices had jumped up another 50 cents per gallon over the duration of my 7-day rental, so I ended up recouping a nice bit of change.

    If I had to rent today, based on this article, I think I’d want access to whatever shows the actual amount of gas in the tank – – if I can’t see it myself, how do I know your device is reading properly? And I’m wondering if this could be pushed to have to be regulated by the local Weights and Measurements division? The same group that certifies that gas pumps have to be calibrated should have to certify the measuring device the car rental company uses – – especially since gas expands and contracts based on the ambient temperature.

  32. I have received so many rental cars that move off the full after a few miles, which probably meant in some cases the previous renter filled it a distance from the airport and burned thru some of it. Honestly, I used to use gas stations further from the airport than I do now. Recently I noticed that my rental car showed how many miles I drove from the last refueling. I am ok with this, it’s fair.

  33. My Chrysler 300M is a 2002 model and it tells me precisely how many miles I have left on my tank. If I were renting a car, I’d ask them to tell me before I left and show me how to read the system.
    I just rented a new Chevy Tahoe with 65 miles left in the tank. Using the computer and the owners manual for the tank capacity and the average miles per gallon to figure it out, I was easily able to get it back to them with 68 miles left in the tank.

  34. How does Hertz lose $50 million a year in fuel? I pick up the car full. I return it full. Hertz pays for no fuel.
    Or, I pick up the car full, purchase the fuel option, and return the car empty. Except it’s not completely empty, and I paid for every fraction of a gallon that the tank would hold, so Hertz winds up making money.
    Or, I pick up the car full, don’t purchase the fuel option, and return the car empty, and get charged $9.00+ per gallon for fueling. Hertz definitely winds up making money.
    What’s the situation where Hertz loses money? I can’t think of it…

  35. I fill the tank up. I think probably I usually return the car with more fuel than I rented it with. If they are going to measure these things, fine. Make sure it has a display so we can see what’s going on too so we can all make sure they don’t lose fuel. If they are going to hide the data and tell me later, I’m not liking that.

  36. I’m see a new type of fraud at the rental agencies. They measure the fuel amount on a down hill slope so the the floater in the tank that measures fuel amounts is higher when you are leaving the rental facility. They will then measure the fuel amount on an uphill slope when you return so the floater is lower.

    There is no way to know exactly how much fuel is in an automotive fuel tank based on the car’s fuel measurement system. There are just way to many variable:
    -Is the car sitting at the same angle when first measured (Will effect the floater in tank level)
    -Is the temperature of the fuel the same as it was when first measured (Will effect the density)
    -Is the tank pressure the same as it was when first measured (Will effect the density)
    -Is the care at the same altitude as it was when first measures (Will effect the density)

  37. I am cheering over this. Most cars I have owned and rented stay at full until anywhere form 50 to 100 miles have been driven. I have been burned more often than not on rental cars where people either fill up 40 or 50 miles form the airport, or just get the needle to full, and return the car. Then I am stuck paying for the gas the previous renter used. In my past weekly rentals, it was not uncommon for me to drive a total of 30 miles, and then have the car take 6+ gallons of gas while the cars fuel economy gauge stated I got 24 Mpg.

  38. I realize it is Monday and i may not be reading this correctly but how is the rental company losing any monies? If anything we consumers are just ripping each other off (you return it not quite full so I have to pay that extra gallon). Where does the company pay? Also, I wonder how many more zip cars will start to be stationed closer and closer to car rental offices….

  39. The car companies cheat us on every rental. I watch the cars being serviced and they fill the car until the gague says full, my car took 2 1/2 gallons more when I complained. .1 – .8 gallons is ridiculous. It takes that much to get through the parking lots to the return stations. They want you to pre-purchase the gasoline. But nobody is reacting legally. Ralph Nader, where are you when we need you?

  40. Not that anybody would go to the trouble, but if one plugs an OBD-II reader into the diagnostic port, it will show fuel level down to 1/10th of a gallon. This is where the electronic fuel metering is getting its data.

    My biggest beef was with that horrible little Chevy Aveo, which would trigger the auto shutoff at the fuel pump when it was only 7/8 full. It meant having to top up a half gallon at a time for 4-6 more squeezes. Thankfully, that vehicle is slowly making its way out of the rental fleets…

    1. Exactly. A company called I.D. Systems does this for Avis and Eileo does it for Hertz. They plug into the OBD-II device and monitor everything; fuel, mileage driven, etc. These systems can also open the locked doors, turn on lights, honk the horn.

  41. I am actually struggling with how the car rental companies are losing money on fuel. I rent a lot of cars, and there are times when I drive off the lot with the gague on “F”, only to see it drop below “F” within a few miles of the airport. (Filled up by one of those needle watchers instead of topping off folks I suppose.) When I return the car, I fill it up (until the pump shuts off, as I always do). In the uncommon occassion where I do not fill up the car prior to return, the rental company charges me an insane amount per gallon to fill it back up for me. So just how does the rental car company lose money on gas? What am I missing?
    In addition, when I return the a car I fequently see lines of vehicles which have been returned and are waiting to be moved and cleaner, sitting there running. Running and burning (wasting) gas. Gas that you and I are paying for.

  42. I voted “NO” here. But “YES” if they would display the same measurement amount on the console as “17.3 Gallons” in the gas tank. If consumer cannot even tell how many gallons was in the tank while pickup the car, it’s not fair for them to pay this type of fee.

  43. The $50M for “fuel” is because the rental companies need people to verify fuel and mileage with the car. What Hertz and Avis are attempting to do is totally automate the rental experience. You have a reservation with the rental company.You get to the airport and use your smart phone with one of their apps and walk up to a car and the doors automatically open. Keys in the glove box, fuel and mileage read via the OBD-II port. When you get to the airport to return the car, you use your smartphone again to end the rental. OBD-II port read again, fuel and mileage verified, receipt emailed to you. No human involved. Huge savings for the companies. Time savings for renters. Could actually LOWER the cost of the rental experience. This is similar to how ZIPCar works now.

      1. An airport usually has a team of people working there. The OBD-II device cuts down on that team. There are still some people there to handle issues, look for damage, clean cars, etc. The people eliminated are the people with the little hand held devices that scan your car and print receipts. Just the cost of not printing receipts and emailing them to you saves millions. If each receipt costs 2c and they have hundreds of thousands of cars…and each return can be sped up by 30 seconds…you get the idea.

          1. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/avis-budget-group-tests-fuel-180000097.html

            Avis Budget Group Tests New Fuel Measurement/Billing System

            Press Release: Avis Budget Group, Inc. – Tue, Oct 22, 2013

            PARSIPPANY, N.J., Oct. 22, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Avis Budget Group, Inc. (CAR) today announced that it has begun utilizing a new fuel measurement/billing system as part of a pilot project. The initiative, part of the Company’s commitment to be Customer Led, Service Driven, is being tested in select vehicles and locations across the northeastern United States, Hawaii and Washington. The new technology measures a vehicle’s fuel level at the time and point of exit and return in one-tenth of a gallon increments. In comparison, the Company’s historical practice has involved looking at the fuel gauge and measuring fuel usage in one-eighth of a tank increments.

            IDSY is the company doing that for Avis. Eileo does it for Hertz.

          2. I’d say go read the whole thing again. No where in the release does it say they expect it to save them money. Based on the discussion on here, it is more likely a way for them to squeeze money out of their customers. As it is today, if a customer just fills the tank up enough that the fuel gauge shows full so that the next customer gets it also showing it is full, it doesn’t cost the rental company anything. But now they can see it was short, charge the customer some really inflated price for gas, put no gas in it, and let the next customer have it. So that next customer brings it back with extra gas and Avis says they will give a credit. I am willing to bet it won’t be nearly as much per unit as the charge is.

          3. Avis announced this this week:

            PARSIPPANY, N.J., Oct. 22, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Avis Budget Group, Inc. (CAR) today announced that it has begun utilizing a new fuel measurement/billing system as part of a pilot project. The initiative, part of the Company’s commitment to be Customer Led, Service Driven, is being tested in select vehicles and locations across the northeastern United States, Hawaii and Washington. The new technology measures a vehicle’s fuel level at the time and point of exit and return in one-tenth of a gallon increments. In comparison, the Company’s historical practice has involved looking at the fuel gauge and measuring fuel usage in one-eighth of a tank increments.

            IDSY is the technology company that makes the OBD-II device. It interfaces to Avis’ billing and procurement system automatically.

          4. I don’t doubt they are starting to use things like this. What I doubt is that it is really going to save them much money. You state, “The $50M for “fuel” is because the rental companies need people to verify fuel and mileage with the car.” So from this statement, it sounds like you are claiming the $50M is in labor costs for the person to verify. By switching to the OBD-II, that just means the person doesn’t have to look at the milage or fuel. They still have to do a visual inspection for damage. The costs saving would be negligible in my view. They are not eliminating anyone. They are only going to open themselves up to problems fighting even more bogus damage claims if they expect people to just drop the car off without the inspection.

  44. The problem I see with this is that there is no way for the customer to know exactly how much gas is in the tank when they receive the car and after they fill it, so they can’t know whether they’ve put enough gas into the car, or too much. Until the exact amount of gas in the tank is displayed on the dashboard, this is an unworkable policy.

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