Why are we being charged an extra $277 for our rental car?

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After returning from their Hawaiian vacation, Jessica Gennaoui and her husband discover an unpleasant surprise on their credit card: a $277 charge from Avis. Can this bill be fixed?

Question: My husband and I rented an economy car with Avis in Kona, Hawaii, and we’re having a problem with the rental company. We paid $196 for the car, and we returned it with a full tank of gas. But we didn’t speak with anyone at Avis, since we had an early flight to catch.

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A few days later, Avis charged us an additional $277. The company didn’t notify us about the charge, but when we looked at the receipt, we saw that it was billing us for an extra day and a full tank of gas.

I sent Avis our itinerary from Expedia, which confirmed our car rental. But now Avis wants to see a receipt from a gas station, which must show a fuel purchase on the date of vehicle return within five miles of the return location. It also claims to need the address of the gas station and the number of gallons purchased, as well as the cost.

Problem is, I don’t have the gas receipt. I want my money back because it’s Avis’ mistake, not ours. Can you please help us or guide us with what to do next? — Jessica Gennaoui, Montreal

Answer: Avis should have notified you and your online travel agent of any late billings, including fuel purchases or additional fees for allegedly keeping the car an extra day. And it should have explained why it was charging you instead of forcing you to do all the work.

It’s true, car rental companies are strict about vehicles returned without a full tank of gas. They even have new technology that can detect when a gas tank isn’t completely full. The solution is to either pay for the fuel-purchase option or to refuel just before you arrive at the airport — and to keep your receipt.

The fuel-purchase option allows you to buy a full tank at market prices, which works if you can figure out a way to return the car with an empty tank. If you bring back the vehicle with half a tank, then you’ve subsidized the rental company’s fuel purchases.

But if you don’t go for the fuel-purchase option, and the needle isn’t on “F,” then you could be on the hook for a full tank at a premium rate, which is double or even triple the market prices. That would explain why you were charged so much.

I believe you returned your car with what you thought was a full tank. I’ve done the same thing, with one difference: I returned the vehicle during business hours. A representative informed me that even though the gas gauge indicated a full tank, the tank wasn’t quite full. He suggested that I visit the gas station across the street to top it off, which I did.

Point being, you probably could have avoided this late charge by returning the vehicle during business hours and speaking with an employee.

Failing that, you could get in touch with someone higher up at Avis. I list the executives’ names and numbers on my website.

I contacted Avis on your behalf, and you supplied the car rental company with your confirmation from Expedia and your boarding passes, which verified the correct return date. Avis refunded the $277.

Should Avis have charged Jessica Gennaoui for a tank of gas?

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65 thoughts on “Why are we being charged an extra $277 for our rental car?

  1. It wasn’t disclosed in the article but why did Avis charged an extra day? Was the rental car parked in the wrong locationspaceetc. and it wasn’t noticed for a day? Or was it a data entry error? Was Avis out to rip off the LW?

    1. Almost sounds like (possibly) an employee took it out or maybe to the back before he/she noticed that it had not been logged a return. If the employee had driven it for a bit before noticing that, that would account for the low gas and the extra day. Employee may have not said anything so as not to get in trouble.

      The few times I have had to leave a car at the airport during non-business hours, I take photos with my phone of where I left the car, the fuel gauge, and the key box – all with time/date stamps on the photos. I know that is not conclusive proof of anything, but I do it in the case that there is an issue later on that they might realize I did my due diligence. Also, I take photos of the car from all sides to show it was in the garage at the return time with no damage.

  2. Two experiences with similar charges/fees. Fought both with vigor and won. My methods:
    1) Accept car only with agent present and have them initial departing fuel report on the low side. (Departure with a FULL tank is rare.
    2) Photograph with fuel gauge.
    3) DO fill before returning the car, with pix of fuel gauge and hell yes keep the receipt!!
    4) Retain pix of fuel gauge before and after fueling.
    5) Return via human interaction.
    6) protest LOUDLY via credit card company.
    7) Recognize this SCAM for what it is and fight back. If even 10% of customers pay those fees (numbers are higher), the rental company wins, big time.
    8) revisit #6 as often as necessary.

    1. Good info. But I’m curious what the purpose is of #1. At least as I understand rental car agreements, there isn’t any tie between the amount of gas in the car when you take the vehicle and how much you need to have in it when you return. You could accept a car on E and still be stuck if you returned it at any amount less than full. Thus, I’d demand they fill it up if it wasn’t full but I don’t believe having somebody initial it as not having been full would really help in anything beyond confirming you accepted the vehicle with less gas in it than you were entitled to.

      1. Yes, excellent points. That said, back to square-one: Why the *uck would I want to do business any company that behaves as described here – and in the many comments? A few unworthy clients can and do try to screw the rental agencies, but they are dealt with. We’re talking here about fair-minded clients attempting to deal in Good Faith. I have far fewer rental needs these days and over time I’ve developed a short list of smaller, far more honest rental agents in the cities that I visit. A different part of the process is using OFF-Airport agents when time is not important and public transportation reasonable. (I’ll ride a city bus, even with a suitcase when reasonable. Why? Many, if not most major cities impose a substantial additional fee (Location-specific TAX) for using ON-Airport vehicle rental facilities.) A same-brand rental agent, perhaps only three miles distant is often free of those taxes and their fees typically reflect it. The auto rental business is capital intensive and can be risky of not well managed, but it does NOT have to be abusive. Good luck. RS

  3. Everytime we see these type of stories the person didn’t speak with a company employee. Why?!?? Why would you arrange to return a vehicle when they are closed? It’s just asking for trouble. With the Internet it’s so easy to find a rental company that will be open when you return the vehicle.

    1. Sometimes it’s not possible. We have had to turn in rental cars at 1:00 in the morning at military bases because we were flying space-available. In a situation like this, the rental car office is generally closed. Yes, it’s asking for trouble, but we’ve done it three times so far with no difficulty…and it’s not like we had a choice, anyway. The flight leaves when it leaves.

    2. Are you kidding? Have you not seen the new commercials that make having to speak to a lowly employee even at check-out of the car a horrible thing that only plebians do? The car companies have figured out that if they can trick customers into renting cars without having an agent verify the condition of the car when it leaves the lot, they can hit even more people with bogus damage charges, and the masses are lapping up the scam like cats with cream. I predict that there will be a huge rise in the company’s profits next year from these damage fees.

      1. Even though it’s not always possible you have to try to make it a point to make sure that the cars returned to a company employee. Otherwise without some type of paperwork you’re opening yourself up to a damage claim.

        1. I agree wholeheartedly. I’m just saying that the companies are now trying to convince customers that it’s in the *customer’s* best interest to avoid the employees at check-out and turn-in. It’s a privilege, even. All it’s going to do is open up more scammy claims of damage and partially-filled tanks.

      2. I wouldn’t want to speak to a lowly agent either. Why? Nothing they say or do matters. Receipts don’t matter, notations on the contract don’t matter. Whatever evidence you give them they will just claim something else. What matters is 1) Is the dispute worth the companies time, 2) Does the bank card side with the traveler.

      3. I’ve been leaving the lot without an agent verifying the condition since 1999 without incident. I check the car myself and if I see something I have the guard note it.

    3. Sometimes rental locations open at 6 am and if your flight is at 6 30 am you need to be there at 4 30 am. I have never had an issue returning a rental car in this way. But, I use Hertz and my experience has been excellent and I have probably rented 1000 times from them.

    4. I agree it’s always “possible”, it just isn’t convenient. There is nothing keeping you from returning the car the day before and spending 8 or more hours at the airport. Sometimes it’s just easier to prepay for the gas knowing your departure schedule. I just consider it another convenience fee.

    5. Because, Jim, vehicle rentals are not open 24/7. If you have to return a car in the very early or very late hours of the day right before getting on an airplane, for example, you may have absolutely no choice. And sometimes there just is no company employee available to speak with you for an extended period of time, during which you may have no choice but to be someplace else. And company employees are not always helpful when they are available. And sometimes, the Internet is down, there is no wi-fi connection, or there are other reasons why a rental company cannot be found over the Internet that will be open-or the information on the Internet is inaccurate or out-of-date.

      And the employees are not always empowered to assist you or have good attitudes.

      The world is not a perfect place.

        1. Again, Jim, sometimes, no matter how much you try to prepare to do that, it is not possible to return the car to an employee because you have to return the car by a given time, and no employee becomes available to return it to. In that situation, it’s bad customer service by the car rental agencies to take advantage of their not posting any employees during a time when a customer has no choice but to return the car and then to try to stick that customer with extra unwarranted charges. It is not a “risk you take.” That line, where everything is the customer’s fault because of caveat emptor, is wrong.

  4. Had something similar happen with Hertz in Denver. Rented a Subaru Impreza, refilled the tank at the airport, agent recorded a full tank when I returned it.

    2 weeks later, I had a $34 “fueling fee” on my CC statement.

    Called Hertz, they said the tank was almost 7 gallons low. I provided a slip showing I had filled my tank at the airport station and was told that the location had rejected my slip since it was for the day before I returned the car. I pointed out that I had returned the car at 12:06 AM (was on an earlier flight which was delayed for mechanical issues) and my slip was time stamped 11:57 PM.

    Still rejected because I only paid for 4 gallons of fuel. This is when my engineering side came out. I pointed out that I had driven 84 miles total, and the fuel economy of the car (27/34) agreed with the amount of fuel I purchased, and if the tank was almost 7 gallons low when I returned it, the gauge would have been at roughly 1/2 of a tank and not full as their agent noted. Finally, 2 supervisors later, my evidence was accepted.

    This was about 2.5 hours of my life I will never have back.

  5. Avis truly screwed up here. Clearly they weren’t even reading the complaint if they were asking for a receipt within five miles of the airport. The LW was charged for a FULL TANK of gas… this wasn’t an argument over if the needle was properly pegged or not. Avis said it was empty, and it was the opposite (or nearly so) of empty.

    I also wonder how Avis could have failed to spot the car for an entire day? I know a lot of people get burned by returning after, say, a body-shop location closes on Friday, and then being surprised when they get charged for the whole weekend, but somebody returning before a morning flight should not have had any problem at all.

  6. Rental cars and fuel … In my mind, the biggest scam they run. I once returned a car where I had drive 12 miles from the gas station to get to the airport (MCO). They charged me for an 1/8 of a tank of fuel (Sorry sir the system doesn’t allow me to charge less) @ $9.50 a gallon. Of course I had a flight to catch and there was no way their “system” would let me leave.

  7. The gas gauge usually downs slowly in the beginning and fast in the end. In my car, if the tank is completely full, I can drive probably 20~30 miles before the gauge starts to move.

    Therefore, I don’t buy the tank was completely full. She didn’t also state she have paid with cash, therefore even if she had lost the receipt, she should have at least a debit line at her CC or bank balance.

    But Avis screwed up charging her husband a full tank and a full extra day. If they had charged her husband 5 or even 10 gallons, I’ll probably had sided with them because of the lack of evidence from LW. But their greed makes me side with LW in this case.

    Even if LW is lying, there is no way to Avis charges now the eventual fair amount. They did the right thing refunding all the extra charge.

    1. I was also wondering about the lack of receipt. Using cash to pay for gas in a rental car just seems bizarre to me. Unless she doesn’t have a credit/debit card at all I have no idea why anybody would use cash in that situation.

      1. My husband hates, hates, hates getting receipts at the pump and will often press “No” when the “Receipt Yes/No” question comes up when paying with a credit card. When we rented a car in Honolulu last January, he pressed “No” when we filled up 1 1/2 miles from the rental car return place. (Of course, I didn’t know there was no receipt when I handed over the paperwork to the rental car folks, which prompted marital discord.) Or, he’ll get a receipt and it disappears because he doesn’t think it’s important. He now gets receipts just to make me happy.

        Perhaps the OP didn’t think getting or hanging on to a receipt was important? Paying cash at a gas station for an unknown quantity is a pain in the neck, so I really doubt the OP would have done that.

  8. Curious Chris, what technology do they have that can detect if a fuel tank is not quite full? The tank may hold 14 gallons, you bring it back and the gauge shows FULL, but with the “new technology” it shows that it is 1/2 gallon short??!!! So, now they can ding the customer for a fuel service charge claiming, lets say, 13 gallons to fill up. If they are going to ding the customer, shouldn’t they have to prove how much fuel was missing and how much they had to put in to bring it up to FULL? You can use technology both ways!

    1. Also, it’s impossible to completely fill a tank unless you ignore the auto-shutoff on the pump and manually put still more gas in. (And your owner’s manual specifically warns against doing that.) From looking at my gauge and comparing it to the gallons pumped I’ve seen that there can be some considerable differences from one time to the next in when the auto-shutoff kicks in.

      1. Continuing to pump after the auto shutoff activates will actually overfill the tank. In older vehicles (pre 1980’s) the extra fuel would would spill out through an overflow tube. In our modern gasoline vehicles, there is a vent tube which is designed to vent the gasoline vapors (from evaporation) into a specially designed “emissions canister.” This canister is basically a steel cylinder with activated charcoal in it to absorb the vapors. When you overfill the tank, you will cause raw liquid gasoline to enter that chamber, and can in fact damage the emissions canister as it is designed for vapors, not liquid. There is a sensor in the canister to detect liquid in it, and if that sensor is activated, it will turn on your check engine light, and that sensor is not resettable, you must replace the entire canister which costs about $600. So, it is NOT a requirement that you not overfill the tank, but it is a recommendation that when not followed can cost a considerable bit of money.

        The whole purpose of the system is to prevent unburned hydrocarbons (gasoline vapor) from entering the atmosphere.

    2. “They even have new technology that can detect when a gas tank isn’t completely full.” Please give us more information about this new technology to detect if our fuel tank is full. I would use it to make sure my fuel tank is full before leaving the rental car company.

  9. I’m increasingly seeing a notice on gas pumps saying not to fill the tank beyond the point where the pump clicks off; something to do about vapors and the environment. At one station, my gas gauge won’t show above the “F” mark, but at other stations, it does. Guess it depends on the actual gas nozzle’s shape and design. Wonder if something like that came into play with this story here?

    1. The notice is a suggestion, not a matter of law. If I were returning a rental car and wanted to make certain that the tank was full, I would ignore their suggestion and pump additional fuel.

      1. In Oregon, you can’t pump your own gas. And the law requires stations to stop pumping after the first click, for environmental reasons.

          1. It’s really nice buying gas here. They pump for you so you stay dry during the rain. And by them stopping after one click, we avoid sending needless hydrocarbons into the air, it’s much better for the environment. AND with all that, gas is the same price as surrounding states.

    2. once a couple of years ago, I filled up and stopped when the pump clicked off. I drove about 2 blocks away to return my car, but now the tank was showing a hair below the line. They were going to charge me, but I had the receipt that was from 10 minutes before I turned it in, so they relented. I am glad I was able to do that with a real live person, but it did take a supervisor to come out and look at my receipt and the car to override their system. Ugggh!

  10. How about taking a picture of the gas gauge with your phone – it would be time and date stamped so the rental car company would have little recourse.

  11. As a frequent renter, the only time I have noticed greater scrutiny of the gauge is when you drive the car less than 75 miles. I always get a receipt as a matter of course, but I always make sure I tell the the person I have a receipt when I know I am under. And if there is no person, I find one.

    Or when gas was at around $4, I would not fill it and let them know as such. It would be cheaper to pay the $12 surcharge as opposed to filling it up — and easier too!

  12. I really don’t get this “show a fuel receipt” thing. I can stop and get gas without filling it all the way up and have a receipt. It means nothing.
    If there is a proper “off hours” return area, with a dedicated place to park the car and a place to deposit the key, there is no excuse for having them not notice when it is returned.

    That said, I always try to rent a car where the facility is open when I return the car. If I have a flight, I generally stay at a hotel near the airport and return the car the night before.

  13. Did they agree to the full tank purchase option when signing the rental agreement? If you accept that and then bring the car back full, the rental company will still charge you for the gas.

    The closest gas station to the Kona airport is 4 miles away, barely within the 5 mile maximum. Did the LW use that station? This station is south of the airport and all the stations north are much more than 5 miles away. And when they filled the tank, was it to the first click off or did they add more knowing they would have to drive to the airport?

    I did get the fuel purchase option the last time I rented in Hawaii because, like the LW, I had a very early morning flight to catch and none of the rental car places are open that early (neither are most Hawaii gas stations anywhere other than Oahu). I managed to get the car on the lot into a return parking spot just about the time the car sputtered out of gas. Didn’t really plan on it being that close, but worked out good for my fuel purchase option. 🙂

    1. The closest gas station is the Aloha Gas just off of Hina Lani on the way to Costco (where gas is much cheaper.) There are no public gas stations north of the airport until you get to the Waikoloa Beach Resort, which is 20 miles away.

  14. Avis, as do almost all companies, look for a sucker to pad the profits. It was, in my opinion, totally Jessica’s fault that the situation happened. Avis maintains 5AM – 10PM service to cover all flights inbound and outbound. There was somebody there to check in the car, so why did you not check the car back in. They are there to meet each and every flight for checking cars back in.

    1. First flight on HA out of KOA leaves right at 06:00. Maybe that was the one they were on so they turned the car in around 04:30 to allow enough time to check bags and clear security. I’m not that familiar with that airport so I would not cut it any closer than that even at that time of the morning. .

      1. I was there in January. It’s a bit of a slog to get from the rental car places to the actual terminal. Security is pretty fast there, but checking bags takes some time, just due to sheer volume of folks doing so. I can really, really see them leaving the car well before 5 a.m. I would have.

        1. The last time I was on Kona, all the rental car agencies were away from the airport. Walking distance, yes, but not on the airport proper. Gotta add time for that.

          1. For some people, that’s not a convenient walking distance. Most folks take the shuttle to/from the rental car places, especially in the dark. Possible, though – I regularly walk more distance than that. I guess I would have dropped off the luggage and the other person at the airport, dropped off the car and walked by myself, rather than dragging luggage.

          2. I don’t think there was a shuttle at the time they dropped off their car from what the LW says about not talking to anyone.

  15. Of course it’s a scam that’s how agencies make their money. In the US economy thats how the travel market makes their money its not from costs for products and services it’s from fees.

  16. I didn’t vote because this isn ‘t a black and white issue. If the car wasn’t returned full to the top she should have been charged. But why would they refund everything if in fact the tank wasn’t full? I can see waiving the extra day ( why do people rent from a location that isn’t open when they are planning to return a car ?) but if the tank wasn’t full why would they refund that too unless it was the companies total error?

    They are lucky they weren’t charged for non existent damage by not ensuring an employee inspect the returned car.

  17. Avis has ripped me off more than once. I will never never rent from them again and always tell friends and associates to avoid Avis and use other rental agencies as there are many choices!

  18. and what is about charging for a whole tank of gas if the tank isn’t crammed full. Sounds like fraud to charge you for the entire tank when you brought it back 1/2 gallon short.

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