Fill up at the rental car counter or at the gas pump?

hertzWhen you rent a car, you’re bombarded with questions from upgrades to insurance. I always say no to everything including the gas, but I recently thought twice about saying yes. The salesman told me the pre-pay gas price was cheaper than nearby gas stations. The price of gas seemed cheap on the sign behind the counter, but I wasn’t willing to take the risk. After all, I’ve always been told to say no to all the add-ons at the rental car counter. How did I know the gas at the counter really was cheaper?

As a consumer reporter, I have a natural skepticism toward the rental car salesman. I’ve done stories with drivers who dropped off their car flawless only to be billed later for damages they say they didn’t cause. Some companies are even requiring receipts for gas to make sure you fill up the tank close to the airport and don’t get a few extra miles out of that full tank of gas.

On my way back to the airport, I filled up at a nearby gas station. The price I paid was a few cents more than the one I saw previously posted at the airport rental car counter. It made me think. Maybe this was something to consider the next time I rent a car.

Before I do it, or suggest you do it, ask many questions. Make sure the price listed is the TOTAL price you will pay per gallon. Make sure there are not additional taxes or fees. Also, ask if that price is valid regardless of whether you need a full or half tank of gas. Finally, get the offer in writing to make sure you won’t be charged later.

I wasn’t ready to experiment with this during my last rental, but I might explore it next time around. I’ll at least ask a few questions to consider whether it’s really a good deal.

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One response to “Fill up at the rental car counter or at the gas pump?

  1. It’s not surprising that Hertz would be willing to give you a lower price per gallon for pre-paying for a full tank of fuel. Think about the math…if they give you $0.10 off the local price per gallon, if your car holds 12 gallons they are giving you a $1.20 savings…but only if you return the car completely empty. If you leave even one gallon in the tank, you will lose on that deal! If the local price of gas is $3.60/gallon and Hertz is asking $3.50/gallon to prepay, you’ve saved $1.10 total on the first 11 gallons and you bought Hertz a $3.50 gallon of gas they can use for their next renter, since you didn’t use it…so you lose $2.40. It just gets worse if you leave more than a gallon in the tank. So unless you know absolutely how much gas you will need or can be sure to return it completely empty, I would advise against pre-paying for fuel.