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Check your receipt — 5 hidden rental car fees you could be charged


Whether you’ve booked a rental car for a lengthy two-week road trip or opted to take a quick, scenic drive to upstate New York, when you get to the checkout counter (or even days later when you look at your credit card statement), you may be surprised to find that you were charged a few extra fees.

These hidden rental car fees, which can range from extra gas charges to cleaning costs, can easily be overlooked in the fine print.

It can certainly sour any trip when extra costs that weren’t originally noted by the rental car service at booking or pickup are tacked on to the final bill. Several TPG staff members have even experienced rental car companies charging unwarranted fees, which were luckily later credited to their accounts.

Before you book a rental car — or even after your trip — it’s important to look out for these hidden fees to ensure you’re not paying more than you owe.

Related: 11 common rental car mistakes — and how to avoid them

5 hidden rental car fees to avoid

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Though some fees are simply unavoidable, it’s no secret that some rental car companies may tack on extra fees to serve the company’s interests. TPG staff members share the hidden rental car fees they’ve been charged post-trip.

Rental car cleaning fee

TPG scenario: Director of content Nick Ewen was charged a cleaning fee for “excessive dirt.”

About two weeks after completing an eight-day rental with Avis in Las Vegas, I received a letter notifying me of an additional $125 to be charged to my card due to “Excessive Dirt — Sand” when it was returned. I called to request proof of this charge and was sent a PDF with images showing what I felt was a normal amount of dirt from renting a car in the desert for over a week. The agent was only willing to reduce the fee to $50, so instead, I disputed the charge with my credit card company and received a statement credit for the full $125.

TPG advice: When you pick up your car, double-check with the rental car agent if there will be a possible cleaning fee, and if so, for how much. Some rental car agencies will ask you if you would like to pay a one-time initial cleaning fee upfront, which is typically much lower than any additional costs the company can tack on. Whether you opt to pay the initial fee or decline, it’s always best to take pictures of the inside and outside of your car before returning to the agency. Additionally, if you feel you’ve been unfairly charged, be sure to contact the company to seek clarification on the charge and request a refund.

Rental car mileage fee

TPG scenario: Social media manager Capri Whiteley was charged for driving her rental car too few miles.

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My boyfriend and I got charged around $18 for driving the rental car less than 100 miles. Apparently, they assume that if you drive it that few of miles you won’t put any gas back in it so they charged a “minimum gas charge.” But when we called and told them we did put two gallons back in it before returning the car, they removed the charge.

TPG advice: Before dropping off your rental car, fill the gas tank, keep your receipt and take a picture of the fuel meter. While it may seem excessive, it’s easier to dispute an additional charge with proof that the extra fees are unwarranted.

Related: TPG staffer finds ‘surprise’ charge on rental car bill. He’s not alone

Rental car airport concession fee

TPG scenario: Technical project manager Taylor Stephenson had to pay an airport concession fee that was added at the end of the booking process.

When I tried to book online through Avis and Budget, we had to pay an airport concession fee that was only tacked on at the very end of the reservation process. It ended up being about 18% at Raleigh–Durham International Airport.

TPG advice: Though this fee is sometimes unavoidable when booking a rental car at the airport, to avoid this fee, our advice is to book with an agency that is not on-site — so, rather, one that is a few miles from the airport — to sidestep this additional charge being added to your reservation.

Rental car insurance fee

TPG scenario: Director of content Nick Ewen was charged for car rental insurance even though he declined the coverage.

On a recent rental with Enterprise in France, we noticed an extra charge of more than $210 euros (about $226) for various insurance protections and added coverage. My wife had explicitly declined all of those when picking up the car in Marseille, since she was using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and knew it offered primary car rental coverage. I submitted an online complaint and was contacted by an agent at the local office, and after explaining the situation and waiting a few weeks, the additional fees were refunded.

TPG advice: If you have a credit card that offers car rental insurance, it’s usually in your best interest to decline the coverage offered by the rental car company. Even after declining coverage, check your final bill to ensure you were not charged.

Rental car toll fee

TPG scenario: Director of content Nick Ewen was charged for tolls through the rental car agency after using his personal transponder to pay the fees.

On a rental with Avis, I noticed an added fee of $12.99 (plus taxes) was added to my receipt after returning the car. A quick call to Avis indicated that this was for its toll services, even though we had kept the compartment with the transponder closed for the duration of our rental. After sending an email with receipts for the tolls that were charged to our personal SunPass account, the entire charge ($13.90) was refunded.

TPG advice: Whether you are using your personal transponder or not, be sure to save your receipt after going through a toll to make sure you are being charged the correct amount.

Related: Save money on your next trip: Use these tips to never pay full price for a rental car

Bottom line

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Remember, always check your credit card statement after you return your rental car because there may have been additional fees you were not aware of added to your final bill.

If you discover a questionable charge, before contacting your credit card company to dispute it, call the rental car agency to question the legitimacy of the charge. If you have proof via photos or receipts that the car was not damaged and/or you declined an added service that the agency offered (such as insurance), you can submit the evidence to the customer service representative, and the charge should be erased from your account.

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