Do Not Pay For a Fuel Shortfall in Your Rental Car

Technology in automobiles has progressed to the point at which the amount of gasoline or diesel fuel in the fuel tank can be measured precisely — and some rental car companies are taking full advantage of that capability by charging customers for the amount of fuel which supposedly should be in the tank but is not.

Do Not Pay For a Fuel Shortfall in Your Rental Car

“I returned a local rental car on an Enterprise reservation the other day that incurred a charge for 1 gallon of gas (2021 Chevy Malibu). In all fairness, we filled it up 10 miles away at a Costco before returning, but the analog needle was still pegged far right of the Full mark”, according to FlyerTalk member NoSleepTillMnhtn, who launched this discussion. “Inquired how/why they assumed to charge 1 gallon… the branch assistant commented that their new cars have a monitor that reports the gas and mileage electronically, down to a fraction of a gallon. I imagine this is based on the consumption reported by the car’s computer.”

That is all fine and well when considering that some customers took full — no pun intended — advantage of the liberal fuel gauge in some vehicles, driving as many as 50 miles before the needle of the gauge would even budge. That practice would leave the vehicle with a fuel tank which was not really full — and even worse, the unsuspecting next customer who believes that he or she picked up the vehicle with a full tank of gasoline or diesel fuel may actually wind up spending more money when refilling the tank prior to returning the vehicle to the rental car facility…

…which leads to the question: could you be renting a vehicle whose fuel tank is not full even though the fuel gauge may indicate otherwise — and then be dinged for the shortfall upon returning the vehicle? What is to stop some unscrupulous employee at the rental car facility from charging the previous customer for a shortfall in fuel — but not having the tank fully replenished — and then doing the same tactic to you?

“Of course this is what they’re doing – you could be going out with less fuel than you think because someone returned it 1-2 gallons down and was charged, then you’ll be charged if you drop it off in the same condition”, FlyerTalk member bocastephen speculated. “Not sure how they accurately monitor gas going in, then gas going out through the fuel injectors. Do they know for sure down to the fraction of a gallon how much was added, and is that device calibrated accurately, and calibrated by who and to what standard? That could be an avenue to dispute the charge.”

Would you know if bocastephen is correct the next time you rent a vehicle?

To ensure that the playing field is as level as possible — and to remove as much suspicion of fuel foul play as possible — you might want to follow this advice: “I once rented a car from YYZ and the needle was just under the full mark. I got really suspicious and drove right to the gas station, 10 min after pickup, the car took 10.5L. Drove it for 100km and returned without refilling”, FlyerTalk member fjord reported. “If you are suspicious in the future drive right to a gas station and top off with a receipt that shows the time.”

Albeit inconvenient, that is potentially good advice.

Summary

I personally have never encountered a scenario such as what was documented in this article — but employees of some facilities of rental car companies have been known to engage in behavior which is less than ethical; so the point of this article is to simply be aware enough in which you are not paying more than necessary for fuel in a vehicle you rent.

Examples of such behavior include:

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

8 thoughts on “Do Not Pay For a Fuel Shortfall in Your Rental Car”

  1. derek says:

    Just before the pandemic, I was charged for gas by Hertz in Detroit (DTW Metro). This was the first time charged for gas ever. I noticed it in the airport terminal and called. I then emailed them a picture of the gas receipt, which they credited the amount initially charged. The gas station I used was fairly close to the airport.

    I don’t mind if they require a receipt from a gas station that is within x miles from the rental car return location. I have seen that requirement and x being 10 miles. That’s generous enough.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for relating your experience, derek; but you should not have to go through all that trouble to not be charged for fuel.

  2. Harcourt Mudd says:

    So you cite one example, from an unverified source on a message board. No other examples. No comment from the car rental company.

    I think this guy wins for laziest writer on the web today.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You must be a new reader of The Gate, Harcourt Mudd — otherwise, you would know that this weblog got its start by reporting on what was posted on FlyerTalk; and you would be familiar with the extensive body of work pertaining to rental cars which I have written over the years.

      This article is simply another in a series.

      Thank you for reading The Gate.

    2. Stella Mudd says:

      Stella told me Harcourt Mudd was a lazy good for nothing (thing thing thing…)

  3. DaninMCI says:

    Always take in and out photos of the car, gas gauge, and mileage with a timestamp photo app and get a gas receipt. Also, offer them a copy of the receipt when you check the car back in (which seems to help). Keep at least a photo of the gas receipt. Budget seems to be worse than some of the others for some reason but they all can be bad.

  4. Karl says:

    Counterpoint, I’ve found Avis in certain locations to be crediting me for ~0.2 and 0.3 gallons when I drop the car off fully-full, which I think is completely fair. I’ll take the dollar or two offset.

    Although the last car I dropped off showed a 0.2 gallon improvement from pickup to dropoff with no associated credit, so perhaps it is location dependent.

  5. Robert D says:

    Noticed on my receipt after returning to DFW recently that I was charged $5.00 for gas. Nobody mentioned it when I returned the car. I had filled up at the closest station I know of to the rental car complex, about 2 miles away. Shrug.

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