How to Avoid Being Charged for Fuel When Returning a Rental Car With a Full Tank of Gasoline

This is a Porsche 911 Carrera being fueled at a gasoline station in Florida before being returned to the rental car facility. Photograph by FlyerTalk member blue-max. Click on the photograph for a road test report written by blue-max.

How exhilarating do you think it was to drive this Porsche 911 Carrera? Photograph by FlyerTalk member blue-max. Click on the photograph for a road test report written by blue-max.

Back in the days when gasoline was $1.49 per gallon in the United States, it was rather easy to return a rental vehicle without being scrutinized for your consumption of fuel — depending on the company from which you rented your car, of course.
With prices currently hovering between $3.25 and $4.25 per gallon in the United States and the potential to lose significantly more money, rental car companies seem to be far more stringent these days on how much gasoline is in the fuel tank — sometimes to the point of charging you for fuel even though you returned the rental vehicle with a full tank of gasoline, as has apparently happened to FlyerTalk member boredandre
…and with rental car companies charging a premium of up to triple the cost of fuel which could otherwise be purchased at a typical service station, there is the potential for rental car companies to profit handsomely. If so, they might be able to get away with this practice on a business person with an expense account who may not care as much as you would if it personally will cost you.
Whether the rental car company is purposely trying to scam you or committed a legitimate error is important but is not the issue here. How do you protect yourself from being charged for fuel by the rental car company even though you returned the vehicle with a full tank of gasoline?
  • Get a receipt from the gasoline station. This is your single most important item which will prove that you purchased fuel before returning the rental vehicle, as it will include such information as the date, time and location of where you filled up the fuel tank of the rental vehicle. If you drove the rental vehicle for only a few miles and spent a few dollars to top off the tank, it is very easy to simply shrug off the miniscule expense and forgo the receipt — until the rental car company attempts to charge you double or triple the amount that you paid at the petrol station just down the road.
  • Attempt to resolve the issue at the rental car counter. It is usually better to resolve the issue with a live person rather than calling a customer service representative in some corporate headquarters somewhere — but be forewarned that this could potentially take up a significant amount of your time, depending on how crowded is the rental car facility. It is not worth missing your flight or being late for an important appointment — so consider skipping this step if you believe that you do not have enough time to resolve this issue at the rental car facility where you returned the vehicle which you rented.
  • Keep the receipt. All because you returned the rental car and you are several hundred miles away does not mean that the rental car company cannot tack on an additional charge for fuel onto your credit card account. Wait until you pay for the rental of the vehicle in full before you consider the disposal of that receipt — although I would keep it longer, just to be certain.
  • Take photographs and videos. That device — smartphone, tablet. etc. — which you regularly carry around with you is almost certainly equipped with a camera capable of recording photographs and video. Use it to protect yourself by recording evidence that you indeed filled up the tank at a fueling station, and take at least one photograph of the fuel gauge and the odometer in the car. Overkill? Perhaps — until you are faced with being charged by the rental car company for fuel. As with the receipt, do not delete the photographs and videos until you pay for the rental of the vehicle in full. If space is scarce on the drive of your electronic device, consider saving it to a different means of storage, such as a computer, a hard disk drive, a flash drive, a compact disc, or remotely on your wireless network.
  • Contact customer service if you have a problem. Ensure that you have your evidence beforehand. Do not be discouraged if your problem is not resolved the first time — call back until you are in contact with a customer service representative of the rental car company who will be sympathetic to the issue and willing to resolve it.
  • Dispute the charge on your credit card, if necessary. This is a last resort if the issue of being charged for fuel when you returned the car with a full tank has not yet been resolved, as being refunded the charge before the issue is resolved could be significantly more difficult once you have paid the credit card company. Explain to the customer service representative of the credit card company that you are disputing the charge due to being charged for fuel for which you did not pay, and that you do not intend to pay for that particular charge until the issue is resolved. Although your case for your dispute could be stronger if the charge for gasoline at a service station is on the same credit card statement as the charge for your rental car, there should not be any problem with the credit card company cooperating with you and granting your request — depending on the credit card company, of course.

Unfortunately, you have to be as diligent and as alert as possible to ensure that you are not being charged for something you did not use. The steps listed above should help mitigate — or even eliminate — that from happening to you.

  1. I’ve gotten cars that aren’t full.
    I rented a Prius, drove 30 miles and it took 4 gallons to fill it. That’s less than a 600 HP Ferrari driven hard.

  2. That is annoying to say the least, puddinhead — and I have experienced a similar situation. Was the fuel gauge indicating that the tank was full when you rented the car?
    Not that you should have to do this, but one way to avoid that is to use the estimated miles per gallon expected from the Prius to determine how much fuel the car needs to be full. Assuming that the gasoline mileage of the Prius is 40 miles per gallon and you have traveled exactly 40 miles in that car, you theoretically only need one gallon of fuel to fill up the tank. Of course, highway and city driving will vary fuel efficiency.
    I would say that in that scenario, I would either stop fueling after two gallons have been dispensed, or fill up the tank and dispute the discrepancy with the personnel at the rental car facility, as your paperwork will indicate the starting and ending mileage of your rental — assuming that you ensured that that information is indeed correct.

  3. Back in 2008, I rented a jeep and drove about a 100 miles in it and it still showed was full… it was one of those weird gauges though where “full” went wayyyyy past the “full” mark on the gage. Even now, I usually go 40 miles on my normal airport route and the car shows up full so I don’t top it off.

  4. I rented from an AVIS franchise location last year and they were very up-front: “we **must** see a gas station receipt showing a fill-up within 30 minutes of your return time, if you don’t have one you will be charged for fuel regardless of what the gauge reads”

  5. How can a gas station receipt prove you filled it up ? If you take a picture of the gas gage and the odometer that should be proof that the tank is close to being full.
    As Tedgrr said, some cars will go 40 miles before the needle moves off full.
    I get cars like that ( that haven’t been topped off ) all the time. I notice my MPG is better on the second fill-up.
    If I drive from the rental agency straight to a gas station and put in a couple of gallons can I charge them?

  6. 2 comments:
    Renting from Enterprise in FL ast year, found the guage to drop off full immediately on leaving airport. Called Enterprise right then and notified them – they gave me a credit for the shortage when I returned the car.
    Recently in Portugal, we had rented a Europcar booked by Autoeurope (in Maine). Was told on renting that given the rental was greater than 6 days, I was to return the car empty and would be billed for a tank of gas. (Never have I heard this before plus it’s really hard to do it.) I emailed Autoeurope and was told that their contract with Europcar was for car to be returned full (as customary) – which I did. The Europcar agent on returning explained that Autoeurope (in Europe) contract does indeed say return empty – the agent for the pickup had not looked closely enough at the verbage to make the distinction. All was settled OK.

    1. My experience is that Enterprise Rent-A-Car is usually quite fair when it comes to fuel for their rental cars.
      As for returning a rental car empty, I dislike that option. As you state, it is quite difficult to return a vehicle with which you are unfamiliar truly empty when it is returned. The rental car company always has the advantage on that option.
      Thank you, burengilpin.

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