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$9 a gallon for car-rental gas? Yup, if you forget to refill the tank

May 06, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • Gas up before you return that rental car, or it may cost you more than $9 a gallon.
Gas up before you return that rental car, or it may cost you more than $9 a gallon. (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

You think it’s costing you a bundle to fill up your car? The $4.28 a gallon price is nothing — at least, not when you compare it with the $9 a gallon that some rental car agencies are charging when you forget to return the car with a full tank. Think of it this way: If you have a car with a 13.8-gallon tank, you’ll owe the car rental company $124.20 if you return it empty. Ouch.

Hertz is charging an eye-popping $9.29 a gallon for customers who forgot to fill up before dropping off the car at its Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) site and other major airports nationwide.

USA Today reported this week that an April 25 survey of car-rental sites at 13 major airports showed Hertz was charging $9.29 a gallon at all 13 (of which LAX is one), and Dollar and Thrifty were charging $8.99 a gallon at two of the sites

Where does that $9.29 figure come from and why is it so high? Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera says the price reflects the cost of gas and related operational charges for what the company calls a "convenience" to customers. "We expect customers will return the car with the same amount of gas when rented," she says.

And, she adds, Hertz isn't in the gas business and doesn't make money on the high rate. (USA Today also reported that Hertz brought in $43.7 million in refueling costs last year, though both the paper and Rivera say that doesn't reflect the company's expenses drawn against that figure.)

Of course, you can avoid the gas gouge. First, fill up the car before you return it. Rivera says customers who rent cars with GPS devices can easily find a list of gas stations closest to their returning airport. Also, you can use a free AAA TripTik Mobile app for smartphones that lists gas stations and their prices by location.

Second, customers can prepay a tank of gas at a more reasonable rate when they rent the car. Hertz takes the average price of gas at three local gas stations to come up with a per-gallon price, Rivera says. But remember: You don't get credit for unused gas when you return the car.

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