Car Rental Fuel Charges - A Common Complaint


Have you ever returned your rental car and then a week or two later found a mysterious charge on your credit card from the car rental company? This is one of the most common complaints, the charges that appear after the customer returned the car and everything seemed fine.

Post rental charges can be for a number of things including:

  • Damage caused to the car during the rental period.
  • Toll road usage charges.
  • Extraordinary cleaning.
  • Late return.
  • Missing fuel.

Missing fuel is by far the most common charge (closely followed by damage charges) and one that is appearing more and more often. Most companies offer options when you pick up the car to pre pay for a full tank of fuel allowing you to return it empty without having to worry about filling up just before you drop off the car. In countries like Spain and Portugal some companies actually enforce this as their standard policy, often charging the full tank at a much higher price than you would pay at a petrol station, a way for them to offer low up front prices but then make up the difference when you pick up the car.

Related Post – Car Rental and Car Hire Fuel Policies Explained

There are however 2 common options that apply to the vast majority of car rentals around the world.

1.       Full to Full – The car is full of fuel when you pick it up and it is your responsibility to ensure that it is completely full when you return it.

2.       Like for Like – The car may not be full when you pick it up but it is your responsibility to take note of the level and return it at the same level or higher than when you picked it up, usually to the nearest 1/8th of a tank.

Car rental companies have become maniacal in recent years when it comes to making sure that the car is absolutely full when you return it. Most companies will ‘dip the tank’ on return and even a few litres or a single gallon can end up costing you a significant amount of additional money that you may not have expected. Filling up to the “first click” doesn’t cut it.

The issue for customers is the amount that they are charged. Car rental companies will not only charge you for the missing fuel (usually at a higher price per litre/gallon than you would pay yourself at the gas/petrol station – have a look at this post on Avis’s Facebook page by an upset customer from March 17th for example) but they will usually tack on an additional charge for the “service”. That charge can range from $10 on the low end to around $50. That means that 1 gallon of fuel could end up costing you close to $60.

These charges are notoriously difficult to dispute and have reversed. It’s your word against theirs and they already have your money. And after all, let’s call a spade a spade here, it is a great way for the rental car companies to make additional revenue and one that they take full advantage of.

There has been heated debate recently in South Africa about these charges (although they are common in many other countries as well including the US). It all began with a complaint against First Car Rental from a customer who swore that they had filled up to the first click just before dropping off the car. Then they were charged for 13 litres (almost 3.5 gallons) after they returned the car 3 miles/5km from the station where they filled up.

The incident including the customers argument and the response from First Car Rental justifying the charge is clearly outlined in this article from Independent Online in South Africa - Rental Car's Missing Fuel Mystery.

The comments exploded with similar complaints about a number of companies in South Africa including Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Tempest and Europcar (same company operating under 2 brands). Some customers had managed to get refunds but many had not.

We recently had a user post a review about exactly this issue happening to them with Thrifty in Durban over Christmas – they even had the fuel receipt and still couldn’t get Thrifty to provide a refund!

One month later Independent Online posted a follow up story after raising the issue with Marc Corcoran, President of the South African Vehicle Renting & Leasing Association. Marc highlighted human error as one cause of erroneous charges as well as isolated incidents of fraud where fuel was stolen presumably by staff members after clients had returned the keys. In these cases disciplinary action and criminal procedures were applied.

How to cover yourself against erroneous fuel charges

There is a way to protect yourself against these charges. We have outlined 4 Easy Steps To Avoid Car Hire Fuel Charges that you can take during your car rental to completely cover yourself in case one of these charges is applied to your credit card after you return the car. Included is a simple Infographic that you can save and refer to when you need to. By following these steps you might even have an argument that the car rental company owes you money instead of the other way around.

Have you had a problem with charges after you returned the rental car in the past? What was the issue and did you manage to get it resolved after the fact? We would like to hear your stories.


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