The car rental industry has made a perfect customer engagement scheme in the United States. The companies in this business segment offer a wide selection of vehicles, acceptable prices, comfort, and premium customer service. But frequently their low-cost advertisements do not contain information about all mandatory fees.
For example, renting a car at the airport, you can be shocked by some additional extras like airport concession fee recovery or airport security fee. If you have ever rented a car, you might have also encountered other car rental tricks.
So, to prevent car rental issues in the future, check the list of top car rental scams and tips on how to avoid them.
Top Car Rental Scams and Tricks
The scams that are frequently committed in the industry include upgrade offers, fuel fees, car rental insurance, claimed damage, and fine print.
1. Upgrade Offer Scam
There are cases when car rental companies overbook economy rental classes because they are considered to be the most sought-after ones. As a result, such vehicles can be unavailable when required. If such a case occurs, the company should provide you with a vehicle upgrade on a free of charge basis.
However, frequently car rental agents are instructed to sell you an upgrade first saying that a reserved vehicle is unavailable due to some reasons (but in fact it not true). They insist on accepting an upgrade to a more expensive model at an extra cost. This is a standard car rental scam.
If you have already reserved a vehicle, and an upgrade is offered to you at a counter, decline politely. The company should provide you with an upgrade for free if it is unable to offer a reserved one. Here is an example of a standard car rental issue featured in one of the reviews on PissedConsumer.com: “I rented an SUV when I arrived I was told there were no SUVs in my class and that I could pay more money to upgrade or get a mini van. That’s not what I paid for.” (review #1855240)
There can be another scenario of this scam. A car rental salesman persuades you to upgrade your rental. He or she explains that a vehicle you reserved is not powerful, comfortable, or safe enough. You might consider another one. Remember, when car rental companies want to sell an upgrade to a higher class for an extra fee, they can put forward a lot of arguments for this.
2. Fuel Fees Scam
A lot of car rental companies follow a fuel policy “get it full and return it full”. In case you return a vehicle without brimming the tank, you will be charged an extra fee for refueling. Remember that gas at car rentals costs two to three times as much as it does at a nearby gas station.
Buying top off-gas from a rental company is really expensive. Also, be sure you get a receipt for a fill up that may be required to prove that you have refueled it.
There is another fuel option at car rentals. An agent may ask you if you want to prepay for a full tank of gas instead of filling it up before returning. In fact, it is a car rental scam. Have you ever returned a vehicle with absolutely no gas in the tank? Never!
So, if you accept this offer, you will prepay for extra fuel. Or car rental companies can offer to buy gas at “reduced” prices. As a rule, this price doesn’t differ substantially from the one at a nearby gas station. Guess, how do they use all the prepaid gas that is left in the tank? Yes, they sell it at a “reduced” price to the next client.
Gas scams are a very popular way for car rental companies to increase their profits.
3. Car Rental Insurance Scam
When you are renting a car, you have to decide on insurance coverage. Car rental companies offer you protection for extra money.
As a rule, car hire companies sell the following types of insurance: collision damage waiver, personal accident insurance, supplemental liability protection, and personal effects coverage. All these policies are optional. But car rental agents trick you into buying them as obligatory ones. This is a real car rental insurance scam.
And you will be surprised to find out that frequently they duplicate the insurance you already have. Under the law, car rental companies are required to carry the minimum liability insurance and supplemental protection is optional.
In other words, you do need collision damage waiver insurance, but you do not have to buy it over the counter at car rentals. Why? You may already have the coverage on your personal vehicle at home. You may use no-charge secondary coverage provided by some credit cards.
And you can buy the coverage from another provider for way less. Personal accident and personal effects coverage may be duplicated in your life/health/home insurance plans. If you do not want to be a victim of car rental insurance scams, find out your current level of protection by contacting the insurance company.
No car hire company can refuse you to rent a car if you decline to buy the coverage since it is considered illegal in most states.
4. Claimed Damage Scam
There are companies that rent poorly maintained vehicles and then claim you have made a scratch on a bumper, a stain on a seat, or a chip in the windshield. If you have already signed the rental documents, it will be completely impossible to prove otherwise.
The company will claim you to cover all damages when you return the vehicle. It is reasonable if you really damaged the car. But if you didn’t?! What if it is done on purpose?! Then it is a scam.
Before accepting a car, inspect it thoroughly. Take pictures or a video of all damages no matter how minor they are.
5. Fine Print Scam
The fine print may contain hidden stones in different agreements. Car rentals are no exception. Before making a reservation, you should find out all terms and conditions including those buried in the fine print.
Frequently, car rental companies reserve the right to apply late fees, for example, i.e. they charge higher rates for a longer rental period. However, you may come across a lot of unexpected situations. For example, you may need to change the airport to rent a car from, or to change the time to return the vehicle.
All changes are usually stated in the agreement in the fine print. Truth be told, it is not a scam in the essence. But many people feel deceived when they have to pay extra fees they were ignorant of. If you want to make an informed decision, you should know all the costs and hidden stones beforehand.
7 Tips on How to Avoid Car Rental Scams
What to do if you do not want to be scammed by a car rental company:
1. Inspect your rental car
Inspect both the interior and exterior thoroughly. Take pictures or a video of all damages (if any) no matter how minor they are. Report all damages to your car rental company and document them all.
2. Find out all your insurance needs beforehand
If you do need insurance coverage from the car rental company, check all terms and conditions. Be sure that you are covered for all items you really want. So, read all the fine print of your policy to find out any hidden stones.
3. Check all terms and conditions carefully
You should know company policies for late returns, non-local travels, accidental damages, etc.
4. Avoid cleaning fees
If you are going to rent a non-smoking vehicle, check that a salon is clean with no smoke odor and ash in the ashtray.
5. Test the equipment of the vehicle
You should check electronics, lights, radio, stop and turn signals, windshield wipers, etc. You can be charged additional fees for any damage even if it is not your fault.
6. File the accident report in time
If you got into a traffic accident, or if somebody caused any damage to your vehicle, call the police to file the accident report. You should report the damage as soon as possible. If it is possible, take the insurance information from a person who is responsible for the damage.
7. Do not give up
If you believe that you have become a victim of fraud, stay on your ground. Record all information you can to be able to dispute the charges. You can contact the corporate office or a consumer advocate organization. You will have to provide them with evidence to prove that you have been scammed by a car rental company.
Check your credit card statement a month later. You should be sure that no extra charges were added a month later.
Different car rental companies have different policies. And if you do not want to pay more than you should, check your agreement thoroughly. Truth be told, not all companies are dishonest with their customers. But there are those who want to boost their profits at the expense of inexperienced and trustful consumers. Do not be fooled and have a good ride!