Should you pre-purchase gas with your next car rental? Do you have to fill up a rental car? We weigh out the pros and cons to help you understand car rentals with gas "included".
It may seem silly to worry about something as small as rental car gas prices when you're on the trip of a lifetime. Why sweat the small stuff when you can be out there enjoying yourself? And do you HAVE to fill up a rental car before you return it or just let it go? But small steps can add up to huge saving - savings you can use to make your trip even more unforgettable.
Savvy travelers know that their trip budget needs to take into account more than just base prices. Hotel rooms require taxes and tips. Flight costs don't include luggage fees and airport meals. And if you're calculating how much does it cost to rent a car, remember that car rental costs are more than just an automobile's base price. There are taxes and fees, insurance options, upgrade possibilities, and even add on features like GPS rentals. And of course you need something to get around town - you need gas!
The next time you rent a vehicle, you will probably be encouraged to "pre-pay" for your final tank of gas. This promises to be not only a convenient choice but an economical one as well. But is it all too good to be true? Readers want to know what the most frugal choice is and I am all to pleased to do the research and run the math on all your rental car gas options!
Here are some things to consider when it comes to car hire fuel policy matters.
Knowing your travel rental car gas policy
Even if you're all 'devil may care' with your finances, you'll probably join me in cringing at the thought of returning a rental car devoid of gas. The cost of having the rental agency refuel the vehicle for you is astronomically high - my research turned up one case where a traveler was charged $9 a gallon! Your empty tank should never cost more than your hotel room! Fortunately this frightening fee is easy to overcome.
There are two ways around this exorbitant cost. In our experience, the most economical choice is to simply fill up at a station close by to the rental depot. This is sometimes call "car rental full to full" in travel circles. You pick up your rental car with a full tank of gas and you return it with a full tank of gas. You pay the fuel cost of the moment, nothing more, nothing less, and you never purchase more than you need. And if you plan ahead, you can squeeze out a few extra drops of savings.
The gas station closest to the rental depot is guaranteed to be one of the most expensive in town. Fill up elsewhere to save a few cents per unit (a nice savings if you are driving a bigger vehicle) and then top up the last little bit closer to the rental depot, if necessary. You can gas up several kilometers away and the needle will still be on full when you pull into the lot. Going to the station of your choice also means using the points card of your choice - always a nice treat.
But beware! Some rental agencies have fine print that says you must prove you purchased your gas within 10 miles of the depot. So read your contract, ask smart questions, and save your receipts just in case - especially helpful if a dispute arises in the future. (We use this travel document organizer to keep all important travel papers, like car rental agreements, neat and easy to access.)
Examining the pros of a car rental with gas included.
The other option to avoid a gas-tastrophy is to pre-purchase a tank of gas when you sign your rental agreement and pick up your vehicle. This is often called "car rental with gas included" or a "full to empty car hire". This car rental prepaid fuel is often sold at 20% off the retail price - maybe more. That sure looks better than the standard price of the day. And it looks absolutely incredible compared to the default price the car rental company would charge per gallon if you did it a la cart. And in a time of fluctuating, volatile gas prices, there's added peace of mind in knowing that your price remains stable regardless of what happens at the pumps.
Economics are just part of the appeal of this option. Imagine the convenience of never having to worry about finding a gas station when you're running late on route to the airport. Or never being stuck in highway interchanges, trying to reach an impossible-to-find gas station before you catch your train. Or never stressing about available facilities when your drop your car off in the early wee hours of the morning. Surely this deal is almost too good to be true! Unfortunately, it is.
Rental car gas policies aren't always as good as they seem....
Pre-purchasing fuel is a good deal only if you plan on returning the car with an empty tank. Not just mostly-empty. I mean 100% empty! Which, of course, is impossible, as a car without gas is a car that does not run! When you pre-purchase that tank of gas, you're not agreeing to pre-purchase just the fuel you need but instead an entire tank's worth, regardless of how empty or full it is upon return.
Coasting into a rental depot on just fumes is a level of wildness I just can't contemplate and I know I'm not alone. Very few people feel comfortable driving around with a very small amount of gas in the tank, even less so when you're in an unfamiliar destination. And herein lies the secret of how rental agencies can still profit by selling gas below retail price -you pay for a full tank no matter how much gas is in the car. This is why the rental car gas policy can offer such "cheap" gas prices. You might be buying 50 liters of gas when you only needed 25!
If you just KNOW that you are the kind of person who is always running late when they travel (no judging, I swear!) - or if you feel anxious about trying to find a gas station in an unfamiliar city when you're on a deadline - or if this is a routine trip where you feel very confident about your driving routes and know exactly how much fuel you'll use - a car rental with gas included is a good choice for you. This is an ideal option for a few travelers but for most the savings you'd see from filling up the old fashioned way will far outweigh any inconvenience you might have making one last stop. Final conclusion: Do you have to fill up a rental car before you return it? The answer is no, you don't *have* to. But your wallet really, really wants you to in order to get the best deal!
Small costs can have a big impact on a trip.
During one of my first ever blog posts, I talked about flying with carry on bags and redirecting luggage fees to a nice bottle of wine and cashing in your coin jar for splurges on coffee. And I've never stopped advocating that little savings can add up to special splurges. I still believe the most meaningful travel experiences are found in special every day moments that don't have to cost a fortune. I hope every time I share some travel tips or some lessons learned that it helps make your trip not only more enjoyable but also more affordable; letting you get back on the road just a little bit sooner.
What are your best tips for saving on transportation costs?
Planning your next big road trip? Here are some of our favourite posts!
Car Rental 101: 10 Tips to Save
Exploring the Rural Belgium Countryside
Our Ultimate Roadtrip from Casteau to Arras
23/2/2015 02:42:52 am
We experimented with this once and just found it so much harder to return the car empty. Especially with a car you don't know, it's hard to judge how much fuel you have left, how far that'll get you etc. We ended up putting in "just $10 more dollars" of gas in multiple times because we had no idea how far we'd get on it. I prefer to fill up myself and return full.
23/2/2015 02:48:18 am
That's so true - when it's your own car you know just how much gas you actually have when you hit 'empty' - we can go for 50 kilometers or so. I would never risk this with a rental.
4/2/2018 01:24:46 pm
Never prepay for gas at car rental companies. It's a scam. They were charging $2.85 as the prepay option whereas gas at the gas station was over $3 a gallon. Seems like a great deal, but why would they offer that when it would require an employee to go to a gas station and fill up? Because they're making money. The over $3 gas includes taxes, the $2.85 doesn't. Look at the taxes they include in your paperwork; this alone could bring the real cost of your prepay gas to be far more expensive. Second, you prepay for the full tank; so if you bring it back with gas left you lost money and they made more. Most importantly, even if you return it totally empty you still lost money because the total amount of gas they charge you exceeds the car's gas tank. For example, I got charged for almost 24 gallons BEFORE tax on the $2.85 when the car's capacity was 18.6 gallons.
4/2/2018 04:29:11 pm
Yep yep yep to all this. If it seems too good to be true, like anything else, it probably is. The only time I can think of when it makes sense to prepare for a "full" tank of gas is when you know you'll be doing a ton of driving AND returning the car very early in the morning or very late at night and you don't think you will be able to find an open gas station close to the rental office. But that's like 1% of all travel situations - you are almost always always always better to take care of it yourself.
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