Worst Rental Car Rip-offs
Car rental companies have a crop of fees and dodgy practices that
can cost you hundreds of dollars.
I used to be able to game the car-rental system. How? I’d reserve
a compact; because they’re the least expensive cars, agencies would run out of
them first. Result: I’d get a free upgrade to a bigger car.
Times have changed. Now not only does that tactic fail, but car
rental rates are going through the sunroof. On an assignment in Atlanta this summer, I ended up in a claustrophobic Ford Focus that cost me more than $80
The main reason for the rising costs? Smaller rental fleets. And
fewer available cars means higher prices. The average rate for a weeklong
rental of a compact car at an airport location last year was $335.05, up a
whopping 51 percent from 2008, according to a report by the Abrams Consulting
Adding insult to injury are the numerous ways rental agencies dig
even deeper into your pockets. Take insurance, for instance. And notice that car
rental companies don’t use the word “insurance” but instead refer to Collision
Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). That’s because CDW and LDW
don’t insure anything, but simply stipulate that the rental company will waive
its right to come after you for damages to the vehicle.
You can also buy supplemental liability protection, personal
accident insurance, and personal effects coverage in case of theft. Typical
cost for full coverage? Figure as much as $35 a day. The fact is, though, your
own personal car insurance and/or credit card perks very well may cover you.
Another issue? Car rental taxes and surcharges have skyrocketed.
That’s because municipalities know most car renters are out-of-towners, so they
have no political voice to complain about outlandish local taxes—a form of
taxation without representation. It would be one thing if those taxes went to
pay for improved rental facilities, airport upgrades, and the like, but in fact
they go to pay for such things as sports stadiums, convention centers, and
other local projects that the renter probably will never use.
So what can a smart consumer do? First, read the fine print. Know
what taxes you can expect to pay. Demand that you be given the type of car you
asked for or be given a free upgrade. Avoid useless add-ons like prepaid gas.
And finally, think whether you really need to rent a car at all.
When you consider the extras involved, like parking fees, fuel, and valet
gratuities, you might just opt for public transportation instead.