Numbers Can Lie – Rental Car Companies’ Fuzzy Math

by joeheg

If you’re ever rented a car, you’ve undoubtedly heard the pitch about pre-paying for fuel. The agent at the counter warns that unless you return the car with a full tank, the rental car company will charge you an insanely inflated price for the gas needed to top off the tank.

However, if you purchase the fuel option from the rental car company, they charge you for a full tank of gas. You’d need to return the car on fumes (less than 1 gallon of gas in the tank) to make up the price difference. Even if you overpay for fuel from the station closest to the airport, you’ll still do better than pre-paying for gas from the rental car company.

That doesn’t mean that the car rental companies won’t try to convince you that prepaying for fuel is a good idea.

I just booked a rental car for our time on Oahu and found a great rate with this discount. During the rental process, I was provided the chance to pay in advance for fuel.

No matter the price of gas in Hawaii, I’d have to pay for the entire 16.68-gallon tank in advance, regardless of how much gas was in the tank when I returned the car. According to GasBuddy, there are plenty of places to stop near the airport.

If you’re a Costco member, there are several locations in the area. If you fill up there when it’s convenient and don’t return the car full, you’ll still be paying less than if you paid for the whole tank of gas in advance.

The only times where it could make sense to prepay for the tank would be:

  • If you’re returning the car very early or very late and it’s possible the gas stations in the area won’t be open.
  • You’re unfamiliar with the area and don’t want to worry about getting gas when returning the car.

You’d be paying extra for the convenience and peace of mind of not being able to find a station before returning the car. The additional $70 is worth it for some, but I’m not willing to overpay for fuel when I spend so much time finding a discount on the rental car.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Steve October 24, 2021 - 1:26 pm

Costco lines in Hawaii are enough to make you not choose this option… But, considering you’ll be lucky to burn 1/4 tank of gas on your trip is another. I lived there 3 years and put 2700 miles on my car.

swoopest October 24, 2021 - 5:30 pm

Another possibility is that you are in Europe, running late to catch a train, don’t have a PIN-enabled credit card, and can’t find a human-attended gas station. Been there, done that, paid the stiff penalty of returning a car with gas tank almost empty. Stepped onto the train with (literally) less than 2 minutes before it pulled out of the station. Ouch!

Dustin Evans October 24, 2021 - 6:43 pm

They charged me for pre paying gas once. I only saw it after I left. So I had to push the car into the return area. It had no more gas in the car. They where really pissed off


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