Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Car Rentals

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


Some car rental companies use questionable tactics when negotiating or offering rental contracts, which can include last minute charges or using intimidation and scare tactics to coerce consumers into buying things they do not need. Before signing a rental contract, please consider the following:

Make sure you get what you need.

A rental company scam is attempting to intimidate consumers into buying extras they do not need. One of the most common “offers” is the collision damage waivers, which release drivers from charges for damage which may occur to the automobile. Check your own insurance policy or credit card agreement as you may already be covered for such damage. The waiver may also exclude instances where a car is stolen, tire damage or drivers who have taken drugs, even when the drug is nothing more than over-the-counter cold or headache medicine.

Make sure you get what you want.

Advertised low rates may be subject to add-on charges for the extras you really want. A cheap rate may not entitle you to automatic transmission, air conditioning or allowing a second person to drive the car. Additionally, consider the hidden costs of a “free” upgrade. Larger vehicles can be significantly less fuel-efficient than smaller ones, so take that into consideration when offered an upgrade.

Gas up before you return the vehicle.

Many car rental companies give drivers a full tank of gas and ask that you return it with a full tank. Make sure you fill it up before returning the car, as the rental agency will often charge significantly more than the market price of a gallon of gas.

Watch the clock.

You will be told to return your car by a certain time in order to avoid late charges. Make sure to keep a close eye on the time, because keeping a car a few hours past the deadline can subject you to being charged for an entire extra day, possibly at a higher rate than the one for which you signed up.

Get the best rate.

If you are a business traveler, don’t automatically assume the corporate rate will be the lowest. Although corporate rates typically offer free insurance and mileage, they may not be competitive with promotional rates. Instead, ask for the lowest available rate to make sure you are not paying too much.

Know the rental may be subject to additional fees and charges.

Ask what fees and taxes could be included in the final bill and how much they are. Possible fees include early or late return; airport surcharges; fuel charges; mileage fees; roadside assistance fees; or fees related to equipment such as a navigation system, a car seat or a toll pass. Know that Florida has cashless toll roads throughout the state, and the toll cost as well as the rental company’s toll fee will be charged to your card after the rental is returned. Ask what fees the company charges and if there is a daily rate or a charge per toll. Compare rates across the various rental companies and be sure to include applicable taxes and fees in the comparison. Once you have secured a rental vehicle, inspect it carefully before leaving the lot. Note any damage and bring it to the attention of the rental agent. Take a photo if possible to document any pre-existing damage so you will not be charged for it upon returning the vehicle.

File a complaint.

You may file a complaint against a car rental company with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online using their complaint assistant portal at www.ftc.gov/complaint. You may also wish to file a complaint against the rental company with the Better Business Bureau online at www.bbb.org.