10 Hidden Rental Car Fees

January 28, 2013

Have you ever reserved a rental online, and then go to pick the thing up, only to discover you are paying way more than you originally anticipated?

Nothing starts your family vacation out worse than discovering your wallet was just whacked by the rental car that was supposed to be a mere $30 per day. You see, rental car companies, unlike airlines, can bury their super secret hidden rental car fees in the fine print. They don’t have to fully disclose what you’re paying at the time of reservation. If you thought the $25 luggage fee with the airline was harsh, baby, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve been hit in the face with a rental car bill that’s four times what you anticipated.

We’ve put together the top 10 hidden rental car company fees, and we know what we’re talking about since we have a few employees who came from one of those big name rental car companies (*ahem* Enterprise, Avis, Hertz…).

1. Airport Rental Fees

If you can, avoid renting a car at the airport. You’re better off having a shuttle or a cab take you to a rental place away from the airport.

Let’s pretend you’re renting a car at Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport. Okay, we don’t have to pretend, we actually got our mitts on an invoice.

  • Daily Rate: $35.49
  • ARPT COST RECOVERY FEE (11.11%): $4.01
  • STATE TAX: $2.45
  • TOTAL: $ 43.32

2. Fuel Charge

Make sure you note where that fuel is at when you rent the vehicle. Make sure the rental agent also has it marked on your contract.

Some rental companies give all their cars out with a full tank of gas (Schmidt Lease), so it is expected that the vehicle come back full. Other companies (Enterprise or other big guys) will rent the vehicle at any fuel level, but they still have the same expectation: even if it goes out at a ¼ tank, it has to come back at a ¼ tank. Sometimes, “the other guys” will even give you an option to “pre-pay” for your fuel if you plan on returning with less than a full tank. Uh-oh Whammy!

Rental companies always charge ridiculous prices for fuel. Some charge per gallon surcharges: like $9.00 per gallon (that’s crazy!). Or they charge a set fee: usually cost of fuel to refill + $30 (still crazy!).

3. Night Drop Charges

Some companies will let you return a rental vehicle after hours. It is not uncommon for the large rental companies to charge a night drop fee. These fees are typically another $10. Make sure you check before renting if this fee applies if you return after hours.

4. Deposits

Every rental car company usually charges a deposit on a major credit card before you can leave their lot. Check with the rental company before you reserve your vehicle. We only hold $100 on your credit card, while most others $250. And that charge can go even higher if you hold it on a debit card.

If you are returning a vehicle to a different location than the one you rented it from, you need to ask of this charge applies. A recent customer told me he took a rental car one way, and they made him put a $250 deposit down. The returning location then turned around and charged him $100 on his credit card for a one way fee drop fee.

While you usually get all the money back, it can still tie up your funds while your on the road or traveling.

5. Roadside Assistance

Can you believe a company would charge you if the rental car broke down? They do! Enterprise just rolled a new fee that runs abotu $4 for “roadside assistance protection”.

That’s nuts!

6. Smoking and Pets

These are always two big rental car no-no’s.

Rental companies will charge you upon return of the vehicles if they find evidence of a pet (pet hair) or smoking (ashes, smoke smell, or butts). Usually this charge is around $100, but I’ve heard of it being as high as $500.

So if you’re traveling with Fido, you’d better ask what the pet fee is before you leave.

7. Sales Tax & Stadium Tax

If you’re really cost minded, think about the sales tax rate. For example, sales tax in Lucas County is 6.75%. In Wood County, it is 6.5%. We’re not talking about big bucks here, but your purchases might be cheaper down the street (*wink* *wink* we are located in Wood County).

Going to see a big game? Not going to see a big game? It doesn’t really matter.

Many counties have a tax in place that is paid for by rental car customers. There’s no way to get out of this fee. That is, unless you rent from a county that isn’t passing this through to its visitors.

8. Early Return Fee

Obviously there is a fee for bringing a car back late. But did you know some companies charge you a fee for bringing it back early? They consider this “breaking your contract”.

9. Rental Insurance

Well, sure. Nine out of ten times, your regular car insurance will cover a rental car that you are driving. However, it’s really important that you make sure you’re not that one guy who isn’t. If you do need it, this can run about $20 extra per day.

We wrote all about if you need it or not here: CLICK HERE!

10. Extra Driver 

Most rental do charge an upcharge if you want another driver on the contract. It’s typically an extra $20 per day. Wowza! Looks like Dad is doing all the driving on this trip!

Schmidt Lease allows spouses and family members to drive for free! Just let us know who is driving before you leave. Any other additional drivers are only $6 per day.


When possible, look for an independent or local rental car company. Nine times out of ten, these companies can give you all the services of a larger rental car company. And most likely, you won’t be hit with hidden fees since they are eager to earn your business. Also, always check on price matching. The local guys will most likely match a price, even if it’s a crazy deal.

If you have to rent from a national company, make sure you ask about all of fees.

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