Back in the days when gasoline was $1.49 per gallon in the United States, it was rather easy to return a rental vehicle without being scrutinized for your consumption of fuel — depending on the company from which you rented your car, of course.
With prices currently hovering between $3.25 and $4.25 per gallon in the United States and the potential to lose significantly more money, rental car companies seem to be far more stringent these days on how much gasoline is in the fuel tank — sometimes to the point of charging you for fuel even though you returned the rental vehicle with a full tank of gasoline, as has apparently happened to FlyerTalk member boredandre…
…and with rental car companies charging a premium of up to triple the cost of fuel which could otherwise be purchased at a typical service station, there is the potential for rental car companies to profit handsomely. If so, they might be able to get away with this practice on a business person with an expense account who may not care as much as you would if it personally will cost you.
Whether the rental car company is purposely trying to scam you or committed a legitimate error is important but is not the issue here. How do you protect yourself from being charged for fuel by the rental car company even though you returned the vehicle with a full tank of gasoline?
- Get a receipt from the gasoline station. This is your single most important item which will prove that you purchased fuel before returning the rental vehicle, as it will include such information as the date, time and location of where you filled up the fuel tank of the rental vehicle. If you drove the rental vehicle for only a few miles and spent a few dollars to top off the tank, it is very easy to simply shrug off the miniscule expense and forgo the receipt — until the rental car company attempts to charge you double or triple the amount that you paid at the petrol station just down the road.
- Attempt to resolve the issue at the rental car counter. It is usually better to resolve the issue with a live person rather than calling a customer service representative in some corporate headquarters somewhere — but be forewarned that this could potentially take up a significant amount of your time, depending on how crowded is the rental car facility. It is not worth missing your flight or being late for an important appointment — so consider skipping this step if you believe that you do not have enough time to resolve this issue at the rental car facility where you returned the vehicle which you rented.
- Keep the receipt. All because you returned the rental car and you are several hundred miles away does not mean that the rental car company cannot tack on an additional charge for fuel onto your credit card account. Wait until you pay for the rental of the vehicle in full before you consider the disposal of that receipt — although I would keep it longer, just to be certain.
- Take photographs and videos. That device — smartphone, tablet. etc. — which you regularly carry around with you is almost certainly equipped with a camera capable of recording photographs and video. Use it to protect yourself by recording evidence that you indeed filled up the tank at a fueling station, and take at least one photograph of the fuel gauge and the odometer in the car. Overkill? Perhaps — until you are faced with being charged by the rental car company for fuel. As with the receipt, do not delete the photographs and videos until you pay for the rental of the vehicle in full. If space is scarce on the drive of your electronic device, consider saving it to a different means of storage, such as a computer, a hard disk drive, a flash drive, a compact disc, or remotely on your wireless network.
- Contact customer service if you have a problem. Ensure that you have your evidence beforehand. Do not be discouraged if your problem is not resolved the first time — call back until you are in contact with a customer service representative of the rental car company who will be sympathetic to the issue and willing to resolve it.
- Dispute the charge on your credit card, if necessary. This is a last resort if the issue of being charged for fuel when you returned the car with a full tank has not yet been resolved, as being refunded the charge before the issue is resolved could be significantly more difficult once you have paid the credit card company. Explain to the customer service representative of the credit card company that you are disputing the charge due to being charged for fuel for which you did not pay, and that you do not intend to pay for that particular charge until the issue is resolved. Although your case for your dispute could be stronger if the charge for gasoline at a service station is on the same credit card statement as the charge for your rental car, there should not be any problem with the credit card company cooperating with you and granting your request — depending on the credit card company, of course.
Unfortunately, you have to be as diligent and as alert as possible to ensure that you are not being charged for something you did not use. The steps listed above should help mitigate — or even eliminate — that from happening to you.