Dollar Rent A Car Charges $2.00 "Top Off Fee," Even If You Return With A Full Tank Of Gas

No longer content gouging customers who return their rentals with less than a full tank of gas, Dollar Rent A Car is now assessing a $2.00 “top off fee” for cars that have already been topped off.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Steven Dentali, who was charged the fee in October after renting a car from Dollar Rent A Car in Manchester, N.H. “I said to them, ‘You’re telling me I’m penalized no matter what? There’s no way around me having to pay something?'”

That’s precisely what the rental car agreement said. Here’s the exact wording he received in his e-mail confirmation:

“Gasoline Policy: Vehicle must be returned with full tank or local refueling charge applies. If car is returned full a $2.00 top off fee will be applied.”

When Dentali started asking questions, he said he was told that the fee was being test-marketed by Dollar at select locations in New England.

Dentali demanded a refund and was told he had to talk with a manager, who in turn told him to call Dollar’s corporate offices. He did, and said he was promised a refund. But the $2 never arrived.

Dentali received a personalized response and a refund after complaining to the corporate office:

“I am unable to advise you as to whether or not this is a permanent policy or what the purpose is for it, but in an effort to regain your confidence in Dollar Rent A Car, I have requested a refund check in the amount of $2.16 to be forwarded to you from our accounting office. Please allow up to three weeks for processing and mailing.”

A corporate spokesman claims the fee is the creation of a local franchise and is not a standard charge for corporate-owned locations.

At least it’s cheaper than United’s $50 fuel surcharge. Has anyone else seen and fought the top off fee? Send your experiences to tips at consumerist dot com.

Sneaky fee alert: rental car ‘top off’ [The Red Tape Chronicles]
(Photo: fabbio)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. deb35802 says:

    Outrageous!

  2. Buran says:

    What exactly are they charging you for doing? Nothing, apparently.

    Return the favor by charging Dollar a 100% “stupidity fee” — aka giving them no business.

  3. RandomHookup says:

    I know that at least one of the rental car places had something like this years ago when I traveled all the time. You had to present a receipt for gas, even if the car was returned full. It was a pain in the butt to get a receipt for 72 cents when you didn’t drive much on the trip.

  4. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. It’s bad enough the rental car companies have “penalty fees” for anything and everything that you could do wrong, but charging you $2.00 because you did everything right?

    Screw you, Dollar.

  5. dorksandlosers says:

    It would be easier to just raise the overall fees and avoid this bad publicity. But there are lots of people who never look at their receipts and always risk being taken advantage of.

  6. humphrmi says:

    Dollar isn’t even the cheapest rent-a-car in most of the places I go. What’s interesting is, they are so close to the other more expensive rental companies that adding this $2 on top makes them the most expensive (again, where I go – NY, Chicago, SFO…) rental car company.

    So it looks like it’s a way for them to come up on search engines as “not the most expensive”, then later actually make more money than Alamo and Hertz.

    Clever way to screw your customers, Dollar.

    But since they’re not the cheapest, it’s easy for me to say “I won’t ever rent from Dollar again.” :)

  7. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I rent from National wherever possible, as they have given me customer service above and beyond on several occasions, and I have shared this sentiment with corporate including the names and locations. I bitch when things go wrong, I point out to management when things go right.
    Dollar: teh suck. Crappy car, flat tire, not clean, piss poor counter service.
    Budget: worse than teh suck. Busted windshield! Dirty car (but returned in worse condition :)
    Enterprise: Not even a consideration. Enterprise left me stranded in Charlottesville VA a few years ago, because of an ice storm but apparently couldn’t take a minute to call me on my cell phone (the NUMBER THEY HAD ON THE AGREEMENT) to let me know.

    If you’re going to drive a bunch, just buy the tank. It’s usually cheaper than the going rate, and it’s almost like a drinking game to drop the car with just fumes in the tank :D

  8. bdgbill says:

    This is similar to the issue of hotels charging you to call room to room because most people are no longer dumb enough to use the hotel phone to call out.

    Apparantly, even most casual tourists have gotten wise to the “Do you want to bring it back full or buy the gas from us? We charge less than all the service stations in the area” scam.

    This scam is something close to low grade fraud.

    This is another example of travel companies trying to advertise a low price online and make up for it with bullshit fees when you arrive.

  9. balthisar says:

    @humphrmi: Consider that it’s a single, $2 fee, not a daily fee. I’m not defending the $2 of course, but it’s not $2 on top the daily rate.

  10. ironchef says:

    I so tempted to top it off with water. Screw them!

  11. Boberto says:

    I always thought it was funny the way Enterprise at SFO would greet you in the garage. Cold drinks, snacks, smiles and warm greetings.

    All in an effort to upsell the worthless rental insurance.

    I took a diet coke once from them and afterwards, they tried to make me feel guilty about declining. Needless to say I enjoyed a good chuckle.

  12. Employees Must Wash Hands says:

    @bdgbill:

    Apparantly, even most casual tourists have gotten wise to the “Do you want to bring it back full or buy the gas from us? We charge less than all the service stations in the area” scam.

    It’s not always the case it’s a scam. Perhaps one is best served by looking ahead at gasbuddy.com to make an informed decision about prepaying for the gas.

    A few months ago I rented a car at LAX with Hertz. I declined to buy the entire tank of gas up front. After leaving the rental car lot, I notice that every gas station close by the airport is selling for 15-20 cents a gallon more than the price charged by Hertz.

    Had I prepaid I would have saved a few bucks on the gas, not to mention just the general headache of trying to find a gas station in an area that I know nothing about.

  13. dmolavi says:

    @ben1040: This happened to me in Manchester, NH last August. Hertz hadn’t upped their fuel prices yet that day, so by buying the full tank, i was able to save about 10 or 15 cents per gallon.

    And yes, I was running on fumes when I brought it back..they probably had to push it to the service area :)

  14. weave says:

    So do they really take EVERY rental that comes back and top off the gas? Admittedly you will burn a small portion of gas between fill-up and drop off but it’s the same for everyone. You get it about 1/2 gallon less than full and you drop it off that way effectively. I really really doubt they spend the time to squeeze in a small amount of gas after a rental.

    Bottom line, it’s a rip-off.

    Where’s Randy Taylor when you need him?

  15. BoC says:

    “I want my two dollars!”

  16. weave says:

    @ben1040: 15 to 20 cents more is only about 5% difference. You’d have to ensure that you return the tank less than 5% full to make out. That’s not as easy as it sounds. You can end up making multiple stops to get gas near the end of your rental and putting in just a few bucks.

    Also, the last rental I got had a reported range of 400 miles to empty. Not everyone drives a car that much during one rental.

    Anything left in the tank when you come back is pure profit to the rental company.

  17. laddibugg says:

    @ben1040:

    Yeah, a lot of people figure they’ll fill it up before they return it, but many people get caught out there because they are running late for their flight and have no idea where the nearest gas station is. THAT’S when they get you, and charge you an obscene rate (usually $1 or more per gallon) My mother works for a car rental agency and while their prepaid fuel IS higher than the local stations, it’s not significantly so…..about 5 cents or so per gallon. In her expierence, foreign tourists and those people from states where gas is the highest tend to be the customers that buy the prepaid gas. Everyone else just figures they re trying to make a fast buck.

  18. DrGirlfriend says:

    @BoC: damn, you beat me to it!

  19. SuperJdynamite says:

    You should never top off your fuel tank. Here’s a page from the EPA that explains why. Try Googling for “top off gas tank” for hundreds of corroborating pages.

  20. FLConsumer says:

    That’s almost as bad as Enterprise charging me for a rental car that my car dealer paid for. Worse, they charged me for 3 days when the car was only out for 2.

  21. geofffox says:

    Just rented last week at LAX from Deluxe. I hadn’t heard of them either!

    My Dodge Charger (with 2,600 miles) was a few cents under $90 with tax, Saturday to Friday. No hidden charges. No long waits. The folks there were quite nice.

    Part of my price was an extra discount for AAA members (10% plus 1% additional per decade of AAA membership – 12% for me)

    If you shop, you can find bargains.

    Oh – this Charger had no hemi. It was more than a little underpowered, but got the job done.

  22. savdavid says:

    As long as Americans don’t complain, companies will continue the practice of tacking on fees. I just wonder how high the threshold of American patience is.

  23. Joe_Bagadonuts says:

    @BoC:
    “Sorry, don’t have a dime…”

  24. humphrmi says:

    @balthisar: Good point, don’t know how I missed that. I guess it blows my argument. But anyway, Dollar is sufficiently in the middle of the pack price-wise that I can safely avoid them.

  25. personally… I’d go through their lot several months later and key “$2″ into every hood in the middle of the night… but thats just how bitter I get.

  26. bdgbill says:

    @ben1040:

    Usually the price difference is so close that to come out ahead you will have to figure out a way to bring the back with a bone-dry tank. The majority of renters do not drive nearly enough miles to empty the tank.

    I tend to have my rentals for weeks and drive them thousands of miles. Even so, in order to bring the car back with a nearly empty tank, I have to buy gas a few gallons at a time on the last day or so. It’s not worth the hassle.

    My big problem with the policy is that they do not explain to the rubes that they will be charged for a FULL TANK of gas no matter how full the tank is when they return it. None of the signage includes this information and I have never heard a rep mention it.

  27. I particularly love the “test-marketing” part.

    How do you “market” a fee?

    “Excuse me, sir, but would you care to try out a few of our newest and most interesting fees and charges? Our new Platinum Fee comes with frequent-flyer miles!”

    Consumers already know that any letter from a company that starts with the words “To serve you better…” will be announcing new fees. It would appear that the marketing people are getting high on their own supply and actually BELIEVE that more fees equal better service.

  28. princess_peach says:

    sadly dollar isnt the only company charging outrageous fees like this. recently my husband and i rented a car from avis. we refueled the tank and when we returned the car, Avis informed us that we would be charged for the refueling fee unless we could produce the gas receipt proving we filled the tank… cause a full gas tank was not proof enough!

  29. XTC46 says:

    @Daniel Rutter: if they get enough complaints, they don’t keep the fee. Its more like testing the waters for sharks.

  30. shiftless says:

    What the hell? You never rent the car fully “topped off” anyway. Though I am glad to say I never have had to rent from “Dollar Rent A Car”. That place just sounds horrible to begin with.

  31. yg17 says:

    I like Enterprise’s policy….you return it with what was in there when they gave you the car. If they give you the car with 1/2th tank of gas, you return it with 1/2 thank. No bogus top off fees or other additional fees, no questions asked.

  32. rdm24 says:

    @bdgbill: Ya know, every time I’ve rented a car, they’ve been pretty clear with me that it’s most expensive to let them refuel. They’ve never tried to scam me by letting me think otherwise. (Although, they might present it as a “convenience” fee.)

  33. Myotheralt says:

    @ironchef: use milk, that would really mess with there minds

  34. forgottenpassword says:

    @yg17:

    enterprise can eat a bag of roadapples! On several occassions I have been refused a pickup even when I was close by….. despite what their commercials say.

  35. BuriedCaesar says:

    Hmmmm, looks like the Dollar is declining…

  36. eelmonger says:

    If they really wanted to, they could charge everyone the fee for not returning it with a full tank. Cause unless after filling the tank you fill up a spare container and top off the tank once you park in their lot you’re going to be short the gas you burned up on the way there.

  37. uhohagain says:

    i work for a rental company currently. i always let people know they’re paying for a whole tank since i think it is rather unfair that you get charged for the whole, regardless of how much you use.

    normally, it’s the business travelers who prepay since usually their company is paying for it.

    as far as i’m concerned with dollar, the agents there make commission on everything and it’s insane! i mean, everything: underage fees, car seats, added drivers, etc. i bet they get a piece of that ridiculous top of fee, too.

  38. humorbot says:

    That’s outstanding. How long before they start charging “fee assessment fees?”

  39. dazzlezak says:

    Maybe we should siphon off the gas and use it to set off molotov cocktails in their offices!??!

    (Please Do NOT actually do this)

    America’s rear end is more than a little sore at this point from being spanked with fees.

    Vote with your wallet, shop elsewhere.

  40. m4nea says:

    starting your car and then driving to the rental place from a gas station probably costs about $2.00 in gas…get over it; its two fucking dollars!

  41. Squot says:

    @forgottenpassword: That’s the thing, though. If you don’t need picked up? Enterprise loooooves you.

    I got a ‘Premium’ car for an ‘Intermediate’ rate, even though I A: Stupidily made my reservation at a different store, B: Didn’t call first (since I called the other store.). Because the only other ‘intermediate’ class vehicle they had was a cargo van, they honored the OTHER store, and didn’t even try to upsell me / charge me more. The girl was all ‘We recommend the regular insurance.’ and when I said no, that was that!

    I love my Enterprise. They didn’t even D: at me when I brought back my last rental with a flat tire, even though I didn’t have their insurance.

  42. Myotheralt says:

    I wonder what they would say if you crossed out lines in the contract you didnt agree to?

  43. Myotheralt says:

    @dazzlezak: And speaking of the rear end, WALK! A fat ass wont get smaller by sitting in traffic.

  44. FLConsumer says:

    @savdavid: You’re confusing patience with apathy. Americans don’t have patience but are too apathetic to do anything about it, hence Wal-mart’s dominance in retail.

  45. Scuba Steve says:

    I love the insult they throw out there:

    We don’t want to tell you why we’re charging this fee (profit, actually) but if you’ll shut up for 2 bucks then We’ve already written a check and it’s on its way

  46. balthisar says:

    Enterprise has never had a problem picking me up, and I always get excellent, friendly service. Granted, I never ask them to go more than four miles or so from their store (and often closer).

    When I need a business rental, I wish I could Enterprise; they’re close to home and they don’t mind me leaving my car there. The company approved sources are a big pain in the neck for local, drive-to-my-destination rentals. Although with the price of gas, I can just about break even by taking the mileage reimbursement and renting the car on my own.

  47. overbysara says:

    this is a save a penny, spend a pound thing. they make a couple bucks and piss off a lot of customers that will turn elsewhere.

  48. jordy777 says:

    Looks like I can add Dollar to the list of companies that won’t be getting my money.

  49. LoneGeek says:

    Whoa, people, I rented from Dollar twice last month and couldn’t be happier. I’m a longtime lurker and I registered today just to stop this pile-on.

    I rented twice from MCO airport in Orlando and wasn’t overcharged one cent either time. In fact, I filled up each time and then drove 20 miles to the airport and had no problem. If they had charged my $2 to top-up, they would have been more than justified as the car got about 20 MPG.

    After a long vacation where the money seemed to fly out of my pockets, I’ve got to say that I was thrilled with the Dollar car rental service and value.

  50. Murph1908 says:

    So everyone is clear…

    The reason for the top-off fee is not to top off a full tank. It’s because most cars can burn a gallon or 2 before the gas gauge comes off of F. So, if you rent a car, don’t drive more than 30 miles or so, you could bring it back looking like it has a full tank.

    So it’s either ‘show the receipt’ as one commenter said, or charge the $2 to cover the non-full full tanks out there.

    Not that I like or agree with the policy, but there’s the reasoning.

  51. @dorksandlosers: yeah, I’ve always felt like they’d get fewer unhappy customers if it was just a $X all-inclusive rate and you didn’t have to dick around with refueling or paying a 30-cent premium per gallon to have them do it for you. If they roll that premium into the rate, I think people would be way less annoyed in the end.

  52. t-r0y says:

    Is this any different than what Budget Rent-A-Car was doing. They settled with the FTC after being sued because “… Budget’s fuel fee program was deceptive and violated federal law”.

    “Budget Rent-A-Car has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to adequately disclose a “fuel” fee automatically charged to customers who drove fewer than 75 miles.”

    [www.ftc.gov]

  53. dulles says:

    I rented from Budget last, and they gave me a free upgrade to a mid-size (Prius) because they were out of compact size cars. Not only that, but when I returned the car with its full tank, and complained that it had only a half tank when I took it out (it did), they refunded me $40, which *more* than payed for my gas costs. Go Prius!

  54. disavow says:

    Once my father rented a nearly brand-new Chrysler from Hertz. He made it only a few miles before the thing died and wouldn’t start back up. He called Hertz for a tow, and the first thing their CSR asked was, “What, did you run out of gas?”

    They eventually picked him up, he cancelled the rental and went elsewhere, and everything seemed hunkydory. Until a month later when they billed him a bill for a full tank of gas.

  55. watwat45678 says:

    Well, if you really think about it, you are burning some gas from the gas station to the rental agency…

  56. LTS! says:

    Last month I was in Tucson. I rented for a week from Dollar. When I had reserved I did for a full-size car (a charger or the like), they upgraded me to a Pacifica even though there were 4 Chargers on the lot. I was glad because it gave me some extra space.

    The car had 4k miles on it and was spotless, it drove great.

    I returned the car, drove up, they looked it over and handed me my receipt. No extra fees, no troubles whatsoever and they were easily the cheapest rental place in Tucson.

    So the fee was certainly not universal and as Dollar said it was not being charged by corporate but by the regional franchisee I presume.

    The sad part is that people here will slam Dollar simply because of this one story when I can produce a counter story and corporate has already stated that this was a fee from the regional area.

    Moving towards the additional fee, it’s a fine line in the business. You certainly can’t tell if a tank is full just by looking at gauge, it’s impossible. Requiring a person to fill it up within 5 miles of the location and produce a receipt is really not that ridiculous a request. Think of it this way, they can ask that, or they could just assume you won’t do it and raise the rates to compensate. I’d rather avoid the fee by simply showing a receipt than be charged regardless.

  57. erica.blog says:

    @dmolavi: HAHA! I win that game — we DID return ours completely empty once. It died about 0.2 miles away from the rental return entrance and we had to push it in :-D

    However, that also gave me a huge dose of incentive to never, ever play that game again. Pushing a car through O’Hare airport totally sucks.

  58. econobiker says:

    Don’t they know that “topping off” is not recommended and potentionally dangerous??? And how about the cars which kick the pump off before the tank is full due to pressure/tank design?

    If they want to charge me this fee then I will want to rent a car where I see the gas sloshing around under the gas cap- ie topped off. I usually can over-pump (pumping after the pump automatically shuts off) enough gas into a car to get me 20-30 miles to the airport rental place and the guage still show full.

  59. bgeek says:

    Bring a gas can with you, and top it off in front of them until it overflows.

  60. RagingBoehner says:

    @whzsutton: True — but do you really think they are actually topping it off? You most likely receive the car with a half gallon gone when you first leave the agency.

  61. Hanke says:

    I’ve never had a problem with Enterprise; in fact, I totalled one of their cars in Savannah, GA, and they replaced it same day. But boy was I glad I bought their insurance.

  62. ancientsociety says:

    My wife and I rent from Enterprise all the time and have never had a bad experience. What’s nice is that you only have to return the car with as much gas as you started, no bogus fees.

  63. zibby says:

    @RagingBoehner: No way they would be that devious! In fact, I rather think that they must have a team of highly-trained top-off specialists that handle these situations as they come in. That’s what you’re probably paying for: The top-off specialist.

  64. AD8BC says:

    @SuperJdynamite: I learned about that bit where the vapor recovery system will suck up any gas that you overfill your tank with, I’ve had some good luck by pulling back on the nozzle so the rubber hood doesn’t cover the gas filler.

    One time in California a treehugger got pissed off at me because I spilled a little gas. I calmly told her not to worry, it would soon evaporate and not leave a mark. Have you ever seen a treehugger with a face so red you’d think blood was going to shoot out of her eyes?

  65. DXDawg says:

    @ Dollar Rent-A-Car

    Does. Not. Compute.

  66. Tonguetied says:

    I could see where you could create a nice bit of bad publicity for them and make them scramble by accusing them of “Not Being Green”. As a few folks have already said, it is not considered environmentally sound to be topping off the tank. I’m sure a few such accusations would reverse this policy pretty quickly.

  67. teapartys_over says:

    If the rental agencies were being completely honest, they would just charge a set rate for the amount of gas they need to add to the tank when you return. It wouldn’t disadvantage them in any way. By setting it up as a “gamble” at the beginning of the trip, they are hoping you will make the wrong choice and lose. All customers know it, and it makes them feel taken advantage of, so why not just stop it? I suppose it’s like skimming a little off of every customer. There is no real way for the customer to come out ahead given those two options.

  68. LeJerque says:

    @BoC: Gaaah, you did it too fast.

    You win!

  69. Anonymous says:

    The reason this practice was done is because of cheap customers who only drive the car for one day and maybe put 40 miles on it and never gasses the car back up. the needle is showing full until the rental car company moves it around there lot and now is not showing full. they have to put gas in the car because of the cheap customer. Trying to recoup some of there losses i guess. I work in the rental industry and the majority of the time the rental company is the victim. someone cries wolf and most of the rental companies will give reimbursements to oblige the customer and give good service When actually the customer deserves nothing. Customers actually believe they deserve reimbursement for getting a flat tire. They cannot understand that they are responsible that they were driving the car when the tire went flat and that the car left the lot with perfectly good tires.