Pre-Paying For Rental Car Gas: Not Such A Great Deal, Actually

The next time you rent a vehicle, you might have an exciting new option: to pre-purchase a set of gas for your return, freeing you from both the high markup on gas near the airport and the even higher markup on gas that rental places normally charge when you don’t return the tank full. Charles counsels you to avoid this special deal, at least in New York State, since the taxes involved make this deal much, much less appealing.

He writes:

So this past weekend I rented a car from the Enterprise at [redacted] Airport, and I was given a new (to me) option at the rental counter when I went to pick up the car. I could “prepay” for gas to avoid having to return with a full tank, at the bargain price of $2.67/gallon. So, for example, if I prepay for 3/4 of a tank, I can show up with the tank 1/4 full. This seemed to be a decent option, since gas in the area is typically $.20 higher than $2.67, and often even further inflated at stations near the airport and rental agencies. It’s also well below the $4.50/gallon they charge if you don’t pre-pay and then show up without a full tank. I figured they made their money on people mis-estimating their usage, and returning with more gas in the tank then necessary.

When I returned the car, I had estimated perfectly, pulling up to the lot with exactly 1/4 tank, and feeling happy to have prepaid for gas at a bargain price. But when I looked at my receipt, I was dismayed to see that my “prepaid gas” was subject not only to the 14.28% “airport access” fee, which put it squarely back into the area average @ $3.05/gallon, but also to the seemingly ludicrously high rental car tax rate of 19.875%, which increased my “bargain” $2.67/ gallon gas to the exhorbitant rate of $3.66/gallon. Even though Enterprise didn’t pocket that last $.61/gallon, I still feel cheated. Don’t fall for this next time you rent at an airport.

Various governments pocketed that 61 cents. You have every right to feel cheated.