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Self fill up or pay rental co. price to fill up?

I have always filled up the gas tank just before turning the rental car in rather than paying the higher charge for the rental company to do it. One reason I do this is so that my charges should be all finalized when I turn the car in. And I like to save where I can so I can splurge elsewhere. We'll be traveling in Spain and France in April, May and June with a car for a few weeks here and there along the way but not the entire trip

Just curious if anyone has any thoughts on this; with the increasing gas prices, I'm a bit concerned about what the rental company will charge versus what I would pay to fill up myself.

Do the rental companies charge for a full tank regardless of the amount in the tank when the car is turned in?

Thanks for any insight and guidance!

Posted by
21724 posts

It will always be cheaper for you to fill it up than the rental company because they tend to charge a higher price for their gasoline and it will include a service fee. My experience is that they will charge for the amount of fuel needed to fill the tank. What I do --- when leaving the airport I try to notice the closest service station so I know what my options are when returning. And get a receipt. A couple of times I have been asked to show a receipt that I filled close to the airport.

Posted by
5552 posts

The rental company charge a higher rate per litre, but they wouldn’t charge you for a full tank if it was 75% full. I always fill up to the level of the automatic cut off, but they may squeeze as much as possible in, thereby costing you more.

I always fill up before returning the car.

Posted by
3831 posts

Yes, definitely fill up before handing the car and keep the receipt. It is fairly standard in smaller car rental offices in France to request the gas receipt. You don't have to fill up right next to the car rental location, but somewhere within 20 miles is best

Posted by
5262 posts

It will always be cheaper to fill up yourself before turning the car in. I agree with the advice to look for a station when you start the rental, assuming that you're bringing it back to the same place. Otherwise look for one ahead of time on Google Maps or any GPS in the car. The company will charge a lot more for the gas if they fill up, but I doubt that they'd charge for more than they actually put into the tank. I have seen some contracts that invite you to choose a more expensive option, like prepaying for a full tank, but those are traps for the unwary (among many in this business).

Posted by
198 posts

Thanks for the replies and especially the reminder to keep the receipt. I recall being asked for that once in the past but it’s been a while.

Posted by
157 posts

Always: When picking up the car, take a picture of instrument panel showing mileage and fuel. When dropping off the car take another picture. Or at least within a few miles of drop-off.

Filling the tank yourself -- IF the unforeseen happens, and, you are running late, things can get stressful. I had one trip in Orlando having to go along a toll road and backtracking to get to a station close by the Airport. Sometimes its best to keep tank nearly full, then if you don't have time to stop you only get charged a few gallons.

At times I've done the pre-pay option. How much are you willing to pay for a stress free trip to the Airport? Especially in a strange city where you can easily underestimate transit times?

Note: if you ever rent a U-Haul or similar in the States ... same rules apply.

Posted by
6872 posts

The fuel issue has been addressed.

But I warn you that Spain and France are both very large countries, and you'll want to return your rental car in the same country to avoid huge return charges. We were surprised to find Barcelona to Paris to be a 650 mile trip. And from Granada in the middle of Spain to Barcelona was a full hour's flight on Vueling--a budget airline.

Have you considered flying from major city to major city and then renting a car to go out into the countryside doing day trips? Spain also has good train connections between the major cities.

Posted by
198 posts

Great idea to take a pic of instrument panel! I always take exterior pics as well. We typically have personnel in the states eyeball everything about the car before we drive off but that has not been the case for us when we have rented previously in Spain and France.

We have a car in Spain for 2 weeks then return it to Madrid airport (where we got it); we then fly to Paris and later take trains to other locations. We have another rental for the Provence region so no worries with returning a car in a different country nor extra charges for different drop off location. I hate that gas prices are so high but it is what it is. We use rentals as little as possible but for our locations and choice of activities, it will be necessary for part of our trip.

Posted by
5865 posts

Depending on the rental agency, some do offer a pre-paid fuel option. This basically is a hedge on forgetting to fill up before return and incurring fuel costs plus a service charge. You can choose to pay for a full or half tank, for the half tank for example, as long as the gauge is between 1/2 and full., no charges.

Not recommending you do this, just be aware, so you know what they are offering. The fuel cost they use for this program is basically market cost...so not the inflated per gallon cost that includes service, but you are gambling that you can coast in right at 1/2 tank or on empty to make it pay. Just easier to fill up before you return...unless you are one who constantly forgets or is always running late for your flight.

Posted by
3661 posts

Actually the assumption people are making about the agency adding fuel later isn't necessarily true.

Background: I travel enough for work that I know there are defective pumps that quit before full. Once in Sacramento the pump quit at 7/8 full (I wasn't driving or I would have checked if not full since I know it happens, but my credit card paid the rental/fuel). In this and other similar cases, what they do is ballpark and round up what they think will make it full and put it right on the invoice at return.

It's a nice idea that they will take the time to dutifully add fuel later and tack it on. What is more likely is they round up to a hefty charge at return then re-rent the car not full and hope the next customer just fills it up carelessly upon return, or doesn't even notice that it isn't full at rental. Then the rental car company makes out twice.

My last August rental (Enterprise, Queens NY) rented me at 5/8 full and told me to return at the same level. The only way to do this is leave the engine running during filling and fill in 5 second spurts with waits for the gauge to catch up. I overshot 5/8 but refused to return it full.

Posted by
198 posts

Thanks for the info, Tom.

The last rental we picked up in the states, ABQ airport, was only about 7/8 full. Annoying. I should have taken a pic and then returned the car with the same amount!

Posted by
21724 posts

I am amazed sometimes how much discussion we can have over savings $10 or less.

Posted by
198 posts

RS posters and readers like to enlighten others regardless of the $$$$.

I suspect there may be more than $10 at stake with my upcoming rentals in Spain and France. And I wasn't as concerned about the $$$ as I was about the practices of the rental agencies.

I've had two very challenging situations in the last year that took months to resolve with the company charging my card and granting the appropriate refund. One of these was for $1200 and the other was $150. Many calls and emails later (and one registered letter), I got the money I was due. Trying to be proactive now...

Posted by
3661 posts

The last rental we picked up in the states, ABQ airport, was only about 7/8 full.

I rent a lot there and it is common, with the limited driving most renters there do, for people to not gas up ever and assume it stays close enough to F to pass inspection. There are also no pumps within miles of the airport making it more tempting to skip gassing up if running late. Most of the time there I am asked to show a receipt of getting fuel just before returning it.

Posted by
157 posts

know before you go

I'll take issue with Tom, that the rental company will try to scam you.

The reason the cost to refill your tank is so high .. they do not want to do it. Only the biggest airport would have a pump handy right there at the airport for rental agencies to use. There is a cost to turning around rental cars and getting them ready for the next customer. Paying somebody $15 Hour to drive a car to a Gas Station just isn't in the economics.

I have rented cars and trucks where they tell you the fuel gauge reading at rental. It is MY RESPONSIBILITY to check the fuel gauge to verify. I wouldn't pay for a gallon jug of milk that wasn't full. I won't pay for a tank that wasn't full either.

But if its priced for 3/4 full ... all is well.