If you’ve ever rented a car, you’ll know to expect an itemised bill with various fees that you don’t ever remember opting into. These might include charges for insurance policy coverage, toll fees, the use of a GPS, taxes and of course, the price of petrol.
When renting through any major car service, usually, you’ll be given three options when it comes to paying for petrol: a prepaid fuel option (you pay for petrol in advance), a refuelling service fee (the rental car service refuels on your behalf and after you’ve returned your car), and the simple option to refuel yourself any time before returning your car. There are several reasons why you should never opt for the prepaid fuel option, and largely, why you should always choose to refuel on your own.
Despite the convenience of paying for petrol upfront—and not having to worry about visiting a petrol station before heading to the airport—a prepaid fuel option means you’re paying for a full tank of petrol, whether you use it in its entirety or not. If you’re renting for a short two-day trip or even driving a few hundred kilometres and leaving a little left in the tank, this means you’re paying for more petrol than you need. (Both Hertz and Avis note on their websites that no partial refunds are offered to those renters who use less than the full tank, which is likely the case for most other car rental agencies.)
Also, if you do choose the prepaid option—or allow the car service to refuel on your behalf after returning your car—you should know that there’s no actual guarantee that you’re purchasing the petrol from the car rental agency at a good rate. According to Enterprise’s website, if you choose the refuel service option, you’ll be responsible for paying the local “Enterprise rate,” which is typically above the local pump price. (Over the weekend, I rented an Avis car; while processing my vehicle return, an Avis rep actually suggested I leave the airport and find a petrol station because it would be significantly cheaper.)
Meanwhile, some car rental places like Hertz might try to persuade you into opting for a refuel service fee by stating on their websites that you’ll pay a rate that’s considered “competitive” with local pump prices, but what’s deemed “competitive” is ultimately at the discretion of the car rental agency. (Maybe it was competitive weeks ago and that price determined by the service is no longer a good rate.)
Where does this leave you? Well, the best course of action is to refuel yourself whenever possible. You’ll only pay for what you need and pay local pump prices. Of course, there are exceptions—maybe you’re in a rush to the airport, you’re at a location where there aren’t many petrol stations or you’re willing to take the risk of paying a “competitive market” rate, which may or may make a major difference for your wallet. But if you have a little time to spare, do an online search for a petrol station near you and make the trip—you might end up saving more than you think.