Should You Prepay For Gas With Your Rental Car?

You know the questions you’ll going to be asked at the counter when renting a car. Do you want to upgrade to a larger/nicer/fancier car? Do you want to get the insurance coverage? Do you want the navigation system? Do you want to opt in to their toll program? Lastly, you’ll get the pitch to prepay for the gas. It sounds like a good idea. The price they’re showing is pretty decent and it’s much lower than the amount they’ll charge you if you don’t bring it back full. Should you go for it????

NO! Don’t do it. This is rarely a good deal.

I was reminded of this last weekend when I was renting a car in Austin, Texas. The car rental agent from Alamo asked if I wanted to get the prepaid fuel option – all I had to do was bring the car back empty. I told him no thanks, I’ve rented cars in Austin before and I know there are gas stations all around the airport. He said Alamo’s gas prices were cheaper and sometimes the wait at the other stations can be 20 minutes. I give him credit, his salesmanship was better than most. I came back with the response that I’m unable to schedule my driving to make sure that I return the car with no fuel remaining. He then admitted you have to return the car with 1/8 of a tank or less just to break even.

refuel-2157211_1920

It’s not difficult to do the math. When you prepay for the fuel, you’re buying a full tank from the car rental company. Any gas left in the tank when you return the car is your loss.

Let’s assume your rental car has an average size fuel tank, 15 gallons.
The car rental company is offering you to prepay for the gas for $2.09 a gallon.
The gas station right outside the airport (usually not the cheapest) costs $2.16 a gallon.

The cost to prepay would be $31.35
The cost to pay yourself for a entire tank would be $32.40

That’s a difference of $1.05

You’d have to bring the car back with less than 1/2 a gallon of gas left to break even.

So if the math doesn’t work out, is there ever a time when you should prepay for the gas? I can think of two reasons:

  • If you are returning the car very early or very late and it’s possible the gas stations in the area won’t be open.
  • You’re not familiar with the area and don’t want to worry about getting gas when returning the car.

Either way, just go in knowing you’ll be paying the car rental company with any fuel left in the car when it’s returned simply for the convenience, not the cost.

So how can you avoid these situations? I fill up our rental car the day before we’re going home when I see a good price for gas. This way I’m already on full and only would need to put in whatever gas I use on that last day driving around and to the airport. When I get directions to the airport, I look for gas stations on my route and will try to be within 2-3 miles of the airport so I don’t use too much gas after filling up. If you have an app on your phone that tells you the price of gas at those stations, like Google Maps or Waze, it’s even better as then you can avoid places that try to rip you off.

Google Maps Gas station
Google Maps listing of gas stations by Orlando Airport

The closest gas station to Orlando Airport (the first one on the list above) has exceedingly high prices, hoping to catch tourists off guard and they won’t notice the price until it’s too late. This was the sign the city forced them to put up, clearly showing the price, after literally years of not even showing their prices (and getting thousands upon thousands of dollars in fines).

Orlando Airport Gas Price

When I make that last fill up, I always get a receipt in case the rental car agent asks for it. I’ve never had this happen to me but I’ve heard of instances where agents did just that.

You can avoid all of these problems if you rent from Silvercar. Their policy is if you don’t bring the car back with a full tank, they’ll fill it up and charge you the normal price for the gas. No penalty. No up charge. I took advantage of this when we rented from them in Manhattan. I wasn’t about to go around looking for a station and they just added the fuel charge to my bill. Just another reason we’re looking forward to them coming to Orlando Airport.

Final Thoughts

I rarely think buying the full tank of gas from the rental car company is a good deal because it’s easy enough to plan to fill up your car before returning it. If you make sure to top off the tank the day before, even if you’re rushing to get to the airport you’ll only have to pay the really high price for a few gallons instead of returning you car with a 1/2 tank of gas that you paid for.

Do you prepay for your rental car fuel? Is there a reason I didn’t think of that makes it a good deal? Let me know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Should You Prepay For Gas With Your Rental Car?”

  1. I agree with you 100%. I never get gas option and always fill up the night before I am returning to the airport. I travel to Orlando 2 or 3 times a year, so while I am going back and forth to the parks I am always scoping out the gas stations near my hotel for the cheapest prices. I also look for where the taxis are filling up, usually a sure sign of the cheapest gas in the area. Off topic, I was wondering if you could give my a link to your Sedona, AZ trip. I’ll be heading there in September and would like to see your views and the things you did when you were there. Thanks and keep of the good work, I enjoy reading your thoughts and views.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. We’re not headed to Sedona until October so not much help for your trip. We’ve been there once before. What were you planning on doing while there?

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      1. We will only be there for 2 nights, so we will do a Pink Jeep tour, hit Bell Rock, try to do Devil’s Bridge and my wife wants to visit one the Vortex sites. I just wanted to know what you guys did on your last trip or your opinion on anything that you think we should not miss while there. For what it’s worth, I have been playing the points game for about 3 years now. So we are flying to Phoenix from Philadelphia free round trip and my stay in Sedona for the 2 nights which are also free, at a Hyatt. We will then head to Williams, AZ, and take the Grand Canyon Train to the Grand Canyon and spend a night.

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