Home Rental Cars Beware of This Car Rental Nightmare

Beware of This Car Rental Nightmare

by joeheg

I’ve been renting cars for over 20 years. I’ve seen many of the tricks, so I know how to avoid many of them. I sign up for the car rental programs so I don’t have to go through the pitch for insurance coverage. I always decline the prepaid fuel purchase because that’s for suckers. However, with all my knowledge, I was almost caught in a trap when returning a car to the airport.  How’d they get me? Read on…


My car was in the shop and wouldn’t be done by the weekend. The repair shop didn’t have any loaners but luckily I was able to find a really cheap rental from the airport for the weekend by using Autoslash. Not to slander any company, but I think the name rhymed with Mavis.

I rented my car from the airport kiosk. I didn’t have to speak to anyone; I just had to enter my reservation and was directed to the parking lot to get my car. I picked a car and proceeded to leave the lot. I noticed the car only had 1/2 a tank of gas when I left but didn’t think anything of it. I’ve rented cars from local spots before that have said: “You have 1/2 a tank now, just return it with 1/2 a tank.” Besides, I was only taking the car for a short weekend rental, so I figured no problem.

So I used the car for a couple of days and went to return it when I was done. The check-in agent printed my receipt with a charge for $40 of fuel. I asked why and she told me that the car only had 1/2 a tank so I’d have to pay for the rest of the fuel at $4.50 a gallon. WHAT?!?!?!?! No, I only rented the car with 1/2 a tank.

She assured me that was impossible as all cars go out with a full tank. If I wanted to dispute this, I’d have to go inside the airport and complain at the counter. UGH! Luckily, I was not leaving for a flight. If I was, there was no way I could have waited in line to straighten this out.


The airport counter line. The one thing I try to avoid only slightly more than the plague.

After waiting behind people with every type of rental problem imaginable, I got to speak to an agent. I calmly explained that when I rented my car it only had 1/2 of a tank of gas. I returned it with the same amount of gas but the agent in the garage charged me for the difference.

I was again told all their cars leave with a full tank. If my car wasn’t full, I should’ve told them when leaving. I replied that I have rented cars with less than a full tank before and was only responsible for bringing the car back with the amount of fuel I received it with.

I asked to speak with the shift manager at this point since my discussion was getting me nowhere. Obviously, he thought I didn’t want to pay for the fuel. End of story.

The manager showed up and I explained my situation. He again told me that they fill up all the cars before renting them. I said that they must have missed one. I then tried to use the only thing I had left on my side, MATH!

I asked how many miles did I drive the car? “50 miles,” he replied.

How large is the fuel tank? “14 gallons,”

I said, “So 1/2 a tank would be 7 gallons of gas then?” He nodded in agreement.

I then asked, “What’s the average fuel mileage of this car?”

He said he didn’t know, but probably around 20 MPG.

“So 7 gallons at 20 MPG would be how much driving?” I asked.

“140 miles,” he replied.

“And how far did I drive the car?”

“50 miles.”

So if I received the car with a full tank of gas and drove 50 miles, how does it only have 1/2 a tank left?

At this point he seemed to agree that it was more likely I didn’t get the car with a full tank of gas instead of thinking I siphoned the gas from the tank or sat idling the car for hours on end. He adjusted my rental agreement and removed the $40 charge for the fuel. I did enjoy where the manager had to explain to the rental agent why it was impossible for me to have used more fuel when I only drove 50 miles.

Final Thoughts

So what’s the moral of the story?

  1. If I ever rent a car and it has less than a full tank, I make sure to have that in writing somewhere before I leave.
  2. Be calm but forceful if you’re right. Don’t get angry. You may eventually be able to convince a manager that you’re correct.
  3. MATH RULES!!!!!!!

Have you ever had a situation like this? How did it turn out? Let us know!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Tri January 18, 2020 - 1:24 pm

Nice. Good on you. I would have gone crazy.

Steven January 18, 2020 - 2:06 pm

I’ve encountered this before so here’s my MO: I downloaded an app that time/date/location stamps photos as it takes them. I take a picture of the dash and make sure to get the gas gauge and odometer in the pic. I then reach out to the respective company via twitter DM shortly after I begin my rental to ensure the correct level was recorded. If that doesn’t work I’ve done it retroactively after a rental via twitter. I never wait in line.

ktc January 18, 2020 - 2:07 pm

this is a good lesson & good approach dealing with the issue.
i always take a pic of entire dash panel, including odometer and fuel level before driving off

Kelly January 18, 2020 - 2:46 pm

I had this happen once but I kept the receipt from the gas station that I had filled up at 5 minutes earlier. They waived the charge after seeing that receipt.

Ryan January 18, 2020 - 3:11 pm

This exact scam was pulled on me while traveling to Phoenix last year. Unfortunately I had a flight to catch, and didn’t receive my receipt electronically until I was already on the shuttle to the terminal. My complaints to them were never even acknowledged as they don’t answer the phone and don’t return message . I tried going through my credit card and disputing the charge, but I had no proof and ultimately had to pay for those fraudulent charges. Next time I will take a Pic of the dash , and double check with an employee before I drive away. They also pulled the bait and switch on the model I had reserved to begin with. Total dishonestly from the get go . Needless to say I will never do business with Hertz again even though I suspect it’s the local manager behind the whole thing and not the corporation as a whole.

Lara S. January 18, 2020 - 4:41 pm

Interesting. I have rented cars a ton and never had one with an approved less than full tank when I left. All the major companies have pre-printed warnings about full tanks etc so unless someone told ME in writing something different I would never assume 1/2 tank was correct. I’ve also had them not clean a car properly (mud inside etc) so obviously its ridiculous for them to say mistakes NEVER happen. Good job using math to solve this sticky problem!!

Steve January 18, 2020 - 5:59 pm

This is not a nightmare. relax

Kev January 22, 2020 - 3:16 pm

Before I leave the lot I take pix of the entire care and gas and odometer. When I return I take a pix of the gas and odometer with the fuel receipt also in the pix. I travel all over the world and any disputes have been cleared up in seconds with the manager and also been given several vouchers for free rentals when I have discussed my displeasure of being cheated.

wander January 26, 2020 - 1:15 am

Very smart, I wouldn’t have thought of that. If it had been me I would pay the $40, get on my plane and leave a horrible review everyplace I could with details.


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