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 and I know how to avoid 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 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.

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. (Not the actual line I stood in at the airport.)

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 garage agent 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 had 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 enjoyed the manager explaining to the rental agent why it was impossible for me to use 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 leaving.
  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


Jeff May 9, 2021 - 1:26 pm

Moral #1 is obvious. Hard to believe someone who has rented cars for 20 years didn’t do that.

DaninMCI May 9, 2021 - 1:37 pm

Always, always, always use a time stamp camera app and take a photo of the dash (miles and gas levels) and all four corners of the car plus any damage specifically before you leave the lot with it. The time stamp will give the date, time, location. You can use this to dispute anything they tell you, which is a lie that they fill them up btw.

Christian May 9, 2021 - 2:11 pm

Do you do the video tour of a rental beforehand? I normally do and now I may include mileage and fuel. Thanks!

DanR May 9, 2021 - 8:25 pm

I’ve had this happen a number of times, but after the first time, I now always make sure I take a picture of the gas gauge before leaving the lot (if tank is less than full). My first choice is to make sure the fuel level is noted on the rental agreement but that’s not always possible. I rent from Mavis more often than the others and they have been worst offenders at trying to charge me for gas extras.


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