4 car rental scams you should be aware of

Travel columnist Christopher Elliott is always full of great tips and useful information. We covered his Lessons Learned from Summer 2007 in September as well as his thoughts on airport security. And now I have some more information from him: four new scams from car rental companies.

The first, according to Elliott, involves companies strictly enforcing rules that they were perhaps less strict about in the past. If you return your car early, for example, you might get slapped with a 10-dollar “early return fee.” Elliott concedes that the only way to beat this game is to know the rules and conditions of your rental agreement — it’s time to read the small print.

In the second scam, the rental company charges you a fee if you return the car with the gas gauge needle at less than 100% full. Even if it’s 98% full, you might be fined. Elliott reports stories of returns where customers were charged even if the tank was at 100%. Stop at the gas station immediately before returning the car, and keep all your receipts.

Thirdly, car rental companies have been caught charging customers for damaged vehicles, sometimes billing different customers for the same dent or ding. Elliott recommends taking photos of the car when you pick it up and when you return it, in case you need to prove that specific damage did or did not exist. If you notice any preexisting damage, make sure it’s noted on the rental form.

Finally, Elliott advises to be alert for new and clever fees. Rental companies are finding ways to cover the car’s registration (“vehicle license recoupment fee”) and the removal of old tires (“tire disposal fee”). Check your rate quote and make sure the fee is disclosed — if it’s not, you should argue to have it removed from your bill.

Use your common sense, read your agreement, and don’t be afraid to question a charge. It’s still possible to get a good deal on a car rental — you just need to be as creative as the rental companies!