Travel Scam Alert: Renting Cars With Little Or No Gas

empty tank of gas empty gas gauge car on eHave you ever stepped into your new rental car, started the engine and noticed that the gas gauge was nearly empty? In the U.S., most reputable rental car agencies will give you a car that has a full tank, or, at the worst, a half tank of gas. But overseas, all bets are off, and a common tactic of many agencies, even name brand ones, is to give you the car with only one-fourth of a tank or less.

It might seem like a benign inconvenience, but in most cases, it’s a calculated scam. Rental car agencies know that most travelers are going to fill their tank up with gas if they get it on or near empty. But trying to plan how much gas to put in so you can return it with only ¼ tank, for example, is inconvenient to say the least. Agencies know this, and hope that you’ll return it with significantly more gas.

I’ve encountered this sly gambit in Mexico and Greece and have heard it’s also common in a number of other countries. Just this week in Patmos, I rented a car at Avis and it was given to me on empty. The manager said, “Oh, don’t worry there’s a gas station right down the road.” So I said, “Great, here are the keys – go gas it up and bring it back to me.”

He balked but I insisted and he relented. Returning a rental car with extra gas is an expensive mistake in the U.S., but in a place like Patmos, where gas runs the equivalent of $9.50 a gallon, it’s financial suicide. The best game plan when renting a car outside the U.S. is to tell them you want the car to have a full tank of gas when you receive it. If it doesn’t have it, tell them to fill it up or you’ll rent from someone else.

(Image by Laffy4k on Flickr)