Car Rental Scam – Toll Policies
Car rental companies have long had a reputation of “scamming” consumers. Just look at Yelp or another review site to read the stories of ripoffs. Of course some companies are seemingly better than others and the bigger brands tend to be more reliable than smaller budget agencies.
Almost all of the complaints I see come because of high pressure sales and/or un-disclosed fees. With some of the budget agencies with off-site locations, there are often complaints of long lines, slow service and unfriendly agents. I would say in most cases the complaints stem from a consumer not understanding what they are getting into. In other words, you get what you pay for.
Renting From A Budget Agency
I generally rent from the cheapest agency, but read a few reviews if it is an unknown company. This week I am in Florida for Family Travel for Real Life and decided to fly into Miami because of a cheap fare. I’ll be flying back from Orlando, so I wanted to find a cheap one-way car rental and did indeed find one. Fox was less than half of anyone else at $119 including all taxes/fees for a one week rental.
While Fox is definitely a company with mixed reviews, I have rented from them in Denver, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and haven’t had any issues other than a longer than normal wait when picking up the car. For half price, I am willing to deal with a wait, but I discovered another scam going on. In fact, I re-discovered it, because I actually discovered this same thing with Fox in Denver, but was able to avoid it more easily.
The Toll Scam
Florida is a state full of tolls and Fox knows this. In fact, in many/most areas tolls are automatic and there are no cash lanes. This means that you are stuck using the rental car’s built in transponder. Like other companies (such as Hertz), Fox uses a service called PlatePass. This is a service you purchase for $9 per day. One unique and potentially nice thing is that your tolls are included in that fee.
So what happens if you decide not to pay an extra $9 per day? They charge you $15 per use plus the toll. (Capped at $90 total) Given there are tolls in and around Miami and Orlando, I could easily see someone maxing this fee out on even a short rental. Of course I did end up paying the extra $9 per day to cover my tolls. Yes I do think this $15 fee is nothing short of extortion, but Fox is not alone with this policy.
I found a reference guide on TripAdvisor discussing the toll policies of rental car companies in Florida. Many charge a few dollars per day plus the toll only when it is used, but a couple have the same policy as Fox. For example Dollar, Thrifty and Sunrise all charge the same terrible $15 per use fee, while on the flip side, Family Auto Rental only charges $1 per rental plus the actual tolls.
What to Do
This fee is obviously in place because it makes the rental car companies a lot of money. In fact, while I was waiting for my rental from Fox, the guy in front of me spent 10 minutes asking questions about how the tolls worked and I still don’t think he “got it”. I sure hope he ponied up the $9 per day or he’ll have a huge surprise coming. While it is pretty much impossible to avoid tolls in Florida, there are some ways to save.
How to Avoid the Toll Scam
When you are traveling to states with tolls, it is always important to know the policy of the company you are renting with. I had forgotten how high Fox’s fees were, but knew that they did charge and that it would be an additional cost. In my case the rental cost is still far cheaper than other companies even with the $9 per day, so I am doing alright.
If you travel to Florida or another area with a lot of tolls then consider buying a transponder of your own. Many systems are inter-operable, so one transponder may work in multiple areas and having one will most likely save you money over time.
Cashless tolls are the wave of the future and for the time being there is really no way to avoid these rental car toll “schemes”. Some companies are better than others and as long as you factor in their toll policy into your overall cost comparison, then you should be alright. In other words, informed conumers come out on top. Still, $15 per toll is a scam in my opinion, but a perfectly legal one it seems.
What do you think? Are tolls the biggest rental car scam or is it something else? Let us know in the comments!