Heads up on rental-car fees

May 31, 2011 9:12:22 PM PDT
It's not just airlines that are tacking on extra fees these days. Car-rental companies are, too. Extras and taxes can actually push the rental rate up 30 to 40 percent, according to car-rental research firm Abrams Consulting. But Consumer Reports ShopSmart can help you avoid nasty surprises.

It turns out paying for a rental car is just the start. A child safety seat costs extra. So does satellite radio, emergency roadside assistance, and even the convenience of using E-ZPass to pay tolls.

Car-rental companies don't make it easy to find the charges on their websites. But they certainly do a great job of loading on the fees when you return the car.

For instance, add a driver and that could be another $13 to $30 a day. If the second driver is under 25, the fee can jump to more than $100 a day! Lose the key, and that can cost you $375.

And be especially careful about picking up the car in one place and dropping it off in another. The lowest drop-off charge Consumer Reports ShopSmart found was $50. But believe it or not, in some cases Avis charges as much as $1,000 to drop off the car at another location.

And at Avis if you return a car even 30 minutes late, you'll be charged for almost a full day.

With any car rental, be sure to fill up before you drop off to avoid paying extra-high prices for gas. Then you'll avoid another possible fee for refueling. At Budget it's $14.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart says before you leave home, be sure to check your auto-insurance policy and credit-card protection, so you'll know whether you need to sign up for car-rental insurance. And it's always a good idea to pay with a credit card. That way you can dispute inaccurate charges.

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