Dropping Off Your Rental Car Doesn’t Mean You’re Off the Hook

What's Hot

23 Upgrades Under $50 to Make Your House Look AwesomeAround The House

Trump Worth $10 Billion Less Than If He’d Simply Invested in Index FundsBusiness

Do This or Your iPhone Bill May SkyrocketSave

11 Places in the World Where You Can Afford to Retire in StyleMore

19 Moves That Will Help You Retire Early and in StyleFamily

What You Need to Know for 2017 Obamacare EnrollmentFamily

8 Things Rich People Buy That Make Them Look DumbAround The House

50 Ways to Make a Fast $50 (or Lots More)Grow

32 of the Highest-Paid American SpeakersMake

The 35 Two-Year Colleges That Produce the Highest EarnersCollege

5 DIY Ways to Make Your Car Smell GreatCars

Amazon Prime No Longer Pledges Free 2-Day Shipping on All ItemsMore

More Caffeine Means Less Dementia for WomenFamily

7 Household Hacks That Save You CashAround The House

5 Reasons a Roth IRA Should Be Part of Your Retirement PlanGrow

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

Beware These 10 Retail Sales Tricks That Get You to Spend MoreMore

9 Tips to Ensure You’ll Have Enough to RetireFamily

Customers have been surprised by huge bills from car rental companies. Here's why this is happening.

Budget Rent a Car recently quoted Roy Bonney a $96 rate for a one-day rental from Norfolk, Va., to Washington, D.C. But it sent him a bill for $3,374.

The reason? A tire on Bonney’s car went flat only a few hours before his flight back home to Alaska, while he was parked at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, in the District. There was no spare, so he had to call Budget Roadside Assistance for help. Budget promised to send another car and a tow truck to pick up the car with the flat, but it gave an estimated arrival time of more than two hours — not soon enough to catch his flight.

“I asked if I could leave the car for Budget to pick up, since they were sending a tow truck anyway, and I’d make other arrangements to get to the airport,” he said. “A Budget employee agreed.”

Bonney assumed that the phone conversation was an official transfer of the vehicle back to Budget. It wasn’t. The tow truck couldn’t access Bonney’s vehicle because it wasn’t allowed on base. So Budget treated the rental as if he’d never returned it, broadsiding him with a $3,278 bill.

Car rental company representatives say it’s simple: Unless the vehicle is in their possession, it’s your responsibility. The rental contract, which you sign when you pick up the car, is clear on that point. And in an industry that often has razor-thin margins, car rental companies claim they can’t afford to look the other way if a car is damaged on the parking lot after hours or stuck on a military base.

You’re on the hook

Someone must pay.

“Consumers should do more to protect themselves,” says Sharon Faulkner, executive director of the American Car Rental Association, a trade group.

Of course, most rentals don’t end as dramatically as Bonney’s. If a car isn’t returned in person, it normally sits on the lot without incident. But there are exceptions. Faulkner recently heard from a car rental customer who returned her vehicle at 3 a.m., even though the location didn’t accept after-hour returns. It took the company five days to find the car, and it billed her for every minute of it.

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,662 more deals!