That statement in one form or another has been part of car rentals since the beginning. In the early days, it was a straight out principle issue. You used it, you replace it. At some point between then, and now, someone realized that “there’s a lot of money to be made with the gas tank on rentals.
For those who don’t know, lets explain your refuelling options in car rentals. When you rent a car, the car usually comes with a full tank of gas. In some circumstances, it comes with a partially full tank. In either case, the rental company will give you three options. Bring it back at the same level you got it at, (full) prepay for a full tank of gas (GSO) and bring it back empty, or bring it back empty and pay a refuelling charge (FSO) of a more expensive per gallon rate.
Fuel Service Option (FSO) is almost always the costliest option. Up and down the California Coast, most cities have FSO charges around $5.99 a gallon (and with recent prices, even higher). Around the country, its not much better. While your mileage may vary on the actual price per gallon, the FSO charges are almost always a good Dollar per gallon more expensive than the prevailing GSO (prepaid) rate or the rate of the local gas stations. It may seem that there is no really good reason to use the FSO, but there is. While most FSO users are people with more money than time or people who forgot to fill up the gas tank, there is one segment where it is cheaper to use this service than any other.
If you have a discount code, it may be because of your employer. Some employers, such as Microsoft and Government Contracts like Lockheed Martin have negotiated rates where the same dollar amount for fuel refueling is charged nationwide. Depending on the market, it may not be that bad. In one circumstance, a friend of mine who worked for one of the above mentioned companies went on a trip to Kona, Hawaii. On that trip, the fuel service option refueling price was less than the per gallon prices of all the local gas stations within 5 miles of the airport. In that case, its always best to just bring the car back as it is.
On the other end of the spectrum, the GSO option is a prepaid full tank of gas at a specific rate. In most car rental agencies, the GSO price is the average of the three closest gas stations. With this average, the multiply the tank capacity by that number and offer it as a flat rate to fill up the tank. But let the buyer beware. If the tank is not totally empty when you return it, you do not get a refund on the gas you use. You have effectively paid for a full tank of gas and if your not “empty” on return, you’ve just given the car rental agency free gas to use.
So to recap, when should you use FSO (fuel service option)?
- Only when you have no other choice
- Only when your company discount provides you a special rate for the gas refuel
- For those who have more money than time
And when should you Fuel up with the GSO option?
- Trips where you know you will have the car for over a week
- Trips where you know you will be driving more than 400 miles
- When you know your going to be strapped for time at return
A few final tips. When your leaving the rental area, take note of the closest gas station. If you have time, its often good to drive right in and gas up the car to ensure it was totally full when you got the car. Many of today’s tanks allow for as much as 50-100 miles before the needle drops below full. If the agency stated the tank is full, the nozzle should click practically immediately (3/10 of a gallon). But to be fare, you really need not worry if its less than 3/4 of a gallon unless 85 cents is enough for you to argue and waste 20 minutes. If you put more than that in, take the receipt to the counter when you return the car and get the amount of the gas deducted from the bill.
If you have a GPS unit, lock in the location of the car rental area and the closest gas station to save you time on return. Some of the best made plans are ruined by getting lost trying to get back to the airport. If traveling in a group, assign one person to look for the car rental return signs, the exit off ramp, nearest restaurant among other things that you may need on your way back to the airport.
Under no circumstances are you to buy the most expensive grade of gasoline! Let me repeat that in clearer terms. by the cheap gas. The car rental agencies all buy the cheapest gas the law will allow. Do not feel guilty topping of that car with a more expensive grade of gas. The car will break down and be sold from abuse long before the gas causes issues for the car.