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Rental Cars Overcharging: How To Counter Toll Trolls

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Are rental cars going to play a part in your cross country meanderings this summer?

Indeed, having your own transportation beats building a holiday itinerary around bus schedules and taxi cabs. However, because of e-toll fees, many renters are coming to realize that they end up building more of their budget around their four-wheeled freedom than they recall reading in the fine print.

While e-tolls conveniently decrease the sea of stop-and-go brake lights, an issue has arisen for rental drivers finding themselves in a “No Cash Lane” conundrum. As e-tolls operate based on scanning license plates to charge a credit card directly, car owners use transponders to carry out the exchange. This works out well for car owners, but many rental cars don’t have an individual owner or the capacity for e-toll scanning – a fact renters learn too late. A conceivable solution might be to just bite the bullet and wait it out in the cash lane.

And that would be great advice – if cash toll lanes weren’t rapidly decreasing everywhere in the world.

Averil Rothrock, a Seattle attorney found this out the hard way in 2011 with her Fox Rent A Car rental. During a Denver trip, she incurred a $106 charge on her credit card for the two $3 tolls she was meant to pay and the two $50 “service fees” for not being able to pay them in an ill equipped rental car. She filed a lawsuit against Fox and Violation Management Services (the latter of which earned an “F” by the Better Business Bureau).

As Violation Management Services is an example of a third party rental agencies use to outsource fee collection (translation: “not have to deal with customer service transaction themselves”), Rothrock argued that Fox and Violation Services “conspired to turn Fox customers’ tolls into an illegal profit center for themselves.” They simply provided no way for customers to cross tolls without receiving exorbitant fees.

Averil’s in good company, too.


*The tweet intended for this space was omitted last minute due to an array of excessive (albeit very creative) expletives against Hertz*

Ah, yes. Chatting with the company before traveling is part of a good six point prevention plan.

In fact, numerous drivers who’ve come up with surprise service charges, seem to agree that these precautions are fantastic for avoiding fees:

1. Review rental agreement beforehand – including the fine print!

If you don’t get what something means, make an agent explain it you. It’s his job and your money. Ask how the e-toll collection is activated if you’ve rented a car that has e-toll collection.

2. Check online maps for e-toll roads – will your journey include cashless toll lanes? You might be able to circumvent those routes or extra fees via brief online searches, the tolling authority’s website, or the rental car’s toll-free number. Just ask how they tolls are collected where you’re headed.

3. Do it yourself – If you prepay for the services yourself, you can avoid paying fees later.

Some systems like SunPass sell e-toll passes at retail outlets, while others have one-time payment options. Senior Vice President Ken Philmus of Affiliated Computer Service says, “an EZ Pass account holder in New York can use his transponder in 13 other northeast states, from Maine to Illinois to Virginia—but the device won’t work on California’s FasTrak or Florida’s SunPass systems.”

But there are workarounds. In San Francisco, you can register your rental car’s plate online or by phone and pay a single one-way toll for $7 using your credit card.

4. Beat ‘em to the punch – pay before you’re charged!

If you forgot fee precautions, there’s no point in compounding unwarranted shame with wasted cash. In California, Transportation Corridor Agencies spokesperson Lisa Telles tells that “paying within the 48-hour time frame halts the violation process.” Lisa is referring to a one time toll payment option at TheTollRoads.com, and adds, “All customers need to do is identify the location and toll, provide the license plate number and a credit card number to pay the toll.”

Just act quickly – before your info gets passed along to the rental agency.

5. Keep receipts – Any form of documentation that shows how, when, and where you made cash transactions will be relevant later.

If there’s a charge dispute, it’s always nice to have proof in black and white for later – in case you need something to shove in their faces and say, “See?!”

6. Keep your eyes peeled – for the first couple of months following your trip, look out for any charges trying to sneak their way in.

If you know you paid the price, get that documentation from tip 5 ready, along with two boxing gloves – one for the credit card company, and one for the rental company.

But it’s always a good idea to try approaching disputes kindly first. We’re more likely to be heard and helped if we don’t sound psychotic. Plus, the customer service reps aren’t the bad guy. They just work for the bad guy – who’s probably outsourcing to a worse guy.

Hope this compilation helps. Happy and safe travels!

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Rental Cars Overcharging: How To Counter Toll Trolls
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