Hidden fees cause car rental prices to jump

March 13, 2012 4:26:38 PM PDT
Have you ever shopped for a rental car and thought you found a great deal, only to find when you checked out that initial rate became a lot higher?

The airlines now have to disclose the "real" price of tickets up front, so how come car rental companies don't?

Frequent car renter Barry Maher says comparison shopping for the cheapest rental deal online can be frustrating.

He said, "The prices are very often quite deceiving and it can be very difficult."

That's because many major car rental websites work like this. We checked the cost of a small SUV, and by looking at the price, it seems like you could rent these wheels for about $47 a day. But when you go to check out, and all the fees are added, that price jumps to more than $73.

A compact car, on another car rental website, is listed for a low price of about $14 for a day. But when you go to reserve it, the real price appears and jumps to more than $26, nearly doubling the price of the advertised price of car.

"I got to admit my blood boils," Maher said. "It gets me upset."

The American Car Rental Association says those extra fees upset them too.

Bob Barton with the American Car Rental Association explained, "This is one of the challenges we face as an industry. Our consumers experience sticker shock."

Barton says many of the fees are out of the company's control. Depending where you rent a car, the state, county or local community may be trying to make extra cash with car renters' fees to help pay for things like sports stadiums, convention centers, road construction projects and budget shortfalls. The association says across the country more than 100 car rental excise taxes have been passed, costing renters more than $7.5 billion.

"We have no control over this," Barton said.

Consumer advocates say car rental companies may have no control over cities or states driving up fees, but they do have control over disclosing the real price of the car up front.

Edgar Dworsky with Consumerworld.org said, "Car rental companies tell you one price, get you all excited about it and then wind up charging you significantly more."

How can it happen? We found, unlike airlines, rental car companies aren't required to disclose extra fees up front. And we found only one major US car rental company, Enterprise, is showing you the fees as you comparison shop.

The Car Rental Trade Association says so many communities have different surcharges, it's tough to break down, and sometimes the fee is based on the value of the rental car.

"We disclose what we know as best as we can," Barton promised.

Maher says not knowing what extras he'll have to pay for up front drive him crazy, and he has a message for car rental companies.

He asked, "Isn't it much better customer service to let them know exactly what that bottom line is on that car?"

The Car Rental Association says fees are now charged in 43 states and the District of Columbia. There's a bill pending right now in Congress that would prohibit additional states or local governments from passing any new excise taxes on car rentals.