May 4, 2011 at 6:45 PM ET
Think $4 a gallon for gas is pricey? Apparently, you haven't rented a car lately.
National car rental chains are charging as much as $9.29 a gallon to customers who don't return their vehicle with a full tank of gas, a recent USA Today survey found.
The survey found that five of the eight major companies — Avis, Budget, Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty — charge customers at least $7.99 per gallon. Prices at 13 major U.S. airports are listed here.
Hertz, the most expensive, charges as much as $9.29 a gallon.
"We expect that our customers will fill their car with gas upon returning the vehicle," said Paula Rivera, a spokeswoman for Hertz. "The $9.29 a gallon price is offered as a convenience for those customers who choose not to prepay or refuel on their own."
Enterprise, Alamo and National — owned by Enterprise Holdings — charge the least. More than half of their locations charge less than $6 per gallon. The company proudly announced in 2009 that it had lowered its refueling charges to a less outrageous level.
"We remain committed to charging a reasonable fee to cover refueling costs," said Matthew Darrah, Enterprise Holdings' senior vice president of North American operations. "We urge the rest of the industry to do the same."
(Good job, but you're still charging $2 a gallon more than the nearest gas station.)
Many of the companies charge less than local gas stations when you prepay for a tank of gas, but that is only a bargain if you return the vehicle nearly empty. Renters who return cars with large quantities of fuel are not credited for it.
The best value, of course, is to fill up the tank on your own before returning the car. If you're looking for a cheap place to do this, a convenience store in Casper, Wyo., is selling regular for $3.36 a gallon, according to the Los Angeles Times. But avoid filling up in Hana on the island of Maui, where a gallon costs $6.03.