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Five reasons not to prepay for petrol in your rental car

It is more than likely that when you arrive at the car hire company they will try to sell you a prepaid petrol package that charges you at a cheaper than average rate for a tank of petrol.

It may sound like a good deal at first, but hold on because there is a catch.

In fact, there are five different reasons for not paying for this apparently discounted tank of petrol:

  1. To get your money’s worth you need to use up the entire tank; in other words you aren’t going to get any money back for any unused petrol. So your “discounted petrol” may actually turn out to be quite expensive if you end up using only half or even less of the tank.
  2. You may also get overcharged if the tank size is not registered properly in their files. When information about new cars like the tank’s volume initially gets inputted into the computer systems, the employees will often be too lazy to do this carefully and will often make educated guesses. Accordingly, it is not rare to get charged for more litres of petrol than you will actually be able to make use of (on account of having a smaller tank than what is registered in their system).
  3. The price they advertisement is often not what you will actually pay for any number of reasons. The advertised price might be out of date, or you may end up paying for gas at a pricier than average location like near the airport. It may even be the case that the rental agency has not included the taxes (sometimes as much as 50 cents per litre) which you will most definitely be charged for at the gas station. So it is not a rare experience for people to discover that the discounted rate that was advertised by the rental agency is not what they actually end up paying in the end.
  4. By using prepaid petrol you will be missing out on your own credit card rewards for fill-ups. Many cards offer more than generous bonuses for petrol fill-ups, like a 5% rebate, double, or even triple points. Paying for your petrol through the rental agency will prevent you from earning those bonuses.
  5. If you are taking a one-way trip, check to see if your drop-off location has cheaper petrol prices than your pick-up location. This would mean that if you prepay at the agency you are going to end up paying more for your petrol than you would if you fill the tank up yourself before dropping it off.

When it does make sense to prepay for petrol

If you think there is any change that you are going to be rushing to the airport without much time to spare, then prepaying for your petrol will save you money in the event that you don’t have time to stop to refill the tank before you drop the vehicle off.

The punitive rate rental agencies use to refill tanks in these cases can be quite ridiculous (as much as $10 per litre), and can cost you a pretty penny even if you are just short of a full tank (let alone completely dry!).

The sales agents at rental car places have incentives to sell you their pre-paid petrol deals (because the company makes a profit from them, obviously).

However whenever you can spare the extra 15 or 20 minutes to refill your tank by yourself, you will almost be sure to save some money, so it is best not to prepay unless you think it won’t be possible for you to stop to refill for some reason.

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