Renting a car? Cashless tolls may carry a steep cost. Here’s how to avoid expensive surprises.

Rental cars offer freedom and flexibility that public transportation doesn’t always provide when on vacation. When things go right, renting a car can be enjoyable but these companies are also notorious for tacking on fees and giving high-pressure sales pitches for upcharges. If we can give any advice, it’s to read the fine print ahead of time. However, one issue that is becoming increasingly a cash cow for these companies is cashless toll lanes, as we describe below.

The issue. If you think rental car companies will be fair and reasonable when it comes to cashless toll plazas, think again. Reality is, toll roads are becoming a way of life and increasingly automated. In your own car, zooming through while a camera snaps a picture of your license plate is convenient. With a rental car, it can be a real headache.

Fees to process cashless tolls vary greatly by state and company. Some are more reasonable than others, though no rental car company will process a toll without some fee. Enterprise charges $3.95 per day, only on days that a toll is incurred, capped at $19.75 for the whole rental plus the actual toll cost. On the other end is a company such as Dollar, charging up to $15 per toll (not per day, but per toll plaza!). One individual rented a car in Florida for six days and incurred $9.02 in actual tolls. The car company charged $98.93 for this, keeping $89.91 for “administration fees”. Why? Because it says they can in the fine print.

What can you do? It’s important to weigh the cost of the actual rental with the fees you might incur. Some companies may have a higher daily rate and lower fees, OR a lower daily rate and higher fees. Depending on your vacation plans and route, one may make more sense than another. For example, in Florida where toll roads are the name of the game, knowing the rental car companies’ “admin fees” for toll processing is critical to making a wise choice. If you have questions about a company’s fees, call them and ask. It may be faster than trying to read it yourself.

For toll roads, plan your route ahead of time. Maybe it’s possible to get to your destination without tolls in about the same amount of time, or perhaps you’re lucky and the toll road still accepts cash. If a cashless toll is inevitable, let your rental company know when you pick up the car. Many provide the alternative of opting into a prepaid toll program, lowering the administration fees. If you’re really determined to avoid cashless toll fees, you can also purchase a transponder from a local grocery store before getting on the toll road, or bring your own if you have one specific to that road.

When it comes to cashless toll plazas and renting a car, there’s no great solution. But being aware and taking steps to eliminate these excessive charges should help make your rental experience more enjoyable with fewer surprises.

About Denise

My goal is to simplify travel-planning through an equal exchange process where I acquire your ideas and expectations for your trip relieving you of the worry, hassle, stress and time that accompanies Do-It-Yourself planning.

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