Whine Wednesdays: Road Toll Charges With Car Rental Companies

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One of our readers contacted us to inquire about a topic that often confuses and angers customers of rental car companies: Road & Bridge Tolls!

Hertz LAXMany countries have a system in place that requires motorists to pay a toll charge to use certain roads and bridges. There are different ways of paying for those fees.

Our reader Laurel wrote

Can you do a Whine Wednesday about automatic toll collection and rental vehicles? Like the Golden Gate bridge in SF or the Inter-Coutny Connecter in Maryland, where you cannot pay tolls in cash, you must have either the local electronic toll collection system or pay by plate, but with a rental vehicle, you are charged exorbitant fees that can total $25 or more just for the convenience of paying required toll either way. Any suggestions to get around this?

Unfortunately there isn’t really any way to circumvent this problem. I have encountered the issue several times myself even though it’s been a while ago, I was driving from Los Angeles down to San Diego and couldn’t find a cash payment station. Since the rental car payment device was deactivated I ended up getting a ticket for it (couldn’t pay retroactively on the website because the plate number was listed as a repeat offender – no surprise here).

Rental Car companies such as Hertz and AVIS (just to name the big two) offer some options to pay these tolls via electronic device in the vehicle for which they charge a fee. As our reader noted this can be expensive.

Hertz’s system is called PlatePass (access Hertz website here)

WHAT IS PLATEPASS®?
It’s an electronic means for paying road tolls.  If you choose to use it, you’ll avoid delays at toll lanes and be on your way faster.  If you use PlatePass®, the credit card that you used for your rental will automatically be charged for tolls incurred at the Toll Authority’s cash toll rate or highest undiscounted toll rate, and applicable service fee, and you’ll be able to bypass long cash lanes.  PlatePass®, a division of American Traffic Solutions, administers this service for Hertz.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
If you use PlatePass®, you will be charged a $4.95 service fee for each day of the rental including any days on which PlatePass® is not used, up to a maximum of $24.75 per rental, plus incurred tolls at the Toll Authority’s cash toll rate or highest undiscounted toll rate.  PlatePass LLC will automatically charge the credit card used for the rental, typically one-to-three weeks after the rental closes. Processing of charges can at times take up to a month or more.  Cash customers will be invoiced by PlatePass LLC.  PlatePass® charges will not appear on your invoice for your rental.  PlatePass® charges can be viewed at www.platepass.com.

Keep in mind, these are only the service fees. The toll charges are extra!

AVIS uses a system called e-Toll (access AVIS website here)

What is Avis e-Toll?

Avis e-Toll is our company’s electronic toll collection program which makes road travel more convenient! Avis e-Toll eliminates the need for travelers to carry change or wait in long cash payment lines at toll plazas and allows Avis renters to zip through electronic toll payment lanes.

Avis e-Toll cannot be reserved in advance, but is already installed in many cars. Avis e-Toll is optional and available for a low daily fee plus the cost of tolls.

If you do not pay cash for tolls, you automatically opt into our e-Toll service, pursuant to which you agree to pay us our or our toll program administrator, with whom we will share your credit card/debit information, for all tolls incurred during your rental and all related fees, charges and penalties. Under the e-Toll program, once you pass through an electronic toll, you will pay a convenience fee of $3.95 for each day of the entire rental period, including any days on which e-Toll is not used, up to a maximum of $16.95 per rental month, plus incurred tolls at the maximum prevailing rates posted by the toll authority. You can avoid the convenience fee and any other charges by paying the toll in cash, using your electronic toll device, or avoiding any cashless toll road or passage.

Unless you frequent a city or state a lot as a visitor or frequent rental car user it is unlikely that you own a device to administer your own toll fees. It certainly is a nuisance.

For one, it’s often impossible to reconcile various charges that are being placed on your credit card. Service fees, toll charges etc. Sometimes they even belong to the rental before or after the car was actually under your own contract.

Conclusion

The best way is obviously trying to find a cash / manual payment booth. If you plan to do a lot of driving over toll roads and bridges where you know there aren’t any such counters I would say either just swallow the fee or (if you visit this area frequently) try to get a toll road device.

Rental car companies are known for offering and pushing all sorts of ridiculous (and often overpriced) items such as ‘Fuel Options’, Insurance or ‘Upsells’. In the worst case you are being scammed into paying for damages that were not caused by you or billed for missing fuel. I recommend to keep your eyes wide open, check your contract when you get the car and really see what is being levied upon you for the individual rental.

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