Prepay Fuel For A Rental Car? BAD IDEA

Have you ever rented a car from a rental company and been harassed to prepay for your fuel at the counter when you are picking up your rental? They make it sound like it's a such a great deal and that you'd be crazy to turn it down, but what you may not know is that most likely, they are making money off of you hand over fist if you agree to prepay for your fuel ahead of time.

A few months back, I was renting a car in San Diego for my family for the week. I had a very friendly interaction with the guy at the counter. When he saw my driver's license was from Minnesota, he asked if I was a Minnesota Vikings fan and we started chatting about my local football team and about how great Adrian Peterson was playing. We were having a nice friendly conversation.....until we got to the part of the rental where he asked if I want to prepay for my fuel. I politely said, "No thanks." as I know why the numbers are not in my favor to do so.

Did he move on? No - he continued to push me on my decision. He laughed, as if to make it seem like I was the first person in the history of the world to decline their prepay option. How could I be such an idiot? Here was our interaction:

Rental Car Worker: "You know the price of gas is cheaper when you prepay with us than when you fill up at the gas stations near the airport, right?"

Me: "Yes, I'm aware that can be the case."

Rental Car Worker: "The price of gas is going to be going up in the next week. You probably should lock in the price now before it goes up."

Me: "No, I'm ok. Thanks."

Rental Car Worker: (More harshly now) "You're going to go through at least a tank of gas in a week. If you don't bring it back full, you'll have to pay over $8.00/gallon for us to fill it up."

Me: "Yes, I'm aware of that. I still don't want to do it."

From there on out, the rest of the transaction was veiled in tension from the rental car worker because he was upset that I didn't take the bait. You may be asking, why isn't that a good deal when they offer me cheaper gas? I don't get it? Let me break it down.....(cue cheesy rap beat)

Let's say, for example, you rent a car with a 15 gallon tank and the price of gas in the area of your rental is $4.00/gallon:

You decide not to prepay for fuel and you go through 10 gallons of gas during your trip. You stop at a gas station just before returning your rental and you fill up for $4.00/gal. Your total cost for your fuel: $40.00. Sound good?

What if you had prepaid your fuel? Let's give the rental car company the benefit of the doubt and say that they gave you a great deal on gas and let you buy gas on the front end for $3.70 - a "savings" of $.30 per gallon! Sound like a steal? The problem is that you have to pay for an entire tank of gas (yes, it is in the fine print). Because of that, you buy 15 gallons at $3.70, which comes out to $55.50. You're spending an extra $15.50 to prepay for cheaper gas.

Hey, that doesn't sound fair? You're right, it doesn't. They get you because instead of telling you that you have to pay for all the gas you don't use (which wouldn't be a good sales tactic), they say "If you prepay, you don't have to worry about your fuel level when you return it." (a much more soothing sales tactic). Plus, they try to to scare you by charging you often over $8.00/gallon if you don't top it off before you return it, you feel like this is the lesser of two evils. Imagine how much more revenue the rental car company is making by getting an extra $15.50 off of each customer that elects the prepay option.

I bet you're wondering how I came out by declining my prepay option on my trip to San Diego. My wife and I used it for a full week and didn't even have to fill up the tank once. In fact, we only used about half a tank. Oh, and you know how the guy at the counter told me the price of gas was going up? I ended up filling up for less than the prepay option he offered me at the beginning of the week, because the cost of gas had actually gone down! Since I only paid for the fuel I used and filled up on my own, I saved myself over $25 by declining the prepay option.

When I went to return the rental, my "friendly" rental company worker was at the desk right next to me. I wanted to go up to him and tell him how much better I came out by not falling for his pushy sales pitch. Instead, I took the high road. Hopefully all of you know now to not be persuaded by the rental car workers. They push HARD to convince you you're an idiot for not doing it, but unless you're planning on driving the car back on fumes, the numbers usually don't work in your favor to prepay for fuel you're not using.

Do you have an interesting story to share about prepaid fuel? Leave a comment below!