Home » Should I prepay gas for my rental car? (Travel Tip Tuesday #14)
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Should I prepay gas for my rental car? (Travel Tip Tuesday #14)

by Jeremy B

Should you prepay gas for a rental car? The rental car companies certainly make it both easy and sound appealing to add this option when renting a car. Unsuspecting renters may not really understand this option and could easily find themselves signing up for something that might be a bad deal.

No one wants to waste money and in most questions, the simple answer to the question of whether you should prepay your fuel when renting your car is no. We argue that prepaying your gas is a borderline scam foisted on unsuspecting customers. In other words, it can be a serious money waster.

There’s a bit to unpack here and in this post we examine the option of prepaying the fuel of your rental car and several related issues and options.

Specifically this article addresses the following questions:

  • Should you prepay gas for rental car?
  • Is it better to prepay gas for rental car?
  • Do you pay for gas when renting a car?
  • Do you have to refill gas in a rental car?

Travel Tip Tuesday brings a unique travel tip to our readers each Tuesday and you can read all of the preceding Travel Tip Tuesday’s here.

Do you have to pay for gas when renting a car?

Yes, rental car companies require you to pay for the gas you use when renting a car. The only question is how you are going to pay for it including: prepay, pay the rental car company to fill it up for your or fill it up yourself.

Do you have to prepay for gas when renting a car

When you rent a car you are expected to bring it back with a full tank of gas (or at least whatever it had in it when you rented it which is almost always “full”). In other words, you are required to pay for the fuel you use on top of the rental fees for the vehicle itself.

However, in what I can only imagine is some scheme cooked up by some rental executive on a golf course, rental car companies offer a few different options in how to deal with this.

  • Bring it back full
  • Bring it back with whatever gas is in the tank when it’s time to return the car
  • Prepay your fuel

Let’s examine these in more detail.

You could bring your rental car back with a full tank of gas.

One option is to simply bring your car back with a full tank of gas. Meaning, on your back to the airport you need to stop somewhere (relatively close to the airport) and fill your rental car’s gas tank up. This is the method we recommend, by the way.

You could do nothing and simply bring the car back with however much gas it has in the tank

Another option is to simply do doing nothing and bring the car back in as-is. Instead of stopping to refuel your car you simply return the car with whatever fuel is in the tank at the time and walk away. This is a very convenient approach because it requires you to essentially do nothing. No trying to find a gas station near the airport (and airports can have some sketchy neighborhoods) or hoping the airport itself has a gas station.

This method, however, is probably the WORST thing you could do with a rental car when it comes to fuel. Why, you ask? Here’s the sneaky bit. The rental car company will then charge you to fill it back up – at a significant premium (we have seen it as high as $14.00 a gallon before) – usually somewhere’s around $9.00/gal-ish. Clearly this is the least economical method to use as you could get hosed big-time.

That said, it is the most convenient method.

You could prepay your fuel when you rent the car

Never prepay gas when renting a car

The final option, and the focus of this article, is to prepay your fuel when you are renting the car.

For a “discount” off the current average fuel rate in that area, you can buy a full-tank of gas ahead of time and then simply return the car as is.

Sounds like a good deal? A discount? Sweet. WRONG. It’s a scam, really.

But wait…what if you don’t actually use all of the gas in your car? You see, when you pre-pay for gas you are paying for a FULL tank of gas – regardless of whether you actually need a full-tank of gas.

So unless you bring the car back completely empty it’s likely not going to make much sense. Many times travelers may only use a quarter of a tank or a half a tank. If that’s the case and you’ve prepaid for your rental car’s fuel you just walked right into the rental car companies scam.

You didn’t think the rental car companies would offer this service if they couldn’t make money, did you!?! Of course not. They are playing the arbitrage game that most customers will not use all of their gas and thus they will make money on that free gas money you gave them with no cost behind it.

Keep in mind that many rental car clerks may actually be incentivized to push this product to car renters so be on your guard and don’t get duped.

Never prepay gas when renting a car!

Be Sure you Never prepay gas when renting a car

Our advice is simple. Never prepay gas when renting a car.

Plan accordingly, find a gas station and fill your car up. It’s worth it to save money regardless whether you are traveling for work – or pleasure.

In fact, for business travelers, many company travel policies expressly prohibit their employees from prepaying for gas because it wastes company money. Leisure travelers should heed their approach and also avoid prepaying rental car fuel.

Are there any reasons to prepay for gas – ever?

In our opinion there are really no good reasons to prepay for gas. That said, one possible scenario is that you know will be pressed for time when returning the rental. Maybe it’s a work trip and you know that your meeting ends with a tight window to get back to airport. So you decide to prepay. The convenience of having the rental car company take care of this for you could be the difference between making your flight or not.

I would still argue that you should plan better.

Another scenario is that some airports (like Boston Logan and other big cities) can be challenging to find a gas station near the airport. This is stretching things a bit, though.

Our advice is once again to plan better. Or consider an Uber or Lyft or even a taxi.


So, now you know. Never prepay rental car gas. Ever. If you like wasting money, sure, go ahead, but we’ve laid out a compelling case and exposed this borderline nefarious rental car scam. Be sure to check out all of our rental cars hacks here.

Text with iconography of car saying Travel Tip Tuesday Never Prepay your Gas with a Rental Car - ever!
newb flight attendants melania trump memes

Specifically this article addresses the following questions:

  • Should you prepay gas for your rental car?
  • is it better to prepay gas for your rental car?
  • Do you pay for gas when renting a car?
  • Do you have to refill gas in a rental car?
Should I prepay gas for my rental car - nope not a chance

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Alex April 7, 2020 - 7:01 am

The one situation where it’s been in my interest to prepay fuel was when I was picking up a rental in Las Vegas and dropping off in San Diego. At the time, fuel was almost $2 a gallon cheaper in Vegas, and I knew that I would use at least a full tank of gas. It was much less expensive to just prepay, even if I returned it with a gallon or two of fuel left in the tank.

The C Boarding Group April 7, 2020 - 7:54 am

That’s an interesting situation – sounds like you made the right call.

Jimmy April 7, 2020 - 9:01 am

Agreed! Any time you have a one-way rental returning to somewhere with expensive gas (SFO, LAX, NYC) it generally makes sense to prepay.

derek April 7, 2020 - 11:03 am

If one is familiar with the model of car and knows that the fuel gauge or, better yet, the miles to empty computer display, is accurate, then it can be a savings to prepay fuel. Mostly that would be on a longer rental, in an area with quite a few gas stations (if you are traveling in an isolated area, there may not be gas for 50 miles or more). These situations are rare. So for the most part, I take the attitude of “no thanks unless I have special and unusual circumstances to justify it”. Even then, Costco gas (if you’re a member) is often competitive or even cheaper than prepaid gas. You can always add a gallon or two of gas if Costco is not close to the airport.

Lorenza May 1, 2020 - 3:58 pm

My dad taught me that rule and I never do! Then comes my husband into the picture and he didn’t refill the tank (Even though I told him) so he paid like 120 euros for half a tank because there was a 50euro fee!!! Horrible! Next time he learned and didn’t do it again!!!


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