Encountering tolls can very easily turn a cheap car rental into an expensive car rental. The key to avoiding extra costs is being prepared. Here’s how.
How to Avoid Overpaying for Rental Car Tolls
Don’t pay for a toll pass from the rental car company.
Rental car companies know that many drivers don’t even consider toll roads when they pick up a car. The agent may tell you that paying for the company’s transponder is the best way to seamlessly pay those tolls. In fact, you will be billed for the tolls and also charged a per-day fee for the transponder—and tax on top of all of it. There are less expensive options.
One notable exception: Silvercar charges only for the tolls without any additional fees.
Do bring your own toll transponder with you.
Do you have a toll pass or transponder on your personal car? Consider if your own transponder will work along your travel route. If you’re traveling to a state with reciprocity, your toll pass can save the day.
For example, a trip from Florida to Maine—traveling through Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine—can be completed with a single transponder from E-ZPass. In fact, E-ZPass is valid from Florida to Maine, west to Indiana, and you don’t need to live in an E-ZPass state to get a transponder.
By our calculations, the best-value toll transponder is the NC Quick Pass, which costs less than many other toll passes and is good for travel in 18 states.
Do beware the cashless toll gotcha.
Many states are moving to a model where tolls are unstaffed. On these roads, when you drive through a toll plaza, a camera reads the transponder on your windshield. When there is no transponder, the technology captures the vehicle’s license plate number. If you’ve rented a car and do not have a transponder, the toll charge will be sent to the vehicle’s owner—the rental car company—which will promptly forward that charge to you, the driver. In addition, that toll charge will be accompanied by an extra administration fee.
Every car rental company has its own toll program. Dollar and Thrifty have a PlatePass all-inclusive program. For a set daily fee, all tolls are covered. If you don’t enroll in the service and drive through a cashless toll, you will pay for both the toll plus an administrative fee of $15 for each unpaid toll, up to a limit of $90.
Consider the sad tale of the retired teacher from Michigan who took a family trip to Texas and got a rude surprise when he returned his rental car. “His toll bill from tolls: $9.96. His bill from (now bankrupt) Advantage Rent a Car: $102.37. The difference: $92.41, or the $12.99 daily pass fee for six days plus taxes and fees,” according to the Chicago Times.
Do choose routes without tolls where possible.
The majority of states have toll roads, but tolls can be avoided completely on many trips. Even a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. can easily be completed without ever encountering a toll, thanks largely to Interstate 40. In short, choosing a route without tolls can save you money.
For drivers willing to take their time, tolls can be avoided between Washington, D.C. and Augusta, Maine. Conventional wisdom says to take Interstate 95, but you can make the trip without encountering any tolls at all if you’re willing to add two hours to your trip. The upside is that you’ll save more than $50 on tolls.
Do your homework when renting from Sixt.
This rental car company has a different toll transponder policy in every state, which is incredibly annoying. If you’re renting from Sixt, and plan to opt for a toll transponder, be sure to check on fees in your pickup state.
Don’t even think about running a toll plaza in a rental car. Dumb idea. The rental car company’s going to send a hefty bill, including the toll, the fine from the toll authority, and an administrative charge for the rental company’s time and trouble. If these fees are not paid in a timely fashion, you are headed directly to the DNR (Do Not Rent) list.
Toll Policies of Major Rental Car Companies