Last Updated on March 23, 2024 by Kristin

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When you travel, sometimes you get curveballs. And those can sometimes lead to a costly car rental mistake. A diverted flight, family emergency, illness or itinerary change. Any of those might encourage you to return a rental car to a different location than originally planned.

Your rental agreement will note a return time and location. Dropping your car off at a different location, even with the same rental company, can cost you a pretty penny. That’s because the rates at rental car companies are typically based on round trips. That means they require bringing back the car to the same location you picked it up from. If you don’t, your trip will count as a one-way rental — and those are usually much more expensive.

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Returning a rental car to an unapproved location is one of the costliest mistakes you can make. Here’s how to avoid ending up in this situation.

Understand the fine print

Most rental car companies will charge you a fee for turning your roundtrip rental into a one-way rental. The car rental companies may refer to these fees as “drop charges” or “drop-off” fees.

Rental companies will generally tell you how big that drop-off fee is when planning a one-way rental, but returning the car at an unexpected location means taking a gamble. You won’t know how much that drop charge will be until you get to the counter, and you likely will have no choice but to accept that price if you insist on returning the car there.

Some rental car companies have additional policies for unexpected drop-offs. National Car Rental, for example, has fine print stating that it charges the greater of $300 or $1.50 per mile between the original rental location and the new one, or the owner’s adjusted daily, weekly or monthly rate. In other words, if you drop off a rental car less than 200 miles from the designated drop-off location, you’ll be charged $300.

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Even more worrisome is that some companies do not have a specific policy for unexpected returns, so you won’t find out how much you’ll be penalized until it’s too late.

Notify the company that plans have changed

If you have no choice but to drop off the car at an alternative rental location, never show up unannounced. Always tell the rental car company in advance that your plans have changed and confirm how much it will cost to drop the car at the new location. While this is best done by phone, you may be able to change your existing reservation through the company’s website or app.

Check out one-way trips with AutoSlash

In some situations, it might make sense to drop off your car at the original return location and then find a cheap one-way rate to finish your trip. While one-way rates are generally more expensive than round trips, making a reservation in advance could potentially be less expensive than dropping off your existing car rental unannounced at an alternative location than the one listed in your rental agreement.

To uncover affordable one-way rentals, ask AutoSlash for a quote. The process is easy, free and only takes a few minutes.