Last Updated on January 16, 2021 by Chris
You never want pay more than you have to for a rental car. Does your route include a lot of toll roads? There’s no reason to pay through the nose for the rental company’s expensive toll pass. If you have your own E-ZPass transponder, just bring it along.
That’s especially good advice in a time when you may end up unknowingly driving on a toll roll. In states like New York, for example, toll plazas are disappearing. They are being replaced by cashless toll overpasses that record your car as you drive underneath.
Who Pays for Tolls in a Rental Car?
You will always end up paying a price if you drive on toll roads in a rental car. If you don’t bring your own transponder, you have three options and none of them are good.
Pay a daily fee to use the rental car company’s toll pass. This is expensive, since you will pay a daily use fee for the pass plus the cost of the tolls.
Drive through the toll plaza without stopping. This option is even worse, as you’ll pay a huge penalty on top of the cost of the tolls.
Stop and pay cash every time. It’s not easy to pay as you go, since more and more toll roads are converting to all-electronic tolling. And who wants to wait in a long line of traffic to pay a toll, anyway?
Where Do You Need E-ZPass?
There are three major groups of toll agencies around the country. In addition, a few states run their own toll programs independent of any reciprocal affiliation with other states.
If you bring your own toll transponder, tolls are billed to your account at each electronic toll plaza. Better yet, you’ll often get to take advantage of discounted tolls for paying electronically. If you use the rental company’s pass, you will pay the higher rate plus the daily fee.
The largest toll consortium, E-ZPass, oversees basically every toll from Illinois to Virginia and up to Maine. That’s the entire Northeast and a good chunk of the Great Lakes region. An E-ZPass transponder is typically a plastic box mounted to your windshield with Velcro. In other words, it’s portable and easy to use in any other car.
Renting a car in the E-ZPass region? The vehicle will likely have a plastic E-ZPass transponder mounted on the windshield. Very likely, it is mounted in a lead-lined box that can be opened and closed. To use your personal transponder instead, just make sure the box in the rental car is closed. Then hold your personal transponder up to the windshield whenever you go through a toll plaza. You can use the Express or E-ZPass Only lanes just as you normally would.
How to Use Your E-Z Pass in a Rental Car
Technically, you’re supposed to add the rental car’s license plate to your E-ZPass account. In our experience, you don’t have to. Just make sure you firmly hold your transponder up to the center of your windshield. If for some reason the toll plaza doesn’t read your transponder, it’ll bill the rental car company anyway.
Don’t own a transponder and like the idea of having your own? It’s cheap and easy (and sometimes even free) to get your own, no matter where you live. We often recommend ordering an E-ZPass transponder from Massachusetts, since there is no monthly fee. In addition, the cost of the transponder gets credited to your account and made available for tolls.
For even more flexibility, we recommend the North Carolina Quick Pass E-ZPass. Although it costs a few dollars to order, it works for virtually every toll east of the Mississippi River that accepts E-ZPass or Florida SunPass.