Before You Drive a Rental Car, Don’t Forget To Check the Toll Fee Policies
Well, I guess you get what you pay for. Just make sure you don't end up paying more for less.
One of these days, being a cheapskate will bite me in the ass. I thought it was going to be the last-minute Motel 6 I rented in Pittsburgh, shower complete with soap scum, mildew, and used soap from the previous guest. That experience was grimey, but I got out unscathed. My Denver rental car experience, however, was a real lesson “getting what you pay for.” In the name of saving a few dollars, I opted out of the flat-rate toll fee I was offered. More than a month after returning the cars, I’ve learned that was a huge mistake.
The older I get, and the more I travel, the more I appreciate that my home state of Ohio’s actually a very easy state to drive in. The I-80/90/76 Ohio turnpike in the north half of the state is our only paid toll road. The rest of the state’s highways, bridges, and main thoroughfares are free to use. Paying to drive around or through an Ohio city isn’t in our vernacular, we just don’t do that here. Ill-prepared and insufficiently researched, I wrongly assumed that Denver’s road network would be about the same as Columbus.
Yeah, no. At the rental counter, the clerk at Fox Rent-A-Car made the usual pleasantries that are designed to soften the blow of a bill and charm you into buying shit you don’t need. It’s cool, that’s their job, I’ve been in customer service too. After I told my plans to aimlessly wander around the Denver area, the clerk tried to upsell me the $11 or so per day toll fee. Colorado, like many other states, has moved to a completely cashless toll system, where the state mails you a bill for the balance of whatever tolls you need to pay. I explained that I wasn’t familiar with Colorado, but the clerk countered with “ah, well, you’ll really only need to pay the tolls if you’re like, going up to Boulder or something.” Otherwise, you can just pay a $15 filing fee, plus whatever tolls you use.
My hotel stays were all in the Denver area. Aside from a planned tromp up to the Boulder area, I had no plans to drive n any toll roads, or so I thought. Denver is surrounded by a tolled ring road, I-470. The rental car office is practically only accessible via 470. Less than a minute after I pulled my Hyundai Accent rental out of the lot, and on the freeway, did I find myself on a toll road. D’oh. Oh well, I guess that means I have to pay the $15 surcharge. I enjoyed my week in Denver, and two of my three rental cars were perfect companions to see the mile-high city.
Then, about 30 days later, a nice fat invoice came in the mail. “What the hell is this,” I said, loudly. Somehow, I had racked up more than $130 in tolls. The clerk wasn’t clear, the surcharge was $15 per toll, plus the toll itself. I had driven on multiple Colorado toll roads, and each time, I was charged $15 for doing so. As if they’re doing a favor to me; they “waived” all but $90 worth of the administrative fees, leaving me with a $130 toll bill.
I put on my best Karen voice and called their customer service hotline. It took a bit of tussling, and polite-yet-firm explaining, but they agreed to charge me only $15 plus the tolls I used, bringing my toll bill down to about $60, not including taxes. Success.
My Fox rent-a-car rental did have a low, per-day cost, but clearly, there’s a catch here. The fees and low-quality cars do tell me, that you do get what you pay for. Buyer beware, do lots of research before you book.