Protecting yourself

Cashless tolls trigger rental car fees

Fred Williams

I love those electronic toll gadgets on your windshield that let you breeze past cash-only lines. So when I saw that my rental car had a doohickey that worked on different toll roads across the nation, I was happy.  I wish my EZ-Pass tag would work everywhere I drive, not just in the Northeast.

I eagerly swung open the cover of the gray plastic box on the windshield to turn on the automatic e-Toll thingy from Avis. Inside the box there was a list of disclosures, including this line:  “A convenience fee of $2.95 per day will be added to your rental in addition to the cost of tolls.”

Bang! That cover closed fast. The fees, once tacked onto my credit card, would add $14.75 to my rental. The actual toll for my trip on the New York State Thruway — from Buffalo to beautiful Cayuga Lake — was only $3.85. No thanks, Avis.

Cashless tolls trigger rental car fees

Instead of feeling miffed, I should have recognized my good fortune. For one thing, $14.75 — the monthly maximum on the Avis-Budget e-Toll system — is a fraction of the administrative fees that some other rental car companies charge.

More important, I had a choice — I could still opt to go through the slow, low-tech cash lane. In some parts, that’s an option that is no longer available. Increasingly, toll highways lack a cash lane, leaving car renters at the mercy of the rental car company’s electronic toll collection fees. Phantom toll fees on credit card statements aren’t new — but as cash lanes disappear, more drivers will get steered into the fees.

Around my home in Austin, for example, toll highways collect their fees automatically by snapping a picture of your license plate if you don’t have the toll authority’s electronic tag. By driving on a Texas toll road in my rental car, I would automatically opt in for the e-Toll service and the related fees, Avis says. The only other option is to get off the toll road and use an alternate route. That’s not fun for visitors unfamiliar with the area — or for anyone who would rather not see miles and miles of Texas punctuated by stoplights. It’s a big state to travel at 35 mph.

In California, the last cash lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge going into San Francisco have been replaced by all-electronic toll collection. If you plan ahead, you can make a one-time payment with your credit card to bypass the rental company’s fees — if the company has an opt-out option, according to the bridge’s toll authority. That’s a lot of advance planning — I’d be tempted to forget about the bridge and stay in Sausalito.

Judging by the howls of outrage on Internet complaint sites, cashless tolls are not entirely a convenience for rental car customers.  Some travelers sputter about getting hit with a $25 administrative fee for a 40-cent toll. It makes the $14.50 fee I thought exorbitant look downright cheap.

Here’s an overview of toll collection fees at some of the biggest rental car companies, excluding special offers for VIP-tier clients or other groups.

  • Hertz offers “PlatePass” service in 12 Eastern states plus Florida, Colorado, Texas and the Northern California Bay Area.  The daily rate is $4.95, with a monthly maximum of $24.75, plus tolls. The fees are charged separately on your credit card about one week to three weeks after the rental period.
  • National, Alamo and Enterprise use a system called TollPass. In the Northeast and covered parts of the Midwest, the charge is $2.75 per day of the rental, to a maximum of $13.75, plus tolls, according to company websites. If you skip the service and incur electronic tolls anyway, the administrative fee is up to $25 per toll, charged to your credit card on file. Check the companies’ websites for the ins and outs of the service in other parts of the country.
  • Budget, like its sister brand Avis, uses the e-Toll system with maximum fees of $14.75 per rental month, plus tolls. Incurring an electronic toll automatically enrolls you in e-Toll.
  • Dollar and Thrifty use Pass24, described as a prepaid toll service. The rental car companies’ website does not specify the rates, or say what happens if you breeze past an electronic toll gate without the prepaid service.

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  • Dennis

    I was aware of the cashless toll plazas in Florida before I went down there on vacation. I made sure I didn’t use any and I paid cash at every toll both. I still got dinged for a dollar toll and a sixteen dollar admin fee. The lady I paid the toll to must have been a local resident collecting tolls illegally. What a scam!!! I called to dispute it and that was three months ago……… I haven’t heard a thing…

  • Gary

    Dollar charges an opt out of 20 dollar!!!! a day and if you don’t and get a ticket for not having the transponder, you’ll get the ticket and an additional 40 bucks administrative fee!! How’s that for getting ripped off??!!

  • Marge

    Just got back from Orlando, Florida. Went through an exact change/e-tag toll booth without either. There was an envelope available at the toll booth to send in your toll to Florida DOT. We got back to NY and I sent in the payment for the tolls (both ways) the next day. Dollar hit us for the toll and a $15 per occurrence fee; a $31.26 charge. Called to say we paid it. They needed a copy of the cancelled check. Now here is the rub. The car’s license plate is included in Dollar’s account with FDOT. So, FDOT charges Dollar immediate for the toll cost. I called FDOT to ask when they will process my check and they said the toll was paid through Dollar’s account and they are sending my check back. I pleaded with them to cash my check. But, they can’t do that because the tolls were immediately paid through Dollar’s account. Without the cancelled check I will not win the dispute. I opted out of Dollar’s electronic toll pay tag because I knew we weren’t going to be going through a lot of tolls and $14/days was outrageous. I agreed to pay my tolls in the rental contract. I felt I was living up to my end of the agreement by sending in the payment to FDOT. What a racket! Next time I’m going with a different rental car company with lower per day fees for the e-tag.

  • Skiguy

    Recently visited Austin Tx. Went through a toll by accident when I couldn’t exit, or turn around. This was taking the I-35 from the Dallas area, and my GPS told me to take the SH-45 to 1. The road is only a couple miles leading into the north area of Austin. No humans were at the toll booth, it said they would bill me.
    Here’s the problem, there’s no way to pay the toll through TxTag. They send the info on to the rental car company, in this case Thrifty. My rental was for 4 days. They wanted to charge me $10.49, and said it was for all 4 days. Or I’d have to pay a $45 processing fee.
    I wrote the department of transportation and talked to Jacob Willis, who tried to pull my tag but couldn’t. The system is not designed to let people pay their toll, it is automatically billed to the car own, in this case the rental car company (fleet).
    I have since reported my credit card as lost, got new cards. I also contacted Thrifty trying to clear this mess up, no use. They would only offer to let me add the toll option at $10.49 a day, and it would be needed for 4 days. This is price gouging. I will be writing the governors of Texas and Florida.
    For now, the best advice is to use a GPS that allows the “Avoid Tolls” option and take the longer way. I was doing this with google maps but forgot the one time and ended up on a dumb toll road when I didn’t mean it.
    The free market would work here, but I think all rental car companies are doing this. For my next trip I picked Alamo. The problem is, there’s no way to pick the fees charged by Plate Pass. $15 for a $1 toll is a rip off. Then the rental car companies want to charge $45.
    Don’t use toll roads and write the governors saying this is why tourists will not use their toll roads. The system is designed to price gouge tourists renting cars.

  • Cheeto Trump

    Someone needs to invent something that covers up that box. THREE times now, the box has been closed and I was just recently charged $18.80 by Budget for tolls. I actually paid $3 in three different toll booths, a buck apiece–in cash. The guy at Budget told me as long as it was closed, it wouldn’t charge me. LIES. But I didn’t get receipts because I believed the stupid guy. I stopped payment on the credit card and they can come arrest me if they want.