Should you Prepay For Fuel when you Rent a Car?


Photo Toy Ferraris by David Masters

As I write this post I am on a family vacation in beautiful Saint-Hippolyte in Quebec, Canada.  My family rented a car and the experience made me wonder: should you (or in this case I) prepay for fuel?

 What does it mean to prepay for fuel when you rent a car?

When you rent a car you often have the option to prepay for a tank of fuel.  This price is typically or just below current market price, but can even be above current market price.  The renter can then bring the car back without refueling first.  In fact, it is best to bring it back empty because you have already paid for any fuel you do not use.

 Here are the details surrounding my “should I prepay situation”:

  • The trip was about 700 km each way (about 435 miles)
  • They offered me the chance to prepay for my fuel at $.69 per liter.        Photo Retro Gas Pump by Alesist
  • There was a gas station across the street that was selling gas for $.849

At the moment I thought prepaying was a great idea, so that is just what I did. 

Then along the way I considered several other factors:

  1. How full is full?  A full tank can fluctuate between several gallons (or even more liters).  Ever filled your tank, drove 30 minutes and the tank still read full?  Well, the rental car I got was on the low side of ‘full’. 
  2. How empty can you go?  Who wants to stop every block near the rental car location just to put in another $.25.  You will likely end up returning the car with at least a handful of gallons/liters. 
  3. In my case, it will probably be a wash.  It will not be the great deal I expected when I agreed.  At least I don’t feel like I got ripped off though.  I hate that feeling.

When you might actually want to prepay:

  1. If you have a vehicle that estimates how much more distance you can cover on your tank.  You are much more likely to reach the illusive empty.
  2. If you are a person who typically finds herself in a rush.  The very worst thing you can do is bring a car back with less than you rented.  You can be charged up to and probably above $100 just for bringing back a 1/2 tank when it was supposed to be full.
  3. When you know you are going to drive at least 400 miles.
  4. When flying to an airport location you are unfamiliar with.  As long as the price is right, you may want to prepay just to avoid the hassle of looking around for a gas station right before you get to the airport.  Better yet, get on Google Maps and check out the area gas situation before you rent.

Since I still have the car, I will let you know how close I got to empty and how I would rate my first prepay experience.