Avoid Silly Car Rental Fees

In late summer, my wife and I flew into San Francisco airport where we rented a car and drove north of the city on Highway 101 for ninety minutes to a charming rental cottage located just outside of Point Reyes National Park in Marin County, a stone’s throw, and a deep, exhilarating inhale from the Pacific Ocean.

If you haven’t visited this part of the USA, and you appreciate nature, well, it’s kinda super fantastic beautiful. The morning fog, rolling grassy hills populated by cows and horses and sheep doing their Zen meditation, imposing Redwood and Douglas Fir and Garry Oak trees, wildflowers, farmland, ranches, coastal grassland, hiking trails, beaches, along with friendly, easy going locals made for a peaceful, hugely enjoyable experience.

And all this phenomenal nature was an added bonus to the primary purpose of our trip: to further our learning and understanding of meditative practice and, in the process, our self. For this, we participated in classes and talks at Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center in Woodacre, a pleasantly slowwwwww fifteen-minute drive from our cottage on a two lane winding road. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the rental car, it operated just fine.

Blowing in the Wind

Right, the rental car. When out of town and in need of a car, I typically rent a compact or sub-compact vehicle depending on how much highway driving I expect to do. If I’m mostly keeping to city streets, I’ll rent a sub-compact because the rental and fuel cost is lower. But if there is more highway driving expected, then I’ll go with a compact. Though the rental and fuel cost is higher, the difference is usually negligible. Having driven sub-compacts on the highway and feeling the car being pushed from side to side by the wind or  a draft created by a semi-truck passing, I justify the added expense of a compact by factoring in the security I feel (whether real or imagined) in a larger, heavier car.

My Not So Excellent Rental Car Experience

Okay, let me now tell you about my rental car encounter which, I’ll take a wild guess here, is not much different from the experience of many other people. In an attempt to provide you with the full effect, I’m thinking I’ll try to re-create the dialogue, not all of it, but the parts that illustrate why we consumers need to stay on our toes when renting a car, otherwise it will cost us:

Rental Car Guy: “Now, Mr. BuddhaMoneyLama, let’s talk about the insurance you need.”

BML: “Need? What do I need? Who says I need insurance?”

Rental Car Guy: Well, sir, I could not recommend more strongly that you be fully insured for accidents causing any damage to the vehicle and/or injuries to you that result in medical costs incurred by you and/or passengers in the vehicle; theft of the vehicle or any belongings inside of the vehicle; or damage that the vehicle may cause to other persons and/or their property.

BML: “Thank you but I’m covered.”

Rental Car Guy: “You are fully covered?”

BML: “That’s right, fully covered.”

Rental Car Guy: “What are you covered for, sir?”

BML: “What am I covered for? All the things you just recited.”

Rental Car Guy: “May I see the documentation?”

BML: “What documentation?”

Rental Car Guy: “The insurance documentation of course.”

BML: [slightly bewildered] “Why do you need to see the documents? I just tick a box that says insurance declined and that’s that. Who carries car insurance documents with them when they travel?”

Rental Car Guy: “Unless you can prove that you have coverage, then you have to buy insurance.”

BML: “Since when?”

Rental Car Guy stands there, not saying anything.

BML: [fatigued from travel, impatience rising despite efforts to maintain balance] “May I speak with your supervisor?”

Rental Car Guy: [looks down at computer for several seconds, then resumes eye contact] “Oh, you know what, it looks like you’ll be fine without documentation. As long as you’re certain that you have insurance for all possible risks.

BML: [Rental Car Guy’s unrelenting sales pressure has the desired effect, causing me to doubt myself. Am I covered? My home insurance broker told me I’m fully covered? But what if there’s some risks I don’t know about? Maybe the safer bet is to pay the extra money and buy their insurance? Nah. Rental Car Guy is doing his job by messing with my head and he’s good at it]. “I’m certain. May we move forward please?”

Rental Car Guy: “Sure. If you’ll just sign here, initial here and here, and sign here, oh and here, and don’t forget to initial here and there, and sign here … all of which indicate that you are fully and completely responsible for any loss or damage to the vehicle, all vehicle contents, and injuries to yourself and passengers in the vehicle.” [he says in a grave tone, trying one last time to touch my emotional insecurities, expecting this will cause me to seek safety under the insurance umbrella]. Alright then, now, if you’re traveling over the Golden Gate bridge, you will want to buy a pass to avoid paying the toll charge.”

BML: “What does that cost?” (Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework on this before arriving).

Rental Car Guy: “$49 for the duration of the car rental.”

BML: “At most, we’ll be traveling over the bridge twice. That will cost $49?”

Rental Car Guy: “That’s right.”

BML: “Seems a bit pricey. Are there any alternatives?”

Rental Car Guy: “This is the recommended alternative.”

BML: [Oy! I think but don’t say. You have to keep pushing these people to get information] “But there are alternatives?”

Rental Car Guy: “You may pay online. Just go to their website.” [Rental Car Guy, sensing he is losing the sale, is not entirely helpful, and does not offer the website address until I push for that as well].

BML: “What’s the one time crossing rate?”

Rental Car Guy: “$7.50”.

BML: “Then why would I pay $49?”

Rental Car Guy: “It’s a matter of convenience and planning for the unexpected since you don’t know how many times you will cross the bridge.”

BML: “I already told you: twice. At most, we will cross the bridge twice.” [tiring of the game, my frustration percolated to the surface].

Rental Car Guy: “Then you would like the pass?”


Enter Buddha

Patience is the antidote to aggression. If you experience the feeling of aggression and act upon it, aggression will escalate and you will hurt your self and others.

When you are patient, you are smart. You stop and wait. You remain quiet because your words and actions will reveal an aggressive state of mind.

There is no need to criticize or blame Car Rental Guy; he is simply doing his job. Recognize this and try to let go of the fact that these moments are not transpiring as you would like; you do not need to resolve this encounter according to your agenda. If you practice patience, aggression will dissipate and you will no longer suffer.


BML: [Yes, I do hear Buddha’s voice in my head at times. So I did my best to be patient and kind] “No, thank you.”

Rental Car Guy: “Alright. We’re almost done here. Just have to ask you about gas. Would you like to prepay for a full tank of gas? This way, you don’t have to concern yourself with filling the tank before returning the car. If you do not choose to prepay, then you should return the car with a full tank. If we have to fill the tank, then you’ll pay a premium, typically a few dollars per gallon above the going rate for gas.”

BML: “So I’m clear here, if I choose the prepay option, no matter how much gas is in the car when returned, it could be near empty or half full or anything else, I’m charged for a full tank now?”

Rental Car Guy: “That’s right.”

BML: [The advantage of agreeing to the prepay option is the peace of mind I get from not having to run around looking for a gas station before returning the car to the airport, especially if we’re running late. The disadvantage, odds are I will not return the car with an empty tank. If the tank is empty, all is good because I’ve paid for the gas I’ve used. But if there’s gas in the tank, it’s like leaving money on the table because I’ve paid for that gas and will not use it, which is a bonus for the car rental agency. With Buddha still whispering to me, I said …] “No, thank you.”

Rental Car Guy: “You’re sure about that, sir? You do understand what the cost will be if you do not return the car with a full tank?

BML: “Yes.”

Beware High Pressure Sales Tactics

It’s the same high pressure sales tactics with car rental agencies every time I rent a car. Usually, I know what to expect and decline their numerous offers with a smile. This time, however, I was thrown off my game by Rental Car Guy asking for insurance documents and whether I would purchase the bridge toll pass. Oh well, I learned and I’ll know for next time.

And, just in case you’re wondering, the car was returned with a full tank. On the downside, we did cross the Golden Gate bridge twice but forgot to visit their website to pay the toll. Cameras being everywhere, snapshots were taken of our license plate number and, a few weeks later, we received a notice in the mail from the car rental agency stating that they charged my credit card a total of $15.00 for the two toll crossings. Though I wasn’t thrilled with the extra charge, my post-vacation, post-meditative mindset allowed me to say, ‘oh well’. For my next visit, I’ll be better prepared.