You meticulously planned your vacation budget. You found a great deal on a rental car, declining the insurance because your travel rewards credit card takes care of that. You found a gas station to refill the vehicle and returned the car without getting assessed for any damages.
You think this chapter of your travels is over until you see a new charge from the rental car company on your credit card statement a month later. If you've ever been in this situation or have a rental coming up soon, knowing the rental car company's policy relating to tolls and your options for making toll payments is essential to avoiding surprising rental car toll charges.
HOW TOLLS WORK
Most modern rental cars are equipped with a toll transponder affixed to the top center of the windshield. This device allows drivers to pass through E-ZPass or similarly branded cashless toll lanes. The rental car company accepts the toll fees on your behalf and charges you for them later on, plus a convenience fee.
The convenience fee varies among rental car companies. In the United States, Avis charges $5.95 for each day on which you incur a toll up to a maximum amount of $29.75 per rental period. Hertz charges up to $9.99 daily and may pass tolls on to you at the highest rate, not the discounted rate typically granted to drivers with a personal transponder.
BYOT: BRING YOUR TRANSPONDER
Consider packing your transponder to avoid paying daily convenience fees on top of the toll prices. Just take it out of your personal car and affix it to the rental car near the rear-view mirror on the inside of the front windshield, below any tinting.
Additionally, ensure that the rental car's transponder is covered, usually by a sliding cover, so the toll booth reads your personal transponder and not the existing device.
You'll also need to go to the website where you manage your transponder and register the rental car's details. According to Ohio's E-ZPass rules, "All vehicles should be added to your account while in use to avoid any violations.” Be sure to remove rental vehicles from your account when your trip is over, because you are responsible for tolls until the rental is removed from your account.
PAY IN CASH
To avoid rental car toll charges, you can also use cash, but many states are modernizing their systems, and not all toll booths offer a cash option. Look up the route you plan to take to see what your payment options are for toll roads.
DO THE MATH
If you are doing extensive driving on toll roads, calculate the tolls you will incur and compare them to the unlimited toll option the car rental company offers. Avis, for example, provides an e-Toll Unlimited program that includes the cost of tolls. Instead of paying for each toll, a flat rate will be charged ranging from "$10.99 – $25.99, depending on checkout location, for each day of the rental period." Note these fees are for every day of your rental, not just on days you incur tolls.
AVOID TOLL ROADS
While easier in some states than others, you can always set navigation apps to avoid toll roads when providing directions. However, compare the time such a route takes, as it may be longer or on a more congested roadway, which could significantly increase your drive time.
Planning ahead for your rental car toll charges can help you have a happier, more carefree vacation.