Much of renting a car is a headache. I’ve stood in line for hours. Or not gotten the car I reserved. And then they try to up-sell you. And then they ask if you want to prepay the fuel. I’ve often said no, but should you prepay gas for a rental car?

There are a few factors that go into this decision:

  1. Will you be driving enough to empty or mostly empty the tank?
  2. What is the cost per gallon compared to local prices?
  3. Is it a matter of convenience?

Let’s look at each of these and then ask again, should you prepay gas for a rental car.

Figuring out if you will empty the tank

If the answer isn’t an obvious yes or no, this will take a bit of quick math. You might want to do a bit of estimating before your trip. I’d use the average miles per gallon for the class of car you reserved, plus the typical size of the tank to figure out roughly how many miles you can drive on one tank of gas.

Or just look up the general range of the car, if that is something that is easy enough to find with Google.

Figure out the local cost of gas

Also compare the local price of gas when considering whether you should prepay gas for a rental car. Typically, the prepay option for fuel will be at a price per gallon that is cheaper than local gas prices. This is because you are unlikely to return the car with a completely empty tank. It is a game (at least for me) to figure out how little I can leave in the tank when returning the car, it I’ve prepaid the fuel.

If you will very likely empty the tank at least once completely and the price per gallon of the prepay option is reasonable, consider pre-paying the fuel.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Sometimes it is simply convenient to pre-pay

At the end of the day, you’re probably on vacation, so why worry about having to fill the tank? Or maybe you’re traveling for work and don’t want to have to remember to top off before returning your car.

If it is a matter of convenience, such as an early return to the airport, I’d probably go with pre-paying the fuel. I’d definitely balance this with how much you’re driving and figure out roughly how much you’re paying for this convenience.

Case Study #1

Back in May I traveled to Orlando for Family Travel for Real Life 6. During the trip, I rented a car for the day to explore the atrociously flat state of Florida. I opted not to pre-pay the fuel since I would only be depleting half a tank at most.

Fast-forward to the rental return where I returned the car without filling up (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make). Major mishap here. I was charged over $50 for fuel, for a tank that would have cost me around $25 to pre-purchase!! In this case, pre-paying would have saved me a ton of money. Admittedly, I was a total space cadet and forgot to fill it before I drove back to MCO.

Pre-paying the fuel in this case would have given me major peace of mind. Although it *would* have been best to still decline the option and fill the tank myself.

Case Study #2

Fast forward to July where I took a trip to Montana with my brother-in-law to visit friends (SEE: Hiking the Highline Trail Glacier National Park and Of Course I HAD to Visit Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park). When we picked up our car, the prepay option had a fuel price of $1.75 per gallon!!! This is insanely cheap when you’re coming from California.

I knew that we would be driving to Missoula and back, not to mention up to Glacier a few times. My gut told me yes, purchase the fuel. I ended up using about a tank and a half over the trip, so it worked out great. We returned the car at less than 1/8 of a tank.

So…should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Answer: it depends. But if you are doing any serious amount of driving, I certainly would. I used to shy away from this option, but I’ve found it to work out for the best in more and more instances.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car, just remember NOT to fill the tank before you return the car.

Image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license