How to avoid to those extra charges on your Germany car rentals and European car rentals

Though the above headline is the kind of over-blown claim found on direct mail brochures, we’re convinced that it’s true. Because major European rental companies make absolutely no effort to tell customers how to keep rental costs low, we must assume they don’t want you to know. That’s why you won’t find these tips anywhere else on the Web—especially not on any rental car company Website. No, the following consumer-oriented information and insights are available only at Gemut.com.

Knowing in advance precisely how much your Germany car rental or European rental car will cost is becoming an ever more difficult proposition. Most people understand there is a basic rate plus value added tax but after that it gets complicated.

Consider this checklist of possible extra charges and our suggestions for how to deal with them:

• Premium Station Charges: Airport and rail station taxes can add as much as 20% (on Germany car rentals) to your bill. Your strategy: On Germany car rentals, and in other countries that impose high fees on “premium station” rentals, pick up the car at an off-airport or non-rail station location. Tip: The charge only applies to rental originating at these locations, so you can return the car to an airport or train station and still avoid the charge.

• Road and Registration Taxes: Up to $5 per day. Your strategy: Not much you can do other than know in advance what the charge will be.

• Extra Drivers: Adding an extra driver is free with some companies but with others can cost as much as $20 per day. Your strategy: Use one driver. If that’s not practical, then find out costs in advance and factor them into the rental decision. The lowest rental rate may not be the best overall deal once you add extra driver charges. Tip: Find out if your rental contract allows a passenger to drive in the event of an emergency. If it does, you won’t need to add an extra driver if it’s just for that purpose.

• In Which Currency is the Price of Your Rental Guaranteed?: If you pay for the rental in Europe, the rate will be guaranteed not in US dollars but in local currency, so you won't know the exact amount in dollars until your credit card bill arrives. Your strategy: Pay in advance in the U.S., making sure, of course, that you can cancel without charge.

• Credit Card Fees: If you wait until you get to Europe to pay for your rental, most credit cards will charge a 3% foreign transaction charge. The same goes if you book through an overseas broker such as Tiger, Argus or Nova. Your strategy: Pay in advance in the U.S. and don’t deal with overseas brokers.

• Late Charges: Bring the car back one minute late and you're likely have an extra day's rental charge tacked on to your bill. Gone are the days of a one-hour grace period for late rental returns. Your strategy: Check the pickup time stamped on your rental contract and make sure you when return the car earlier than that time.

• Fuel Charges: If the rental company has to fill the fuel tank when you return the car, you'll pay as much as $16 per gallon. Bring back a near-empty tank and you'll pay more than $200. Your strategy: Fill up as close to the return location as possible and save your gas receipt in case you are billed post-rental refueling charges.

• More Fuel Charges: Whether you want it or not, some European rental stations charge for the first tank of gas and expect you to return an empty tank. Your strategy: Not many options other than bringing the car back on fumes. If that doesn't work, you can probably get a credit if you return the car with at least a quarter of a tank, but you’ll probably have to stand in line to request it and then wait while the tank level is confirmed.

• Cleaning Charges: Returning a rental car that requires extraordinary cleanup measures—pet hair on the upholstery, for example—can trigger extra charges on your credit card bill. Your strategy: Take care of your rental car; don’t assume the rental agency will accept it any condition.

• Insurance Charges: This is the thousand-pound gorilla of extra car rental charges. Andy Bestor, Gemut.com’s car rental guru, hears all too often about post-rental collision and theft charges that appear on the credit card invoices of his customers. In a few instances these nasty surprise charges have exceeded $1,000. Customers who not only didn't want the optional insurance (because their credit card covers it free), but were certain they had specifically declined it. And yet they somehow signed for the insurance at the rental counter. Most contest the charge through their credit card but wind up losing because the rental company can produce an authorizing signature and initials. In rare instances, Andy has been able to convince the companies to reverse these charges, but for the most part the rental companies take the position that the customer’s signature or initials authorizing the coverages is proof of the customer’s intent at the time of rental. Your strategy: Be absolutely certain what you are signing for. Read what you’re signing and initialing. Do not simply sign and initial the places on the contract pointed out by the rental agent.

Finally, for customers of Gemut.com, here are some important things to know prior to your rental, when checking in at the rental car counter, during the rental, and after the rental.

1. Call 800-521-6722 if you wish to change your rental prior to your U.S. departure date.

2. If you have changes to your rental while in Europe, phone toll-free back to the U.S. at 00 800 223 5555 5. An alternate number is 207-842-2000. Both numbers are staffed 24/7.

3. If you have difficulty at the rental car counter—lost reservation, reserved car type not available, etc.—phone toll free back to the U.S. using the numbers in item #2 above.

4. Before you drive away from the rental car location to begin your trip, make sure the vehicle is clean, fully operational (lights, brakes, mirrors, radio, heater, air conditioning, etc.) and has a full fuel tank. Report any damage and make sure it is noted on the contract. Do not accept the agent’s assurance that small dings are okay. If possible take photos of the vehicle.

5. If you have difficulty with the vehicle during the rental, contact the company that supplied the car (phone number on your voucher), or take it to a dealer. Make sure before you authorize any repairs that you will be reimbursed.

6. When returning the car at the end of the rental, try to get a written confirmation that the vehicle is undamaged and has a full fuel tank (keep your final fuel receipt that shows amount, time, and place of purchase). This is a sometimes difficult and time-consuming process, but nonetheless recommended. We also advise taking photos of the returned vehicle.

7. If you have unexplained/unexpected post-rental charges on your credit card email your concerns to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call us at 800-521-6722. Please include the US dollar amounts and dates of any car rental charges made to your credit card.

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