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Travel dilemmas: Car rental companies' gas-tank policies

Rental Service

Q: I rented a car twice at the airport in Ontario, Calif. I declined the prepaid gas option, so the attendant said, "Just return the car with a full tank of gas." The first rental was fine. But with the second, I was told that because I did not have a gas receipt, I was going to be charged $9, even though I brought the car back full. A supervisor, who had no explanation for why I was not charged on the first rental, reversed the charge, but my question is: What's the point of requiring a receipt if the gas tank reads full? It just seems like a sneaky way of making an extra buck.

—A.A., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

A: Seth Ginsberg, a frequent business traveler, may have the answer. He says he's frequently asked for a receipt. "The lesson I've learned is this: Just because the gauge points to F doesn't mean it's full."

Some car rental companies, which don't want to (and should not) get stuck with a customer's gas bill, have this policy as a protection from filling up in Los Angeles, arriving in Ontario and claiming a full tank of gas.

Those companies, some industry experts say, also think customers could be adding water to the gas tank to make it appear full or are using devices to achieve the full effect. Isn't that a lot of trouble for a customer to go to just for a gallon or two of gas? Doesn't that paint all customers with the same cheater brush?

A Hertz representative says her company doesn't ask for receipts. "We have faith in our customers," says Paula Rivera, manager of public affairs for Hertz.

Hertz ranked No. 4 in customer satisfaction in the 2011 North America Car Rental Satisfaction Survey released last week by J.D. Power & Associates. (Ace was No. 1, followed by Enterprise and National.)

Stuart W. Greif, vice president and general manager, global travel and hospitality for J.D. Power, thinks the question of whether to take a customer at his word — or not — is a "missed opportunity" for those car rental companies that stand too firmly on policy and thus insinuate that their customers are — how shall we say this delicately? — prevaricating pieces of pig snoot.

He also thinks that technologies may one day indicate whether a tank is full.

Assuming the technology worked correctly, that would put an end to the discussions. Until then, not assuming the customer is that pig snoot thing might accomplish the same goal at no cost.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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