Are car rental companies overbilling customers for toll violations?

This should come as absolutely no surprise. The fee-happy car rental industry has apparently figured out a way of profiting from customers who blow through an electronic tool booth without paying.

That’s the conclusion of a recent blog post by my MSNBC colleague Bob Sullivan.

Advantage Rent A Car customers who accidentally drive through electronic toll booths on roads like the new Texas Highway 121, which has no human toll collectors, without the proper equipment can expect to eventually receive a bill stating that they owe the state 60 cents – and $5 to a company named Violation Management Services. At Avis, drivers who do the same can be billed $25 for each transgression, in addition to the toll charge.

Sullivan says an increase in unpaid tolls is adding to the already complicated problem of citation and violation collections for rental car firms. Many are turning to third-party firms for help. Those firms, in turn, also tack on sometimes hefty fees.

Violations Management Services, a third-party firm that helps rental car companies track down toll evaders and other violators, suggest violation collections can be profitable. The company indicates on its Web site that it can turn “a costly customer service headache into a profitable customer service solution.”

A check of the company’s Web site this morning suggests that wording has been changed. It now reads:

At VMS we are dedicated to providing the highest quality service available, allowing us to turn your cost center into a self-sustaining component of your business.

Oh, boy. Looks like they saw this one coming.

How to avoid these fees? Sullivan suggests paying a toll violation immediately after it happens in order to avoid a hefty collection fee. But he overlooks one obvious recommendation: don’t use a toll road unless you have the means to pay.

It’s disingenuous of car rental companies to invest in toll collections systems without also offering customers a way to pay for a toll road. Seems to me that needs to be fixed.

Until then, avoid a toll road in your rental car.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Jessicawilmouth

    yes I agree I paid my toll and they are saying I didn’t but if they don’t have proof I will be contacting an attorney.

  • Susanl

    Yes, we received a falsified Toll “ticket” from the scummy folks at American Car Rental in Orlando. They charged our credit card $35 for a toll that we supposedly missed. Only problem: We weren’t in Orlando on the day they specified that we missed a toll. On closer examination of the papers the car rental company sent, we can see that they used a Florida Dept of Transportation letterhead and faked the notification of a missed toll. We will be pursuing it with all legal means. First we will stop the payment on the credit card, next we share the fraudulent documents with the Florida Attorney General and third we will post on every forum and review site that we can find. There must be thousands of families who go to Orlando, rent a car and then a few weeks later find they have a $35 charge for a missed toll and think that they must have missed paying somewhere. It is all BS and must be fought. I’ve also read online of Budget and Advantage and Dollar car rental doing the same. If it happens to you, reverse the charge and call the Florida Attorney General Fraud Hotline:1-866-966-7226

  • Kelly

    I realize this article is several years old, but I just had the unpleasant experience of renting a car with Fox Rent a Car in Oakland, then driving across the Golden Gate Bridge (which now does tolls automatically by license plate) a few months ago. According to the the GGB people (and Fox), they have an opt-out agreement with Fox, whereby if you drive across the bridge you’ll be charged $2.95 for each day you rented the car, plus the toll itself.

    About 6 weeks after our trip my Visa card was charged $40 by the same VMS company you referred to above. And we got the bill from the GGB folks sent directly to us, so I had to pay it myself. We should have only been charged $8.85 + the toll (we rented the car for 3 days, although we only drove across the bridge once). Fox told me the charge must have been for some other violation and to talk to VMS about it. VMS talked to me just long enough to tell me the charge was for crossing the bridge and that I needed to call the GGB authority about it. The GGB folks can’t help me, because they didn’t charge me $40… GGB sent me the bill for the toll itself and I paid it, so I’m all squared aware with them. But neither Fox nor VMS will own up to the fact that they charged me $40 for a “violation” when I was just using the opt-out “program” that they have established for this situation!

    I love that your article is about an overcharge of $5 (which is bad enough just on principle), but now several years later I’ve been overcharged by $31! Chalk it up to inflation, I guess…