With fuel prices near $4 a gallon, car rental companies are turning to a little-known practice called gas reclamation to squeeze every last penny from their vehicles. In the process, they may be squeezing their customers too, according to a car rental insider who has performed degassing services for a major agency.
Here’s how degassing works: Whenever a rental car is retired because it’s been damaged or its lease expires, a car rental company hires a subcontractor to siphon off some of the expensive fuel left in its tank. Here’s a recent article about a gas reclaiming service in a trade journal, Auto Rental News.
At the current fuel price, a car rental location at a major airport could be recovering as much as $320,000 a year by using a gas reclamation service. Some of that is your money, says my degasser source.
The subcontractor performing the degassing service is paid $1 per gallon to degas the car. The car rental company then refuels other rentals with it. But why charge your customers a top-off fee and a refueling fee when you know that the car is on return? The barcode scanner they use when you return the car tells them if the lease is up.
The answer is simple: because they can.
My source recommends that you ask about the gas in your tank the next time you rent a car. If you have a high-mileage vehicle and suspect the car’s lease might be up, or if the vehicle has been damaged and is likely to be sold at auction, you may be entitled to a refund for the gas in the tank. With the cost of refueling some larger vehicles approaching $100 a tank, it’s worth an inquiry.
I’m far more worried about the other potential uses of a fuel reclamation device. What if a car rental company could siphon just a fraction of a tank of gas from every topped-off car rental that’s been returned? A renter would never know, and with gas prices rising ever day, such siphoning shenanigans would translate into pure profit.