No receipt for gas? Don’t even bother returning your rental car

Refueling fees are a contentious issue for car rental companies, drivers, and government regulators. Last summer, Hertz changed its refueling policy after being pressured by customers and government officials, but other companies have imposed increasingly strict terms when it comes to gas charges.

The following story could have happened to anyone at any car rental counter in America, but it happened to John in Hawaii. And John happens to be a lawyer.

We rented an SUV from Hilo International Airport and drove all around the Island. The rental agreement stipulated that we had to return the SUV full of fuel. We returned the car two days later, full of gas.

Upon return, however, the car agency demanded that I produce receipts of my gasoline purchases for fill-ups.

I declined. They threatened not to permit me to turn in my car without those receipts. They suggested I would have to pay for a full tank of fuel if I couldn’t prove to their satisfaction that I had filled up.

Wait a minute. The tank is full. Why would the car rental company want a receipt?

I was amused and told them that I am an attorney, which I am, and that it would be a cold day in hell before they forced me to show them my personal receipts and before they left my car sitting at curbside check-in at the rental counter, denying me the return. Sheesh.

I told them they had exactly 60 seconds to figure it out or I was going to walk and someone other than me would be paying for my return to Hawaii County to fight whatever surcharges they thought they could charge to my card for phantom fuel.

The rental clerk asked me to wait two minutes, which I did. She went in the back and came out 30 seconds later, apologized and processed my return.

Well, nothing like being threatened with a lawsuit to get a car rental company to do the right thing. Why the hard line on refueling?

As I was leaving — and understand I had been extremely nice to her, since she was just doing her job and was just passing along useless and illegal policies on unsuspecting customers — she confided in me that their agency and others had a real problem with folks renting cars and refilling the tanks with water, kerosene, used oil, etc.

She also said that a lot of people rented the car, drove around for an hour and returned it, claiming that the tank was still “full,” as there wasn’t a discernible change in the fuel needle.

Let’s take those “arguments” one at a time. If a tank is full, minus a fraction of a gallon, it will be equally full for the next customer. So the car rental company won’t have to bear the expense of topping off the vehicle.

If someone adds water or oil to the gas tank, the car will stop running. The rental company will track down the customer and charge for the damage. Besides, a gas receipt doesn’t prove a renter didn’t add water or oil to the tank at some point.

A car rental company doesn’t have the right to demand that you show receipts for a fuel purchase. If the needle is at the “F” mark, your case is closed.