Late car rental return is common. Plans change, vacations get extended, and long business meetings require extra days away. And of course, there are unexpected traffic delays or unforeseen events that can cause you to run behind schedule.
If you return a rental car late, you may think the agency will simply add the extra days onto the final bill. But it’s not that simple.
When you book a car rental, you sign a binding contract. And within that contract are certain rules that protect both you as the driver, and the rental company. One of those rules is an agreement on the designated drop-off time, which ensures the company has enough time to process the return and get the car ready for the next renter.
So exactly what happens if you return a rental car late? Here are a few things to keep in mind if the situation arises.
Contact the car rental company
Whether you’re returning the car just a few minutes late or even hours late, it’s a good idea to call the rental company. A simple phone call to let them know you’re running behind could help you avoid late fees. It’s not a guarantee but it can help your case.
If your plans change and you decide to extend your trip for a few days, give the rental company a call. You’ll obviously still have to pay a daily rental rate, but you won’t have to pay the costly late return fees.
To find the correct phone number for your rental branch, check your reservation or confirmation email, or look for a number on the rental contract. You don’t want to get stuck waiting on hold, or getting transferred a dozen times because you accidentally called the big corporate office.
Understand the car return grace period
What happens if you keep your car rental too long? Well, most rental car companies have what’s called a grace period. If you’re scheduled to drop off the car at 9 a.m., the rental company will often give you a 29-minute grace period. In other words, they won’t start charging you late fees until 9:30 a.m.
After the grace period you’ll likely have anywhere between two and seven hours to return the car. During that time, the company will charge you an hourly late fee. Once that period ends and you still haven’t returned the car, you could get charged a full extra day for the vehicle.
To get a good understanding of the grace period, check out your rental company’s policies. Read the fine print in the contract, give them a call to find out more, or do your research online.
Watch out for fees
What happens if you don’t return a rental car on time? After the grace period, you’ll likely incur hourly late fees. Late fee structures are dependent on the rental company, but no matter what, they add up fast.
The rental company may also charge you a last-minute or change fee, sometimes known as a contract modification fee. Like we said, you signed a contract. Modifications to the contract may cost you and show up on your final bill.
Another fee to watch out for is the out-of-hours fee. If you drop off the vehicle when the rental office is closed, you could get charged an additional fee on top of the late fee. Luckily, if you rent from an airport, they normally offer 24/7 service and are always available for drop-offs and pick-ups. Airport rental offices, however, pay particular airport taxes and they pass those on to the customers. Watch out for those fees when you pick up and drop off a rental car at the airport.
Expect price changes
If you decide to extend your rental car reservation, don’t expect the same rates from your original booking. Weekend rentals, for example, are much higher than weekdays. And if your new rental days start to creep into a high travel season, you’ll likely have to spend more per day to reserve the vehicle.
Do your research
Trip plans can change quickly, so it’s good to be prepared. Before you book your rental car, do your research. Find out the company’s policies on late returns and understand their grace period. Figure out how much it costs to modify the contract and add on extra days if needed, in case you need some flexibility.
With all the logistics that come with traveling, it helps to have a full understanding of the rental policies. That way, you can make the best travel decision for you and your travel crew.
Check other rental options
Say you are wondering, “Can I return my car late?” and you want to extend your car rental by a couple of days. But you’re also looking for a deal. First, check the rental extension policy and prices on your contract. How much will it cost you per day to rent additional days, fees included? Once you have that information, look up rental rates with other companies and compare them. If you find a better deal, simply return the first car (on time) and pick up another for the duration of your trip.
Another option is to look into car sharing. Avail, for example, is a solid alternative to the traditional rental company. You can borrow from people just like you and find honest, upfront pricing.