Renting a car in Florida? Here’s what you aren’t told about tolls

Pop Goes The News — You’re in South Florida and decide you’d like to rent a car. You spot a Thrifty sign — a familiar brand — and decide to inquire.

You learn that the daily rental fee for a 2015 Toyota Corolla is $50.99 (all prices USD), including unlimited mileage. Sounds reasonable.

The clerk anxiously pitches the benefits of taking the most comprehensive of the three insurance packages available. It’s $69.45 for the day.

Various “service charges/taxes” are added on — including one that’s a little suspect: Thrifty adds a 20.67% ($10.94) “Concession Fee Recovery” charge, which is normally only applicable at airport locations. This rental counter is about 20 kilometres from the airport.

The total cost to drive away in the $51-a-day rental car is $142.11.

But here’s where renters need to be aware and alert.

At no time did the clerk bring up the subject of road tolls, which are ubiquitous in South Florida.

Most renters assume, correctly, that any tolls incurred will be charged to their credit card. But what they don’t know unless they carefully read the rental agreement — because the agent did not mention it — is that Thrifty adds on a $15 “administrative fee” per toll.

No, it doesn’t add up all the tolls you incurred — some less than $1 — and add the $15 fee. It charges $15 per toll.

The rental agreement makes it clear. Thrifty will charge you for “all tolls incurred for such use (at the highest, undercounted applicable toll rate); a $15 administrative fee for each toll incurred (subject to a $90 cap for such toll-related administrative fees for the rental period); and all other applicable toll charges and fees, if any.”

In the absence of your own SunPass (transponders are available for a few bucks at thousands of retail locations across Florida), tolls are billed to the rental car company and passed on to you.

Thrifty offers an optional “PlatePass All-Inclusive Service” for a daily or weekly fee. The rental agent at the location in this story did not mention or offer the service. Nor did the agent mention that, according to the Thrifty rental agreement, customers can also purchase the optional PlatePass service “upon request when you return your rental vehicle.”

Thrifty claims “as a customer courtesy” it will only add the $15 fee to a maximum of six toll charges.

The $50.99-per-day rental in this story ended up costing a little more than $250 — or about $335 CAD.

Despite the invoice having a reply address of “Thrifty Processing Services” at a P.O. box in Toronto (and the charges appearing on your credit card as “Thrifty Toll Charge”) the money is actually being collected by American Traffic Solutions Inc. of Arizona. (The company, as it happens, also owns PlatePass.)

MORE: Toronto hotels not telling guests they don’t have to pay DMP fee

Attempts to reach Thrifty customer service were unsuccessful as the company’s responses appeared to be automatically-generated. On three occasions, Thrifty sent a link to the PlatePass website with boilerplate messages like “We completely understand your frustration” and “We completely understand your concern.”

Thrifty (and Dollar) are part of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc., which is owned by Hertz Global Holdings Inc.

Last year, The Globe and Mail aptly referred to the fees of rental companies like Thrifty as “highway robbery.”