Avis-Budget Car Rental Fuel Scam, Unresponsive Customer Service and Environmental Dangers

Avis Budget Group Rental Fuel Scam and Environmental Dangers

Avis Budget Group Rental Car is scamming the public by charging inflated prices ($7.98 per gallon in our situation) and upon car return insisting to customers that fuel level is not totally full. The car is brought back and refueled to “top-off” level and customer charged for up to two more gallons (1.75 gallons in our situation).

Not only is this bad business but environmentally this is unsafe. The Healthy Air Campaign in Oregon states:

Each time a car is topped off, the space at the top of the tank that contains harmful fumes is filled with gasoline and the fumes are pushed into the air. Those fumes contain benzene, which has been linked to cancer and more specifically leukemia. There is no evidence that a safe level of exposure to benzene is possible. Any exposure is a danger!

Also see the United States EPA “Don’t Top Off Your Gas Tank”

Lessons/Takeaways to be Learned from Unbelievable Episode

Having been in the hospitality industry as an owner-operator of hotels for 25 years and now an undergraduate business school educator having taught Service Marketing and Marketing Management, I am totally dumbfounded by this occurence for reasons including:

  • Successful High Performing Organizations [especially in a service industry] create mission, vision and value  statements to create a “culture” whereby customer concern and strong ethics are paramount. The treatment and practice of what my wife and I encountered is in total contradiction to Avis Budget Groups’ statements available online.
  • The national customer service call center protocol of a huge Fortune 500 company (#411 in 2010) will not respond and appears to have both  little empathy and empowerment to make an unsatisfied customer “whole” again.
  • Avis Budget Group is being “penny-wise, dollar-foolish” knowing that creating animosity for a few additional dollars among customers can (i) have huge long-term detrimental impacts especially in today’s social media climate, (ii) “Bad News” travels 10 times faster than good news traditionally, and (iii) in breaking down a service encounter into its “Moments of Truth,” creating a positive experience in the last interaction (i.e.car return/billing) is a vital step in assuring repeat business and loyalty.

Disrespect, Obnoxious Attitudes and Total Defiance

My wife and I had one of our worst travel experiences ever with the Avis Budget Group yesterday. We returned a car with a full tank of gas (needle clearly on full line) at Budget/Avis in the Richmond, VA airport location [see photo]. Both the employee processing returned cars and City Manager, Leo Castro, insisted that it was not returned full and that they were going to need to take the car back and refuel to determine what was owed.  The charge per gallon was $7.98 on 2/28/11 [picture below]. Additional pictures are provided within this post of (i) the fuel tank needle [above], City Manager refusing to have picture taken [below], and the $13.99 fuel charge on final bill [below].

National Customer Service Totally Unresponsive

I called Customer service (800-621-2844) and have gotten even more negativity and unresponsiveness. I called on Monday, February 28 in the  afternoon after returning to Atlanta and talked to Kenya in the Oklahoma City based national customer center (complaint #901094). I explained the situation and focused more on the mistreatment and disrespect than the $14 fuel charge. I asked to talk to a supervisor. After being put on hold Kenya came back and informed me that no-one was available as the supervisors were all busy. I asked to hold but I was told that I couldn’t hold, as a supervisor would call me back. That was Monday afternoon, and now it is Tuesday morning and no-one has called me back. There was essentially no empathy, responsiveness and no one is empowered to do anything. [Ultimately 46 hours later I finally received a call back from a supervisor from Avis Budget customer call center in Oklahoma City.]

Avis Budget Group Fuel Scam - Fuel Price at Richmond Airport

Avis Budget Group Fuel Scam – Fuel Price at Richmond Airport 2/28/11

Avis Budget Group Fuel Scam - City Manager, Leo Castro, Refusing Photo

City Manager Operations, Leo Castro, that insisted fuel not returned fuel and unwilling to allow picture, Richmond airport 2/28/11

$13.99 Fuel Charge on Avis Budget Group Bill for Richmond Airport, 2/28/11


  1. Stacy Phillips says:

    My husband and I experienced the same thing twice recently: 1/27/2011, Richmond Airport, Thrifty Car Rental; and 1/31/2011 Atlanta Airport, Avis Car Rental. We were shocked the first time. When we were told the same story by another car rental company at another airport, we figured collusion could be going on . . .
    p.s. Ironically, both were business school visits… Bad business by car rental companies.

  2. Pay by credit card, let CC company dispute the charges, never use them again and tell everyone you know!

  3. Avis is difficult—but if you show them the receipt for the fuel you used, they refund the $13.99. You can’t get free gas unless you had Tex-Mex while in Richmond.

  4. I’m on hold with Avis for 45 minutes with a real problem and now I know why. Seriously….when you try to scam businesses you end up ruining it when real people have real problems. You clog up the service lines with your whining when all you had to do was fill your tank until the pump goes click. You decided $5 worth of gas was worth all this trouble? Who in their right mind has the time? Stop trying to create a customer service situation to fill blog space…fill your friggin tank up with gas like everyone else, and quit acting like a child. Avis has seen their CS quality dwindle recently….we get it…with customers like you its easy to see why. I’m saving this link as an example of obnoxious customers who pollute the service field with their self centered narcissism.

    • I think the point was that they DID fill the tank up, but the gas they used to get from the gas station to the rental service and the small amount that you can continue to pump after the the pump clicks to “top it off” caused them to be charged $15.

      I agree, though. $15 is really not that big of a deal.

    • Im sorry you were on hold but Avis is scamming unsuspecting customers. I couldnt show them the receipt due to the fact there was no one there at 5 am. I filled my car up 15 miles before the drop off location. They charged me $76.00 saying it wasnt full. I have faxed the rteciept to them. It is just a scam. That is the reason why people are calling customer service because they are being screwed.

    • At least you didn’t get billed $1034.32 for a rental car you ALREADY PAID FOR ON PRICELINE!! That’s right…somehow my rental was magically never “checked back in”. WTF? The return person scanned the damn thing. I stood right there and watched her. I had a Camaro for 2 days and even had it back 3 hours early. Now the kicker, I was charged for a whole week PLUS, yes PLUS A $70.00 a day late fee for being 1 day over? Again WTF? This all happend at teh Jacksonville (FL) International Airport. Oh, and as a side note, I was charged the $13.99 fuel charge as well….funny thing is I left the tank half empty. Avis can stick their fuel where the sun don’t shine if you ask me. How is that for whining?

    • Mikey in DC says:

      I got dinged with the $14 charge even though I had the receipt, had driven over 75 miles, and had filled the tank.

      The compact car supposedly consumed 11 gallons of gas to go 160 miles.

      This was a Mazda 3. Either they get crappy mileage or the Budget employees are stealing gasoline– y’know, a gallon or so out of each car. That’s my theory.

      Ten phone calls, faxed documents, and a call to the police later and the SOBs removed the bogus charge.

      But how many people are unknowingly duped each day?

  5. Think about it this way, when u receive the car, it was also fueled to “top-off” level, so basically you’re paying what you used, no gas scam there…

  6. All you need to do is present the receipt that you purchased the gas upon return. Also, the tank must be filled WITHIN 10 MILES of where you are returning the vehicle. It’s no scam, it’s business, and you’d run your own car rental agency the same way if you owned one. They told you all the info about the gasoline service at at the counter but like 90% of travelers renting cars YOU were too ignorant to give the sales agent 10 seconds of your time and attention to listen to what you are ACTUALLY signing for. When you rented the car, Avis asked you if you were interested in the prepaid fuel option, which is generally over $0.20 cheaper than the average price at the pump… they change that rate daily to adjust to current supply and demand, yet you declined. Blame yourself for signing the document or not asking for more information… don’t place a rant on the web about your mistake.

  7. Doug Tilghman says:

    Every week I rent from Avis at Madison WI airport (company requirement). Every week I tell them I want the “Self-refueling” option. Every week I bring the car back full and tell them I filled it up, and show them the receipt. Every week they put the “EZ Fuel” $13.99 refueling option charge on my bill anyway, and I have to tell them to take it off and recalculate the bill. This charge is triggered in their system by my driving the car less than 75 miles, regardless. Two Avis employees have told me “Yes, this is a scam, and most people don’t notice.”
    Let’s see, $13.99 multiplied by how many customers per day – probably millions of dollars per day they are stealing from innocent customers who don’t check the bill.

  8. I want to share my Budget Fuel Scam story – and post as many places as I can on the web. I rented a car in Orlando and pre-paid. We had to wait 45 mins in line, with only one CSR processing waiting patrons. We would have moved to another line, but we pre-paid for our car. When we got our paperwork completed, and went to pick up our car – there was no car. Had to get back in line, and they had to “upgrade” us to the largest, premium, ugly car for just 2 people. We drove to Disney World and to Lakeland, but had double the gas use due to the larger car. Still, we used a 1/2 tank, which we filled up for $37. We returned the car full to the Orlando airport. The Budget attendant took our gas receipt, acknowledged the car was full on gas, and told us we were paid in full, and could go. Today, I get a bill for $133.47 in the mail, stating that the car was not full. I called the Customer Service Department and was treated horribly, and told to submit my ORIGINAL receipt, which the Budget attendant took! I spoke with a supervisor who was even less caring. I finally reached “Katy” in the Budget Accounting department who offered for me to fax a copy of my on-line Capital One Bank statement for the transaction, and she would process. I have rented from Budget for years, but NEVER, EVER again. I was told this might have happened in error because when the car goes from the return area to the fueling area, the “fueling people” make the decision on if the car is refueled or not. Really, seriously – where is the consumer’s rights, protection and ability to respond to this? Also, if I returned the car with no dents, but the Budget car washer finds a major dent, or cracked wind shield when the are washing it, and I am to be charged? The idea of adding charges AFTER the car is returned, and someone needs to expose Avis and Budget for this practice. It is my mission now, so others do not have to go through what I went through today.

  9. My itinerary from our travel agency said that the Budget car should have been $24.99 a day, for a total of ~$87 plus any additional charges, fees, and taxes. Say, ~$100+ total.

    My bill? $227!

    They charged me for the fuel service ($14), even though I declined it and said I’d fill it up myself (which I did). An agent called them for me, and they told her that “if you drive less than 35 miles you have to show them the receipt for the gas you bought or they will charge for the fuel service”. I had the receipt in my pocket, but they didn’t ask for it.
    An unexplained fee of 11.11% ($20).
    They said that comprehensive insurance was “$14 a day”, and I wouldn’t be responsible for anything, no matter who was at fault. Since this was Boston, I said OK. So I was charged $14 a day, PLUS ANOTHER $52! They told my agent that “they don’t know where I got the idea that the full insurance package was $14, that’s only one part of it”. The REAL charge includes the additional $52.
    Something called a “CUST FAC CHG” of $12.
    “RSN” fee? = $12
    This company is like a criminal organization! I’m sure this is all covered in the fine print of their contract, but beware! They will definitely rip you off.

  10. Just have a terrible experience with Avis car rental. It was fully prepaid booking and after returning a car I got few other charges from Avis, which are 2 times more than full cost of the booking and.

    I advise do not rent car from Avis, or be prepare to pay a lot more than your booking cost.

  11. jonathan says:

    Keller don’t be ridiculous. Of course Stacy has every right to comment in a blog about an exorbitant charge. Avis’s policy is designed as a margin increasing exercise to basically generate more bottom line. As a consultant I did a similar exercise for another well known hire car company working out the ‘right’ ratefor them (amongst other things like helping them design hugely misleading insurnce policies. Being charged a 300% mark up on fuel is a rip off. Period. The reason you can’t get through in 45 minutes to Avis is because they have a low priority for CS. Try going to the new bookings line….bingo…you’ll be straight through.

  12. Thank you Keller. I thought the same thing after reading the first sentence. Fill it up next time.

  13. Cara Tolbert says:

    I have also had bad experiences for about a year and a half with Avis at the Richmond AirPort and specifically with Leo Castro. He is rude and disrecpectful to both his employees and customers. He is a ticking time bomb, I can’t figure out how he got to this position with his awful attitude and demeanor.

  14. I want to say this post is ridiculous first off, if you notice your hand yes it is on the full. If you were charged the 13.99 like you said you were I now know that you went under 75 miles. What they are asking is for you to replace the gas you used . So if you went 10 miles and didn’t put any gas in there you will be charged the 13.99 even though the hand is on full. How many cars’ hands move off the full after going 10 or so miles? Maybe you filled up too far from the airport. All that over filling your tank mumbo jumbo is just an excuse for you to not fill it completely up! If I get in a car after you and my hand goes down after it not being full (but the had was on the f) I would be pissed. So before you blame someone else for your laziness, cheapness, trying- to- get-over-on-a-company-ness, think about following the freaking rules! I’ve rented from Avis for 16 years business and leisure, i tried to do the same thing and at the end of the day wrong is wrong and you cant be mad at anyone but yourself. So pump your gas closer, and put the damn 3 dollars worth of gas in there! It sucks that they would let everyone get a blog and poison peoples’ minds! And the 7.99 or what ever is not a scam, they can charge whatever they want for YOU to use THEIR gas since you were too lazy to fill it up just so they can give the next customer piece of mind! You don’t go to the doctor and tell them you charged me too much for this flu shot!

  15. Also after reviewing this crap again, How dare you try to take someones picture like paparazzi. What is this world coming to? I noticed that the car is a newer model also only 3000 miles, if you notice all the newer cars gas hands sit above the full fuel line and now i know you didn’t put gas in there and drove a short distance stop trying to slander businesses and get your own, worry about allowing people to download free music from your website (that artists work so hard to create) while your web site finishes being constructed!

  16. Budget Person says:

    I work for Budget/Avis and I can tell you that they scam people all the time. The Customer Service policy is to say “well, you signed the paper.” Then if the customer complains, they bargain and offer half off, saying that’s the best we can do. Most people reluctantly accept that. The Agents know that, and know that they will still get half of their commission. They target the elderly, the military, foreigner and the nieve. They lie through their teeth. When they say the upgrade will only cost $20 extra, they dont say that’s $20 extra PER DAY! Corrupt, lying, thieves!!

  17. Wow you learn something new everyday with car rentals.
    Just returned car back to a Budget at DCA airport. The original agent very nicely suggested I return topped up on my own as I was traveling in a area of cheaper gas.
    I made two fuel stops within 60 miles of retuning it as I wanted that needled pegged FULL – in other words no hassle.
    The guy processes the car and I look at my bill which should be $0 – instead $15.00.
    Here’s the new scam – apparently the cars have a fuel sensor! I returned mine with 14.6 gal but I left with 15.6 gal. All I know is the needle was on FULL. How was I suppose to know I was missing a gallon?
    Luckily I had a receipt from the Exxon outside the airport – that shut the mgr up and he reluctantly refunded my bill. They never explain about the fuel sensor but regardless; how are you suppose to know when you hit the magical fuel sensor fill number when you don’t know what is was when you rented and what it reads after you’ve filled it.!!