How to Make Rental Car Toll Charges a Less Expensive Mess

Dealing with rental car toll charges in US can be an expensive and confusing mess.

It is expensive and confusing to pay tolls for rental cars in the US. Learn how tolls work for rental cars and the optimal way to deal with them.

Rental cars have made US road trips so convenient. But how rental car companies handle tolls remains a daunting aspect of it. As if tolls were not confusing already, the rental car toll policies make it outrageously expensive — in the name of toll processing fee. It’s not new. Heard of how a $3 toll is billed as a $20 rental car toll receipt or similar instances? If you are planning a road trip in a rental across the states, it is concerning. “What happens if you pass through tolls in a rental car” tops the list of questions road trippers search for along with a few others in the list, such as:

  • How can I avoid tolls on rental car?
  • How do you pay a toll on a rental car?
  • What happens if I miss a toll in a rental car?
  • Do you have to pay tolls in a rental car?

As someone who understands tolls in the US and has been closely working with car rentals in reconciling toll bills, let me help you dive into the enterprise of rental cars and tolls.

How toll charges are collected in the US

In general, roads (or bridges, tunnels etc.) that levy tolls are equipped with toll plazas for collection. It can be manned or electronic.

For manned toll plazas, you simply pay the toll amount before crossing with cash, card or coins. In the case of electronic ones, you pay without stopping via a tag transponder or license plate. Either of them enables plazas to detect your vehicle and deduct the respective toll charges from the linked account.

Usually, a tag transponder is preferred over other methods as it offers the highest toll discounts. And if you miss a toll - tag didn’t work, insufficient balance etc. - an invoice is sent to the vehicle owner’s address.

Despite the convenience of tag transponders, different states accepting different tag transponder(s) makes toll payment across the states so confusing.

US has 20 tolling brands - E-ZPass, FasTrak, SunPass, TxTag etc. opearating across 34 of the states that levy tolls.
Around 20 tolling brands work across the 35 US states that levy tolls

Looking at the map, most likely, some part of your road trip would pass through the tolls. And if you do not plan for them beforehand, missing a toll in a rental car is inevitable.

How toll charges work for rental cars

When you rent a car, your options to deal with tolls vary depending on the rental agency and their policies.

          a. You can avoid all tolls
          b. You can pay cash wherever possible and let rentals charge you otherwise
          c. You can subscribe to the car rental company’s toll program/package

For all the electronic plazas you cross, the payment is done by the rental company and eventually added to your rental car bill post-trip. For processing this bill, the rental company charges you a toll handling fee. What’s noteworthy is that there seems to be virtually no regulation on how much the toll processing fee can be and in what cases it can be charged. Moreover, the increasing trend of all-electronic toll collection across the US is catalyzing this practice.

In general, rental car companies bill customers for handling the tolls incurred on crossing the electronic toll plazas.
More the electronic toll plazas, more the opportunity of rental car toll handling charges

Rental car company toll policies

Do note that these figures/policies may not be the latest. Also, a lot of these policies come with a myriad of opt-in and opt-out schemes, so please consult your rental car agency for more detail.

Rental Car AgencyImportant Toll Policy Points
Enterprise* Toll policy differs depending on the area you rent from - Coverage map
* For most part, their TollPass™ Service costs $3.95 - $4.95 per usage day (not exceeding $35 per rental period)
* For Northeast states, personal E-ZPass are allowed
* In Chicago area you need Toll Pass Waiver Program
* For Southern California, you can pre-register your rental vehicle with toll road to avoid admin charges
Avis* Offers e-Toll program for cashless toll payment which come in various plans
* In general, for Standard e-Toll, $5.95/day is charged on top of tolls incurred
* Their e-Toll Unlimited program is inclusive of toll charges. It costs a flat fee of $10.99 - $25.99/day (depending on checkout location) whether or not you cross a toll plaza.
Hertz* Offers PlatePass® toll payment options across select U.S. toll plazas
* Charges the highest toll rate for your vehicle class plus a a $5.95/day convenience fee
SixT* Offers a ‘Express Tolls Unlimited’ and ‘General Toll Service’ for cashless toll handling depending on location; rates are not clear beforehand
*If you opt-out of their toll packages, you’ll be charged the tolls incurred plus $5/toll as admin fee
Silvercar*Tolls incurred will be billed plus a one-time administrative fee of $4.95/reservation
* If no electronic toll plaza is crossed, there will be no administrative fee charged

You can learn about toll policies of other car rental companies on their respective websites:


With these policies laid out, it is important to note that rental companies ask for convenience charges because they themselves have put in resources for toll payment in the first place. They have two options:

  • Partner up with a third party toll processor like PlatePass 
  • Wait for the toll agencies to send violations and have their team process those

How to reduce the rental car toll bill

For starters, you can browse through the policies of various rental companies to pick the one most economical for your trip. But there are other smarter ways around it like:

 

1. Completely avoid tolls

Find out if there’ll be tolls in your route and figure out detours to avoid them - altogether. Once sure that you won’t cross any toll plazas, you can opt-out of toll packages offered by your rental company. 

You can look into the "Avoid toll feature" of mapping services like Google Maps, Waze etc. for it.

 

2. Pay part of tolls yourself

Find out if there’ll be tolls in your route and figure out detours to avoid them - altogether. Once sure that you won’t cross any toll plazas, you can opt-out of toll packages offered by your rental company. 

You can look into the "Avoid toll feature" of mapping services like Google Maps, Waze etc. for it.     

 

 If you know which toll tag is accepted on the toll facilities you’ll be crossing, you can also bring your own toll tag. However, as mentioned earlier, with over 90 tolling agencies, 12 interoperable groups, and 20 tolling brands across the US it can be tedious to figure out. So, use apps like TollGuru (iOS or Android) to see information on toll tag, toll rate, toll discount, etc. - of each toll plaza en route to your destination.   


Make sure to disable the pre-installed tag transponder(s) in the rental car to avoid being multi-charged. This takes some extra effort from your end, but it serves well at the end of the trip.


That said, if you absolutely do not wish to deal with tolls yourself, any rental car agency would be happy to handle it for you. Just opt for their toll package. 

We cannot deny the convenience and popularity of rental cars. Going forward, as the purchase of personal vehicles will see a downfall, rental car demand is set to increase. However, the lack of one interoperable toll transponder across the US has allowed rental companies to impose heavy toll processing fees on the renters. While trip planner apps like TollGuru are helping travelers plan for trip tolls better, a universal toll payment solution in the US will be the ultimate relief to the car rental toll troubles.

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