We’ve all done it before for whatever reason – just sign and leave. What most people don’t know is that auto rental agencies have very individual specific terms in their rental agreements. Some companies allow pets in their vehicles for a fee, some don’t allow pets at all. Some allow smoking for a fee, some don’t. You may have rented thousands of vehicles in your life, but remember that regardless of whom you’ve rented from in the past, the company that you are renting from will most likely have its own set of policies and procedures. It is YOUR responsibility to read, understand, and question if necessary all of the terms and conditions on the rental agreement that you are signing. Even though you may not think so, a rental agreement is a legal and binding document that will hold up in court if it would get to that level.

One area that has a lot of confusion for customers is early returns. Conventional thought would assume that if you are finished using something and you return it early, you should get Whereas I won’t mention any specific names, certain auto rental companies will actually charge you MORE money for returning your vehicle earlier than the time that you were contracted for. It is standard practice that there are refunds are not issued if you return a vehicle early. However, there are companies that are both not refunding monies for returning early as well as charging an additional fee for returning a vehicle early. “That’s not fair!” you say. Well, yes and no…Here’s why.

When auto rental companies write rental agreements for vehicles those vehicles are unable to be reserved or rented by anyone else for the time period that you contracted (read: legal and binding agreement) the car. Basically what this means is that during the time that you have the vehicle in your possession and through the time that your rental agreement shows you returning, that company is unable to book the vehicle you have for anyone else. This results in lost revenue for the auto rental company. What that transforms into is higher rates and more fees that we all hate!

Another area that is often overlooked is the opposite of returning early – late returns. If you were to pick up a vehicle at noon on Friday and rented it for 24 hours, you would be considered as renting for one day. Most companies offer some sort of grace period for their rentals, typically 30 minutes. If you return that vehicle an hour late, you will incur overtime charges. The reasoning for this is much the same as returning early with one exception – you used the rental company’s property for longer than you were contracted. This requires additional charges. Notwithstanding that, you may inadvertently cause another customer to have to wait for their vehicle until you’ve returned.

When auto rental companies take reservations and write rental agreements, they are typically assigning vehicles to customers upon their arrival. This means that if another customer is renting that vehicle after you’ve returned it, that vehicle would need to be back in time to clean and re-rent. In the example above, the rental agreement was from noon to noon. If you failed to return the rental vehicle by noon the following day and it was scheduled to go back out to another renter at 12:30pm and you don’t return until 1:00pm, you could potentially be delaying someone else’s vacation or trip.

So the moral of this story is simple. Read, understand, and ask questions if you aren’t sure. In the end, it is your responsibility to ensure that you understand and adhere to the policies stated on the agreement. Unfortunately, no lawyer will have any sympathy for “Nobody told me”. They will ask if you signed the rental agreement.