How Much Is That Toll Again?? A Roundup Of Rental Car Cashless Toll Policies

With summer just around the corner, many of us are probably planning trips that involve renting cars in various locations. As more and more highways in North America move toward cashless toll systems, we can pretty much plan on two things:

  1. Traffic will be (somewhat) alleviated.
  2. Rental car companies will find a way to monetize this system, often at the expense of the consumer (read: us).

The rental car toll setup

Essentially, when you drive through a cashless toll, the monitoring system picks up on your license plate or tag number, and bills you for the cost of the toll.

This is easy enough when you are driving a personal vehicle, but when rental car companies are involved, they are the ones who pass the cost of the toll along to the consumer. Given that this presents an extra step for them and they basically have carte blanche to charge whatever they want, they will charge some sort of “convenience” or “administrative” fee. This can be as little as $2.95 per day, and as much as $25 per occurrence. 

I was recently reminded of this on a trip to Denver, where their E-470 toll road charges your vehicle based on various distance intervals. On my way into town, I accidentally made a wrong turn onto the toll road. So not only did I have to pay the $2.70 for using said road, but I knew I would have to pay Budget $3.95 for opting into their electronic toll system.

And just to add insult to injury, Budget doesn’t just charge you for the days that you use the tolls, but they instead charge you for each day of the rental period. So my $2.70 toll ended up incurring me an additional $15.80 charge from Budget.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

The drive was scenic; the surcharges were anything but.

Luckily, I knew about this going in, but only because I basically pried the information out of the agent at the desk. This is a huge money maker for rental car companies, so they’re not exactly going to go out of their way to disclose the hidden fees. Chances are, if you’ve ever been hit with one of these charges, you probably didn’t see it coming.

Question is, would I have been better off with another company?

Toll policies vary for each rental car company

Generally, rental car companies handle toll billing one of several different ways:

1) Flat rate per rental day to either opt into the program or rent a transponder

You are still responsible for all toll charges. (Avis, Budget, Firefly and Payless have an automatic opt-in system that activates the first time you drive through a cashless toll, while Alamo, Enterprise, and National offer the option of renting a transponder in areas where you can pay cash.)

2) Convenience fee for any day that you use a cashless toll

Again, you are responsible for the toll charges, but you only pay the extra fee on the day that you drive through an electronic toll (Hertz falls into this category, and Alamo, Enterprise, and National all go this route if you choose not to rent a transponder).

3) Flat rate per day that includes all tolls, which you must opt into at the time of rental

These options are typically associated with some of the lower-cost rental car providers (Dollar, Fox, Sixt, and Thrifty), and are usually paired with a straight-up extortion fee per violation if you opt out of this service and accidentally drive through a cashless toll.

4) Cost of the toll only, with no administrative fee

This is ideal, but few companies do it. (Thanks, Silvercar!)

With that in mind, let’s go through the individual policies of the major (and some minor) rental car companies (bear in mind that the posted policies are U.S.-based and may vary globally):

Advantage toll policy

Unfortunately, Advantage doesn’t exactly do a great job of disclosing their policies around tolls – which is both very frustrating and very Advantage of them. According to their website, “Customers will be charged the cash or pay-by-mail toll rate, whichever is higher, as published by the toll authority, plus a service fee per rental day or a maximum monthly fee.”

The service fee seems to vary by location, and will be charged per rental day, for up to five days maximum.

Alamo toll policy

Alamo uses HTA TollPass, and posts some of the most thorough disclosures out there. They actually go so far as to break down their policies region-by-region, but the general gist is this:

  • If you drive through a toll in an area that offers cashless tolls only, you will be charged a convenience fee of $3.95 per usage day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.
  • If you choose to rent a transponder in an area where there are cash and cashless lanes, you can rent one for $3.95 per rental day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.

There are some exceptions – for example, Chicago charges $9.99 per day to rent a transponder from airport locations – so be sure to double-check the policies for the region where you are renting.

Avis toll policy

Avis uses e-Toll, and charges $3.95 per rental day, for a maximum fee of $19.75 per rental period. So, once you drive through an electronic toll, you are automatically committed to the per-day fee. You can read their full disclosures here.

Budget toll policy 

Like Avis, Budget uses the same e-Toll policy and charges the same $3.95 per rental day, for a maximum fee of $19.75 per rental period. You can read their full disclosures here.

Dollar toll policy

Dollar uses PlatePass for their toll billing, but takes a slightly different approach. Rather than charging a convenience fee, they offer an all-in daily rate that covers all tolls and associated fees. The cost “varies by tolling region,” which is usually code for “overpriced.” I can’t imagine this being a great deal, unless, say, you are commuting across multiple New York-area bridges every day. (And if you’re driving in New York City, I’m sorry for so many reasons.)

Careful, though – if you choose not to opt into the service at the time of rental and drive through a cashless toll, you will be charged the cost of the toll plus a $15 fee per occurrence, for up to $105 per rental period.

Enterprise toll policy

Enterprise uses the same service as Alamo – HTA TollPass – and has the same general policies. To recap:

  • If you drive through a toll in an area that offers cashless tolls only, you will be charged a convenience fee of $3.95 per usage day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.
  • If you choose to rent a transponder in an area where there are cash and cashless lanes, you can rent one for $3.95 per rental day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.

There are some exceptions – for example, Chicago charges $9.99 per day to rent a transponder from airport locations – so be sure to double-check the policies for the region where you are renting.

E-Z toll policy

Unfortunately, E-Z doesn’t make it very “E-Z” (sorry, but that was just too “E-Z” – okay I’m done now) to find their policies on electronic tolls. The best I could do was through this third-party site, which suggests that you can opt into their EZTOL program for a daily rate of $6.99, which includes the price of tolls.

If you choose not to opt in and drive through a cashless toll, you are stuck with a fee of $25 per violation. Yikes.

Firefly toll policy

This smaller rental car company operates in California, Illinois, and Florida, and uses PlatePass for their toll billing service. The cost of use is $4.95 per rental day, for a maximum fee of $24.75 per month.

Fox toll policy

Similar to Dollar, Fox offers the option of opting into an all-inclusive service through PlatePass that covers all tolls and convenience fees. The cost is $8.99 per day in Florida, for a maximum fee of $134.85 per rental period (yuck), or $11.49 per day in California, Washington, Colorado, and Texas, for a maximum of $172.35 per rental period (gross). For some reason, they don’t specify the cost of the service in Georgia (the only other state where the operate).

It should also be noted that if you opt out of this service, you will be charged $15 per toll violation, plus the cost of the toll, for a maximum fee of $90. Additionally, certain areas are not covered by their PlatePass service (i.e. Southern California), so you could still get hit with a “violation” fee even if you opt in.

All that to say that in many cases, you’re probably better off declining the daily fee in the first place.

Hertz toll policy

Thankfully, Hertz keeps things relatively simple and charge a flat $4.95 per day that electronic tolls are used. Unfortunately, there is no maximum per-month or per-rental-period fee.

National toll policy

Similar to Alamo and Enterprise, National uses HTA TollPass and has the same policies. If you’ve skipped through the post to this section and haven’t read through Alamo and Enterprises’s policies, here they are, one more time:

  • If you drive through a toll in an area that offers cashless tolls only, you will be charged a convenience fee of $3.95 per usage day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.
  • If you choose to rent a transponder in an area where there are cash and cashless lanes, you can rent one for $3.95 per rental day, with a maximum rate of $19.75 per rental period.

There are some exceptions – for example, Chicago charges $9.99 per day to rent a transponder from airport locations – so be sure to double-check the policies for the region where you are renting.

Payless toll policy

Remarkably, Payless bucks the trend of lower-cost rental car companies charging an arm and a leg in convenience fees (relatively speaking). They use e-Toll, similar to Avis and Budget, and charge 2.95 per rental day, with a maximum fee of $14.95 per month.

Silvercar toll policy

Unlike the other players, Silvercar passes along the cost of the toll, but thankfully does not charge any additional fees.

Sixt toll policy

Oddly enough, Sixt puts on an air of transparency by offering a state-by-state and country-by-country interactive map on their website that specifies local toll charges. However, the buck seems to stop here, as they only point to the toll costs themselves without specifying the additional fees that they charge.

The best that I could find was their toll disclosure for the state of Florida, which includes an opt-in system for an all-inclusive daily rate of $7.99 (maximum of $119 per rental). If you opt out, they charge the cost of the toll plus $5 per violation. So pick your poison.

I suspect that the system is similar in other regions with cashless tolls, but I would check with the individual location just to be sure.

Thrifty toll policy

Like many of its competitors, Thrifty uses PlatePass, and charges an unspecified daily all-inclusive service that presumably varies in price by region. In the event that you drive through a cashless toll without opting into the service, you get charged the rate of the toll plus a $15.00 administrative fee per occurrence (this fee is $9.99 in Florida).

This administrative fee is capped at $90 per rental period, so again, committing the toll “violation” may still present the better value.

So, what can you do?

These charges can be absolutely infuriating, and for good reason. With more and more highways moving toward cashless tolls, and GPS systems defaulting to navigating the fastest way possible, these charges may seem inevitable. So here are a few possibilities to keep in mind:

Avoid tolls

We’ll start with the simplest one here. While this may not always be an option, it is probably your first line of defense. In some areas, this can be pretty straightforward – for example, I just know to avoid the Golden Gate Bridge and their cashless tolls if I’m driving southbound in the Bay Area. But in other areas, tolls can sneak up on you more easily (try as I might, I always find my way to Denver’s E-470).

I’ve started to rely more heavily on technology again to help me here, since I’m hopeless at navigating this on my own. Google Maps doesn’t make the “avoid tolls” option as easy to find as they used to, but if you want to set up your navigation for this, start by clicking on the “Settings” icon:

Then select “Navigation”:

And finally, turn on the “Avoid Tolls” option:

This automatically changes your default settings, so if you turn it off, you will need to turn it back on the same way every time – but hopefully this helps.

Carry cash 

While Google hasn’t quite figured out the “Avoid cashless tolls” option yet, many areas still have the option for cash tolls. It should be noted that some areas, including parts of Florida, require exact change only.

I’m admittedly as allergic to cash as they come, but a few years ago I accidentally missed a cash lane in the Orlando area because I didn’t have the exact 75 cents that they required. Long story short, I missed the original bill in the mail and ended up getting hit with a $50 toll violation bill months later. I don’t think I need to break down the math on this one.

Get in front of the toll charges

In some areas, you can get in front of the rental car companies’ charges and pay the toll electronically.

For example, in Southern California you can register your rental car as soon as you have a plate number. In the Bay Area, you can make a one-time payment online if you have that “oh crap” moment and miss the last exit in Marin County – just make sure to pay within 48 hours. Washington State allows visitors to set up a short-term “Good To Go!” payment account.

Not all areas offer this, but it’s worth looking into for your choice destination.

Buy your own transponder

My EZ Pass travels around the Northeast with me, and I’ve never had a problem using it in a rental car. It’s a great catch-all that covers most states in the Northeast – although you do need to register it with a license plate, so I know this isn’t an option for everyone.

Florida is probably one of the easiest places to get scammed on toll fees, but you can buy a Sunpass online or at numerous retail locations. If you do use your personal transponder, be sure that it is visible through the windshield, and that any transponders included in the rental car are switched to the “off” position.

Again, this option isn’t available in all areas, but it is worth looking into.

Weigh the costs

You can probably get away with avoiding the Henry Hudson Bridge or the Golden Gate, but if you’re spending a week in South Florida (where the tolls are abundant) or Massachusetts (where I-90 has gone entirely cashless) I can’t imagine you want to spend your valuable time playing dodge-toll. Alamo, National, Hertz and Enterprise are all decent options since they only charge you on usage days, and Silvercar’s policy of only charging you the cost of the toll may help to offset their premium pricing.

And I can’t believe that I would ever be endorsing Payless as a standup rental car company, but their $2.95 per day fee, with a cap of $14.95, may be your best bet in some cases.

Either way, make sure you calculate the associated fees into your projected rental car costs so that you’re not hit with any surprise charges.

Dispute the charge 

As I mentioned before, this is not the type of charge that will be flaunted on the front page of rental car brochures. I’m not going to advocate doing anything shady, but if you really are hit with an unexpected cost, you may be able to dispute it with the car company or the credit card on file.

You’ll probably have an easier time with, say, Enterprise than you will with Fox, but it’s worth a shot.

Bottom line

We all know that these charges are frustrating at best, and I doubt they are going away any time soon.

Hopefully by being armed with the proper information, you can at least minimize these hidden fees next time you are hit with that unexpected toll plaza.

Have you ever been hit with these “convenience” charges? How have you gotten around these extra costs? 

Comments

  1. The other thing I have noticed as more and more states/regions go to cashless tolls is that they are price discriminating if you use a local transponder vs one from a neighboring state or license plate tolls.

    On a recent National trip I rented a transponder in NYC but was still charged the out of state rates.

    Who knows what the company is actually paying the authorities.

  2. On a recent trip to NY, I discovered you could register your car’s license plate with EZ Pass (through the NY state thruway website I think) and list the rental period and provide a credit card. It will automatically charge the tolls to that card before sending a bill to the rental agency. It worked like a charm for me at four NY bridges and tunnels that I crossed. Only downside is no-EZ Pass discount.

  3. Agree that taking your transponder with you (provided that it works where you’re going) is the best option.

    Most often toll rates for services like EZ-Pass are well below the single-use rates. Rental car companies that rent you a transponder pay the lower rate and then charge you the higher single-use rate, pocketing the margin.

  4. Thank you Steph, this is a very informative post, and actually useful for a vast majority of travelers.

  5. I was hit with this last week on an Avis rental in Chicago. I picked the car up at a city center location and it was from out of state, and didn’t have a local transponder. Thankfully most of the tolls I drove through had manned booths for cash.. but the last one I drove through was unmanned and took coins only. Thankfully as I sped through without being able to pay, I saw a sign that I could go online and pay later.

    Really made me appreciate Silvercar, which I usually rent with. So much less hassle to know that all their cars automatically have transponders activated and I only pay what is charged.

  6. I’m a bit confused – you can’t pay cash for tolls in some USA areas but can you pay with a credit card? I no longer rent cars in the USA or drive on toll roads but in Europe, where I regularly rent, the cashless toll stops have credit card lanes. These card lane machines just scan your card and charge it – not too difficult.

    Thanks for posting this – I had no idea this was happening.

  7. A bit Off Topic, but how do these cashless systems work for out of country vehicles?

    As a Canadian, are they able to bill me while driving my personal vehicle with Nova Scotia plates?

    A few years ago I took a huge detour driving into Boston because I didn’t know how the cashless toll system worked. It probably added an extra 30-60 minutes to a 9 hour drive.

  8. Worth adding Zipcar to the list, which like Silvercar passes through the toll cost with no other fees.

  9. @Donna — cashless roads in the US have nowhere to stop and put anything in anywhere; there are no toll booths or stops of any sort. There’s just a high-speed reader along the road that takes a picture of your license plate. These also exist elsewhere in the world, like Australia, so I would think there must be some in Europe somewhere, but perhaps the fact that you can frequently have people from other countries who are not so easy to track down for billing tolls to driving on your local roads makes them less desirable in Europe.

  10. @Donna

    Here in Portugal we have several roads where you either have a transponder or you have one week to pay on ATMs or Post Offices. There are no toll stops at all.

  11. Just to FYI, in Chicago Enterprise has an all in rate. So the 9.99 per day includes all tolls which if you drive a lot really saves money. Off airport, the rate 7.99 per day

  12. This is US specific, rental companies will vary greatly in other countries. e.g. Hertz in Australia provides flat per day rate regardless whether you actually use it that day or not. Just make sure you state it in the beginning of your article.

  13. Got caught leaving Manhattan without a toll transponder in a rental car not realizing that to get out of Manhattan I would need it. I had to wait a week to try to pay EZ Pass directly on their website (they would not let me pay day of), and I hoped that National would not get the bill as well. It all worked out – National never got a bill for the toll and I was good.

  14. Last time I rented alamo out of BWI I declined the transponder since I had no toll roads planned. A month after I returned the car I got a bill from Alamo for not paying a toll in delaware, a state I did not visit. No proof, just a letter with the car plate on it and the date I ‘skipped’ the toll. I asked for the toll booth photo and they said the toll company does not supply it. It was only $15 ($1 for the toll and $14 fee), an amount they certainly picked thinking people would rather just pay it then fight it, but I took it up with BBB and alamo dropped it pretty quick, stating I was a loyal customer and they would let it go this one time. No more alamo for me.

  15. There is a toll paying App you can download to your phone called Pay Tollo. You can add a rental license plate to it and it will charge the credit card you register with the App when you go through a toll. It works in several states, including FL. There are two catches. You have to remember to remove the rental license plate from the App as soon as you return the rental car or you may get charged for the next renter driving the car through a toll. You may get charged by the rental car company for the toll even if the App pays the toll. That happened to me once in FL with Enterprise. All I had to do was take a screen shot on my phone of the App showing that the App had paid the toll and e-mail it to Enterprise customer service, and they quickly credited the charge on my credit card.

  16. I live in Ohio home of the Ohio turnpike. I have not been on the pike since 1997 when they started raising tolls. I live less than 5 miles from a turnpike exit but they will not get my money. The money I save from not using the pike pays for my vacations. I make sure I send the ohio turnpike commission a thank you post card for raising the rates enabling me to travel

  17. Advantage Rent a Car was the biggest rip off I’ve ever experienced when it comes to toll fees. I was in Raleigh-Durham and only went through one toll and they charged me a fee for every day of the rental. Tried contacting them – what a joke.

    Their rates may be cheaper than the bigger companies, but absolutely not worth it.

    This company is a major rip off and has abysmal customer service. Never again!

  18. I wonder if you should just bring a screwdriver and your own license plate. Probably not legal but cheaper to just pay by the plate.

  19. Silvercar FTW! Being under 25 I rent an Audi cheaper with them for cheaper than a corolla or similar from the big companies when counting rate + young renters fees. Havent rented with another since 2016. Never going back, like 30 flawless rental experiences and counting

  20. I had a recent 14-day rental out of DFW where I was unable to avoid cashless tolls three times (twice in one day). Alamo charged me $9.99/day for each day of the rental (once I had been charged even once), but a maximum of $100 for the “service.” The tolls were less than $10 total. The TX state agency in charge refused to let me pay the tolls directly, but directed me to pay via the rental car agency. This is clearly a new profit center for rental car companies.

  21. Ohio EZPass transponder is easy to get without much of a deposit/balance required, reloads magically and emails me when it does, maintains a transaction record by transponder number, and works on most midwestern/eastern tollroads and bridges (there’s a map on the EZ-pass website). It’s small. When I travel, it goes with me, getting velcro’d to the rental car windshield. Every Hertz I’ve rented has a “transponder-proof” cover for their transponder, so mine gets to pay.

  22. Not sure if you’re only referring to the US but I just rented with Sixt in Portugal and it was only about $2/day for the e-toll system.

  23. Has Hertz changed their policy? In 2016, I took one toll road and paid $4.95 for every day that I had the car. I don’t have a lot of companies on my lifetime ban list, but Hertz is one of them.

  24. We rented from Advantage in Florida for the last time, after they charged a $4.95 fee PER DAY on the car rental contract after we ended up (by mistake) on a cashless toll road. I understand paying the toll, but a daily fee for every day? When Advantage wouldn’t budge, I disputed it with Capital One. They graciously removed it from my bill and closed the dispute. Lesson learned, thanks or posting the policies!

  25. smallmj, I don’t know about driving Canadian cars into the U.S., but I know it works in the other direction. I drove on the 417 around Toronto and the toll authority sent me a bill to my home in Missouri. This was all the way back in 2007, so I have no idea what the policy is now.

  26. Based on these numbers, Uber or Lyft may make sense for short distances. Car rental companies wonder why rentals are decreasing and fail to understand that Uber and Lyft are disrupting their businesses for a good reason.

  27. Did Hertz change their policy recently? I remember them having a limit on their toll fees in the past, which I believe was $24.75 (or 5 days worth of service fee). Even though I still think that’s a lot of money, at least there’s a cap for longer rental which seems reasonable.

    This service fee is particularly painful in states where there’s no cash tolls anymore (like Massachusetts, for example).

  28. You don’t need to register the car on EZ pass website when using your own EZ pass, some rental companies have there own EZ pass system and you can’t even register the car, I called EZ pass and was told a long the EZ pass is monunted correct there is no need to register the car, I’m doing that for a few years now and never had a problem.

  29. Important thing to note about Washington Good to Go and tolls – the visitor account is not for rental cars, it is for people in personal cars temporarily in Washington. When I’ve looked in the past, I haven’t found an official way of paying the toll before it gets to the rental car company (even if you have your own account, you can’t register the rental car as the license plate is already registered). I have been able to use my own Good to Go pass in a rental car and it hit my account instead, but if their reader had missed my pass, it would’ve hit the rental car company.

    Florida is nice in that if you have a SunPass account, you can officially add the rental car to your account, noting it as a rental car with the start and end dates. With that setup, even if the transponder isn’t read, it will still post to your account based on the license plate, and the rental company never sees it. SunPass was convenient in Orlando, but paid for itself in discounts in Miami…

  30. I used a transponder by accident on a Sixt rental in Portugal. What’s the worst about this is I got a bill in the mail like 4 months after I had returned home from the trip. I paid it online. Can’t remember the fees but it was egregious.

  31. I have a suction cup glued to my E-Z Pass and have never registered a “temporary” vehicle and have never had a problem (our “permanent” cars are registered on the site).

    When I drive on the 407 in Toronto it picks up my U.S. plate – the first time it took three months to get the bill, but now the bill comes in a couple of weeks (same plate), so I assume the U.S. can bill Canadian plates.

  32. @Davisson – Just updated, thanks.

    @Donna – It’s also worth noting that in cash lanes in the U.S., they mean just that – cash. There may be a toll booth somewhere that takes credit cards, but I’ve never seen one.

    @derek – Hah!

    @mpkossen – There may be some variance location-by-location, but their generic terms and conditions specify that that there is no maximum fee (I know, I was surprised, too.)

  33. to me these are legalized robbery, and also, if they are going to have a toll booth, for a federally funded highway, they should have someone there to collect the cash, and make change, not everyone is “allergic to cash”, and if they are taking your money then they should make change for you.

  34. Surprisingly it could be worse. In the UK for some tolls you have up to 24 hours to pay the toll. So you thing great I can log on and pay it. Trouble is the systems only allocated the money you paid to the last unpaid toll. In other words I pay the toll for my journey but in fact i am paying for someone else who has not paid. The hire company gets a fine for non payment and then has to work out who to forward it to! By the time it gets to the right person (who may well have made an innocent mistake) they have missed the deadline to pay a reduced fine.

  35. I rented from Avis once in NYC and thought that since the cashless rate was less than the cash toll rate, the transponder daily fee would pay for itself. Wrong! Avis charges you “incurred tolls at the maximum prevailing rates posted by the toll authority”. That means they charge you the higher cash rate, even if they pay the toll authority the lower cashless rate.

    Literally highway robbery.

  36. In Florida you can get a transponder for your rental car from Rental Car Transponders .com. The transponder is $7.50 and the service fee is .50¢ per toll. The transponder is live and ready to go when you get it. At the end of your trip take the transponder, either throw it away or save it for your next trip. They send you one bill at the end for the tolls plus the service fee. It works on all the toll roads in Florida and you pay the lowest posted rate.

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