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Car Hire Fuel Policies – Which is Best?

A hotly disputed and much talked about subject, car rental fuel policies have all too often landed the industry in hot water with terms like ‘rip-off’ frequenting headlines and internet forums. Much like many policies on travel products, knowledge is your friend and understanding what car hire fuel policies mean is your best weapon to avoid any nasty surprises.

car hire fuel policy

We take a look at the fuel options available to you and point out the positives and negatives of each to enable you to make an informed decision about what is best for your individual rental circumstances, as what’s best for one isn’t always best for all.

Which Car Hire Fuel Policy Is Best For Me?

Whilst we all have our preference, there really isn’t a straight forward answer to which fuel policy is best, so we’ve explained each fuel policy so you can make an informed decision and select the best rental / fuel policy to suit your needs.
Fuel Policy
Full to Full
As the name suggests, the car is full when you pick it up and so long as you return it that way there are no extra fuel charges.
Pick up Full, Return Empty
Again, pretty clear on the face of it, the car is collected with a full tank of fuel and you can return it as empty as you dare (just don’t run out of fuel on your way to the airport!). You pay upfront for the fuel, often at a premium to local rates. No refunds for unused fuel.
Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial refund)
A pick up full, return empty policy that offers a partial refund on unused fuel. You’ll pay in advance for the full tank and the rental agent will reimburse you for unused fuel. This is usually applied in ¼ tank allowances at local pump rate, NOT the rate you paid for the full tank.
Free Tank of Fuel*
A rare fuel policy, in fact you’ll only really be offered this in the USA on special offers. It’ll be factored into the overall rental cost and usually provides good value overall.

Car Hire Fuel Policy: Full to Full

A favourite here at Rhino as it does what it says on the tin. Pick up the car with a full tank of fuel, return it that way and you’ve nothing more to pay, no surprises. If you don’t return the car full, you’ll likely face a car hire fuel surcharge which can be an expensive mistake.
Tips to get the best from Full to Full
  • Check fuel gauge is showing ‘full’ when you pick up the car, tell the rental agent if not.
  • Look out for your nearest petrol station when leaving, you’ll likely want to refill there on your return.
  • Keep the receipt when you refuel before you return, just in case you need to prove it.
  • Consider the fuel cost saving as part of the overall rental cost, a cheaper car with a more expensive fuel policy could work our more expensive overall.
Who Should opt for Full to Full?
Ideal for value conscious customers who like to plan ahead and aren’t likely to be rushing around to catch a flight, it offers a great value option as you’ll pay the local rate for the fuel you use, no inflated fuel prices, no surcharges, just a fair fuel price for what you use. Ideal for short term rentals, or where limited mileage is anticipated.
Who Shouldn’t opt for Full to Full?
Those who put convenience over price might not want to opt for full to full. If you just want to get the car back to the airport and catch your flight with minimal fuss / refuelling responsibilities, it may not be for you. Or is you're worried about misfuelling a rental car it's not wise as you'll need to put fuel in it at some point.
What is a Car Hire Fuel Deposit?
A recent fuel policy addition is the requirement for a car hire fuel deposit, this is typically around £80 (100EUR) but can be as much as £200 with some suppliers. The rental agent will simply ‘block’ the fuel deposit against your credit card to cover any fuel surcharges should you not return the car full. See more on car hire fuel surcharges here.

Car Hire Fuel Policy: Pick up Full, Return Empty

Ideal for customers seeking convenience over cost savings. If you accept that you’ll pay higher than the local fuel price, paying the rental agent over the odds for a full tank of fuel means you can just be on your way with ease. No need to worry about where to refuel on your return simply leave it with the rental agent with whatever fuel is left. You won’t get any money back, but there are more important things to worry about right?
Tips to Get the Best from Pick up Full, Return Empty
  • Check fuel gauge is showing ‘full’ when you pick up the car and tell the rental agent if not, after all, you have paid for it already.
  • Don’t cut it too close to an empty tank just to get your monies worth, missing your flight if you run out of fuel will cost you a lot more!
  • If you run low with a few days to go, just top up enough to suit your needs, no point filling the tank, just to give it back to the rental agent the next day.
Who Should opt for Pick up Full, Return Empty?
If you just want a hassle free fuel policy and happy to pay a premium for it, then yes. It’s also great for those who anticipate using a full tank or fuel or more. You’ll just pay for the first tank upfront and top up with how much you need at your local filling station.
Who Shouldn’t opt for Pick up Full, Return Empty?
The cost conscious among you may see the higher price of the fuel as a rip off. Rental agents have been known to charge as much as double the local price for the convenience, you could put that saving towards an upgraded rental car, or an extra meal out on holiday. The super organised can also make a useful saving if you are happy to plan your return journey / refuel in which case a Full to Full might suit you better.

Car Hire Fuel Policy: Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial refund)

As above, but the rental agent will offer a partial refund on unused fuel on return. This policy came about due to customer pressure on unfair ‘pay upfront’ policies. In reality, it offers a little benefit over pick up full, return empty. The rental agent will make a partial refund, usually based on ¼ tank increments. Whilst you’ll pay a higher fuel rate for the initial fuel, you’re partial refund is likely to based on a different rate, much like foreign currency exchange, you’re unlikely to received the same rate on the refund as the initial purchase.
Tips to Get the Best from Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial Refund)
  • Check the fuel gauge when you pick up the car, you’ve paid for a full tank of fuel so make sure that’s what you’ve got.
  • Take a photo of the fuel gauge when you return the car to prove how much was left in the car.
Who Should opt for Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial refund)?
Another hassle free option for those looking for convenience, backed up with the partial refund policy. Overall you’ll pay more per litre for fuel, but without the worry of having to return the car full. A middle ground if you like between Full to Full and Pick up Full, Return Empty.
Who Shouldn’t opt for Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial refund)?
If you’re one for pouring over currency conversion rates, you’ll probably notice the difference in the fuel refund offered. This fuel policy is still focussed around convenience over cost saving, however it offers a little comfort if you don’t cover many miles, or fill the car up shortly before returning.

Car Hire Fuel Policy: Free Tank of Fuel

First off, it’s not really a free tank, you’ll pay for it within the overall rental fee, but there is no extra fuel charge to worry about. You’ll only really see this if renting a car in the USA where we offer lots of options and ‘car rental special offers’ which often include a free tank of fuel. It’s worth pricing up the base rental cost against a package deal that often includes GPS and additional drivers to check it represents value. Remember that fuel in the USA is considerably cheaper than the UK and Europe, so a full tank is likely to be around half the price, if not less. $50 should fill the tank of most rental cars in the USA so take that into consideration when comparing deals.
Tips to Get the Best from Pick up Full, Return Empty (Partial Refund)
  • Check the fuel gauge when you pick up the car, you’ve paid for a full tank of fuel so make sure that’s what you’ve got.
  • Check the value the package offer over the base rental, plus whatever options you want. The ‘free’ fuel is worth around $50 on average.
Who Should opt for Free Tank?
It’s a great option if you’re looking for a package including optional extras. Depending on how much driving you think you’ll do you may get away with just using the fuel included and not have to visit a petrol station at all!
Who Shouldn’t opt for Free Tank?
It sounds odd to suggest anyone would be better off without a free tank of fuel, however it only works out as truly ‘free’ if you were going to add additional drivers and/or GPS anyway. The cost of individually adding extras is likely to be far more than including within a package and you’ll have to return the car full as well.
Chloe Demaret
Posted: June 26, 2018 by Chloe Demaret
About the Author -

Travel writer, social media guru, Chloe keeps our readers and customers up to speed with all the car rental and travel trends on our blog. Favourite destination: Dubai.

Last updated: Tuesday, June 26, 2018
GC Car Rentals
Thank you for you topic, but I want to mention that there is an other one fuel policy which is very popular in Cyprus.
We call it same to same. We mark fuel level at delivery and customer needs to bring it back at the same level.
7/15/2019 8:55:10 PM