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Push to disclose hidden car-rental fees up front

February 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Have you ever shopped for a rental car, thought you found a great deal, only to find when it was time to pay the bill it was much higher than you expected?

The airlines now have to disclose the real price of tickets up front, but not so with car rental companies.

Comparison-shopping for the cheapest rental deal online can be frustrating.

Let's say you select a vehicle you can afford on a major rental website. Once you proceed to "check out" and all the fees are added, that original price can jump up significantly. Often the actual cost exceeds the listed price, sometimes by double.

The American Car Rental Association (ACRA) says those extra fees upset them too.

"This is one of the challenges we face as an industry: Our consumers experience sticker shock," said Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association.

The association says many of the fees are out of the companies' control and that depending on where you rent a car, the state, county or local community may be trying to make extra cash with car renters' fees.

Those fees are used to help pay for things like sports stadiums, convention centers, road-construction projects and budget shortfalls.

The association says across the country more than 100 car-rental excise taxes have been passed, costing renters more than $7.5 billion.

But consumer advocates say car rental companies may have no control over cities or states driving up fees, but they do have control over disclosing the real price of the car up front.

"Car rental companies tell you one price, get you all excited about it and then wind up charging you significantly more," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org.

Unlike airlines, rental car companies aren't required to disclose extra fees up front.

Not much can be done about the fees some governments are charging now, but there is a bill pending in Congress that would prohibit additional states or local governments from passing any new excise taxes on car rentals.