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Returning Your Car Rental Late: What You Need to Know

When renting a vehicle, you agree to a specific period, including the pick-up and drop-off time. While most people do their best to meet these terms, it isn't always possible — plans change, flights get delayed, and business meetings take longer than anticipated. 


In all these scenarios, returning a rental car late may lead to fees. Thankfully, you can avoid them by following the tips we'll consider in this article! 

What Happens If You Return Your Rental Car Late?

Some people assume that if they return their car a couple of days late, the rental company will simply tack on the additional days, but that's not the case. 


When renting a car, you sign a rental agreement establishing the terms you and the agency must follow. Among these terms are the drop-off time and date. Therefore, failure to return the vehicle at the agreed time is a breach of contract. As such, the car rental company may penalize you. 


Most companies take late returns seriously because they affect future customers. The agency may not have enough time to process the car and prepare it for the next renter. 


Thus, most car rental companies have strict policies to deter customers from returning vehicles late. For example, they may charge late fees by the hour or day, change your rental price, or add extra days at a higher daily rate.

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Is There a Grace Period for Late Rental Returns?

The good news is that most companies don't start charging you just because you're one minute late. Typically, a grace period allows you to return the car without incurring a late return fee. 


Of course, grace periods vary by company, so getting acquainted with the terms and conditions is crucial before signing the rental contract. Doing so ensures you know what the company expects of you before you leave the rental counter. 


Below are some examples of policies from rental car agencies regarding late returns. 

Airport Van Rental

Late returns or last-minute extensions are subject to higher daily/weekly rates. There is also a $25 extension fee. Call your local AVR Van Rental location for more information. 

Alamo

Like many companies, Alamo has a 29-minute grace period. After this, Alamo starts charging fees. The first two-hour period is discounted, and after, late renters pay for the full day.

Avis

Avis doesn't have a grace period, but they give latecomers a discounted rate for up to two hours. After, they'll pay the total daily rental rate.

Budget

Budget also has a 29-minute grace period. They offer a discounted rate for vehicles 30-90 minutes late. The daily rate applies after that, plus an additional $20 penalty after the seven-hour mark. 

Dollar

Dollar gives customers a 30-minute grace period and a discounted rate for rentals up to an hour late. After that, the daily rate and additional late fees apply. 

Enterprise

Enterprise follows the standard 29-minute grace period. A discounted rate lasts 2.5 hours, after which a daily rate applies to late returns. 

Hertz

Most customers have a 29-minute grace period, except Platinum Card holders who booked with the American Express code. They have a four-hour grace period.


There is no discounted rate, so after 30 minutes, regular customers will have to pay an extra day. 

Thrifty

Thrifty offers a 30-minute grace period. After which, late renters will pay either a discounted or full rate, depending on the rental location. 


As you can see, grace periods tend to last 29 minutes at most rental companies. So, if your drop-off time is 5:00 pm, you won't get charged extra until 5:30. 

Tips for Returning Your Rental Car Late

Whether you're going to be a couple of minutes late because of a traffic jam or need to keep the car an extra week, the following steps will help. Follow them closely so you don't get stuck with unexpected charges on your credit card.

Contact Your Rental Company

First things first, call your rental company. Even if you are just running a few minutes behind on your way to return the vehicle, contact the rental company and let them know. Some rental agencies forgive renters who notify them before the return time, meaning they don't charge them a late rental fee. 


If you know you will be several hours or days late, contact the company as soon as you become aware of your new circumstances. Ask them if you can extend the rental, what fees you'll face for changing the rental period, and what your new daily rate will be for the extra time. 


Expert Tip: When renting cars, saving the rental office's number on your phone is a great idea. You won't have to worry about looking for the reservation or contract to find the correct phone number at the last minute. 

Know Your Grace Period

If your rental company has a grace period, confirm you know what it is. You can find the policies for several companies in this article, but be sure to read your contract for rental location specifics. Call their office to ask if you can't find this information on your rental agreement or the agency's website. 

Prepare for Additional Fees

If you manage to get the vehicle back to the drop-off location before the grace period ends, you may not have to pay extra. 


However, not all rental agencies have a grace period. Late returns are typically subject to additional charges if this is the case. 


Rental car companies may charge an hourly rate for a certain period. After a couple of hours, they usually charge you an extra rental day. These fees add up quickly! 


Unfortunately, depending on your circumstances, you may even receive other penalties. Here are some of the most common types. 

Last-Minute Fee

If you have to pay an additional day of rent, it will likely be a more expensive rate than what you paid for the rest of the rental period since you are adding this time last minute. 

Modification Fee

This is a fee for changing the contract. If you call to extend your reservation or bring the car back later than expected, you may be charged this fee. 

After Hours Fee

You may be able to drop your rental car off after hours for an additional fee. One way around this is to rent from airport locations since they are usually open 24/7. If you go this route, be aware that some airport rental vehicle locations charge higher rates to make up for airport tax. 


Since it's so easy to rack up additional charges, include some wiggle room in your car rental budget. That way, you won't have to stress out when running late or because you accidentally scratched the bumper. This is especially important if you rent your vehicle with a debit card because insufficient funds could lead to bank fees, making the ordeal much more expensive. 

Seamlessly Handle Late Drop-Offs with AVR

Returning a rental car late can lead to fees, so choosing a company that allows for some measure of flexibility is best. If you know you will return the vehicle later than planned, let the car rental company know as soon as possible. Following these steps can help you avoid steep fees. 


If you're planning a spontaneous road trip, look no further than Airport Van Rental! We offer up to 15-passenger van rentals, so you don't have to leave anyone you love behind on the trip of a lifetime. Plus, if your plans change at the last minute, call us anytime — we can extend your reservation!