Whether you’re a member of the car rental company’s loyalty program or you walked up to the rental counter, when you drove away in a vehicle you entered into a contract with the car rental company.

Plan your route

Allow plenty of time for your drive. Rental companies charge penalty fees for late car returns, so check when the car is due back. Online maps can predict journey-times. If you’re not sure where to go, give the rental company a call. You’ll find their number in the rental paperwork.

Find a nearby filling station

With a full to full fuel policy, simply fill up the tank just before returning the car. Keep the receipt in case there are any issues.

Most rentals have a ‘full to full’ fuel policy. This means the fuel tank is full when you pick the car up, and you refill the tank just before you return it.

Online maps can help you find a fuel station close to where you’re returning the car. When you buy the fuel, ask for a receipt in case you need to prove the tank is full.

Other fuel policies, such as ‘pre-purchase’, mean you don’t have to bring the car back full. To check your fuel policy, look at the Ts & Cs of your rental, or your confirmation email.

Gather all your things

As well as the boot, it’s worth checking the glove compartment, door buckets, underneath the seats, and back-seat pockets. Apart from your own belongings, it’s also a good idea to take all the paperwork the counter staff gave you. These documents are handy if anything comes up afterwards.

If there’s an agent in the car park

Wave at the rep to come over when you’re ready. Hopefully they will check the car with you, give you the end-of-rental paperwork (often called ‘check-in form’) and take the car key. Once they are sure everything is fine, they will unblock or refund your security deposit (although this can take up to two weeks to come through).

If you can’t see an agent in the car park

Look out for a drop box for car keys. It will have the rental company’s name and logo on it. The drop box is useful for when there aren’t any staff available or the office is closed.

If you can’t see a drop box for car keys, check the office door for information or a phone number.

Record any damage

If the vehicle was damaged during the rental, the car company is going to require a Condition Change Report. Take photos so you have proof of exactly how extensive the damage is. Unless you have an accident report showing another party is wholly responsible for the damage, the rental car company is going to come after you for damages. Even if the car was not damaged during your rental, it’s always a good idea to take photos when you return the car as proof in case there is ever a claim.

Taking photographs of the car’s condition when it’s returned might help if there are any issues over damage after a rental.

Once you’re safely parked up, take a photo of the fuel indicator and the mileage. Then step outside to photograph the car’s front, rear and sides.

These will come in handy if you get unexpected charges for any additional damage, mileage or missing fuel.

Get a receipt

Whether printed or emailed, a copy of the return receipt shows the vehicle was returned at a set date, time, odometer reading, and fuel level.


The upshot is that there are a lot of scenarios where the rental rate can change due if you return the car at a different time than planned.

Contract Modification Fees

If you return your rental car at a time other than what is on your rental agreement, the company might charge a Contract Modification fee. While the rental car company will ordinarily charge only for days used, there might be additional fees involved with changing the contract after pickup.

Early Return and Late Return Fees

You may assume a rental car company would love to get its car back early. But remember the rental car contract? If you return a vehicle early, the company may not be able to rent it out for those days. There’s also depreciation, the vicious daily expense for rental car firms.

Early return is a situation where the renter returns the rental vehicle before the agreed drop-off time. The supplier may give the renter a refund or charge an Early Return Fee, depending on the supplier’s terms and conditions. For this reason, it is important to read the terms and conditions before returning the vehicle early.

If you return a vehicle late, the rental car company might not be able to serve the next customer, especially if you rented a specialty or rare vehicle. In that case, the rental car company would get stuck compensating the customer who couldn’t be served. Rental companies sometimes charge a lateness fee if you drop the car off after the time you were due to return it. Find out what to do if you’re late returning your hire car, and how much you might be charged.

What happens if car rental is returned late?

If you return the vehicle at a later time than that which was agreed upon in the rental agreement, you will be charged for the extra hours of use. The price set for extra hours of use vary between rental companies but, in most cases, the vehicle´s daily rate will be divided by 24 (24 hours in a day) and you will be charged only for the extra hours of use. Note, though, that insurance coverages are accounted and charged for as a whole extra day.

We always recommend that you reach out to the rental company if you plan on using the vehicle for longer than that which was agreed upon in the rental agreement.

Car hire companies usually have a grace period, which varies from 29 minutes to 2½ hours. This period starts from the drop-off time you agreed to when you signed the rental agreement.

Once the grace period is over, car hire companies will charge you a penalty for being late, and charge you for any extra time that you’ve had the car. Check your car’s Ts &Cs to find out how long you have as a grace period for your rental.

Lastly, inform the car rental company about your delay and see whether they can agree on your delay or not. Because anything extra leads to payment.


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