Here’s What Happens if You Keep a Rental Car Too Long

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There are a million reason why you may be returning your rental car late. Maybe you extended your trip, woke up late, or just hit some unexpected traffic. Whatever the reason is, it’s going to cost you.

Rental car return times are based on a 24-hour window and must be returned on time. Most companies offer a grace period of 30-60 minutes, where they won’t charge additional fees. Cars returned outside of that window are subject to late fees and hourly charges based on how late the vehicle is returned.

CompanyGrace PeriodLate Fee
Avis29 minutesHourly charges (75% of daily rate) / full day charged after 1.5 hours
Alamo29 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 2 hours
Advantage59 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 3 hours
Budget29 minutes Hourly charges
Dollar30 minutesHourly charges
Enterprise29 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 2.5 hours
Hertz59 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 2 hours
National29 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 2.5 hours
Payless29 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 1.5 hours
Thrifty30 minutesHourly charges
SIXT30 minutesAdditional day charged
FOX59 minutesHourly charges / additional day charged after 3 hours

If you know that you’re going to return your rental car late, it’s important that you let the company know. It is possible to avoid late fees. I’ll show you how in this post.

Late Fees for Rental Car Returns

Car rentals are based on a 24 hour periods. If you picked up your vehicle at 9am, then your return time is also going to be 9am. Anything passed that time is considered late.

Almost all rental car companies will give you a grace period after your scheduled return time to drop the vehicle off. The grace period is usually 30-60 minutes but can vary by branch and location.

After that grace period expires, they will hit you with a late fee (typically $10-$20) and begin to charge you for every hour you are late (usually a percentage of your daily rate). If you’re really late, the rental company will just bill you for the entire day. Every company is different, but this normally happens 2-3 hours after the return time.

For every additional day that you’re late you’ll have to pay both the late fee and daily rate. If you want to avoid the late fee, the best way to do that is by extending your rental.

Extending Your Rental

If you know that you’re going to be late, the only way to avoid late fees is to extend your rental. You’ll still have to pay for an extra day, but you’ll sidestep the $10-$20 per day of late fees.

To extend your rental, make sure you call your rental company ahead of time to let them know. If you wait until the last minute, they will still charge you a late fee.

When extending your rental, there is no guarantee that they’ll keep your original rate. The company may also charge a fee for changing the original rental contract, but it’s going to cost less than a late fee.

After Hours Returns

Most airport locations offer 24 hour returns, however some neighborhood locations do not. Before returning a car after hours, it’s important to ensure that the branch you’re renting from accepts after hours returns. If not, you’ll be responsible for the vehicle until it is checked the next business day and will be charged a late fee.

Before leaving your keys in the drop box, take a video of the car and the fuel gauge. Documenting the condition of the vehicle gives you clear evidence if there is a claim.

You’re not going to be there to inspect the vehicle in person with a representative, so companies are quick to apply additional charges. Having a video of the condition you left the car in can help if there’s a dispute.

What Happens if Return a Rental Car Early

Rental car rates are partly based on the length of your reservation. Since longer rentals are typically cheaper, your daily rate may increase if you return your vehicle early. Depending on how early you return the car, the rental company may also charge a small contract modification fee.

Not all companies charge this fee, but a few do. Fortunately, contract modification fees cost less than paying for an additional day with the car.

If you’re concerned about overpaying for your rental car, check out the article I wrote about the best time to book a rental. You can save a couple hundred dollars just by booking at the right time.