PHOENIX - When you rent a car, you look for the best deal. But a lot of the money you’re paying isn’t going to rental car companies.
The ABC15 Investigators went to the rental car center at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport to talk to people who had just rented cars.
They read their receipts and discovered that, in some cases, more than half of what they had just paid went to taxes and fees that were tacked onto the cost of the car itself.
“Highway robbery” is what one customer called it, and none of them knew where all of that extra money was going.
It turns out those are fees and taxes tacked onto your bill not by the rental car companies, but by local and state governments looking for some extra money.
So, if you rent a car on your summer vacation this year, your money could be helping to plug a budget gap in San Mateo County or to fund the performing arts in Las Vegas.
Rental car companies have been fighting fees like these for decades.
Robert Barton, head of the American Rental Car Association , calls it “taxation without representation.”
“A lot of politicians think, ‘Well, we're taxing outsiders, not necessarily people coming in here, so what's another dollar on top of a rental fee?’" Jim Prewter, with AAA Arizona , explained.
According to Barton, it’s “taxing people that don't have a vote.”
So, which cities charge you the most when you visit? The ABC15 Investigators searched for rental car reservations on several sites and for several different rental car companies to find out. Here are the results:
In San Diego, about half of your rental bill will go to taxes and fees. Our searches averaged more than 48 percent of the total bill in taxes and fees out of San Diego International.
In Las Vegas, the numbers were a little better – about 40 percent of the totals went to taxes and fees.
Fees in New York were some of the lowest. Only around 25 percent of the total price of renting a car there went to taxes and fees. But, you can expect to spend a lot more in the Big Apple renting the car itself.
If you’re headed to Los Angeles’ LAX airport or San Francisco, though, watch out. In most cases, more than half of what you’ll spend at those airports will go to fees and taxes – 52 percent, on average, based on our searches.
Fees on rentals can change based on the total price, but you can find out exactly what fees and taxes you’ll be charged in any city if you go to any travel search engine or to any rental car company’s website and make a reservation for a car. Before you have to purchase anything, the site will give you a breakdown of how much of the total price is in taxes and fees.
The ABC15 Investigators requested exact breakdowns of the taxes and fees at airports in the most popular travel destinations for Arizonans. Check the next page for the results.
Most airports we researched have a fee that pays for the rental car facility at that airport, and all have state taxes added on. California levies a tourism fee on rental cars and some airports charge an Airport Concession Recovery Fee for airport operations.
Right here in Phoenix at Sky Harbor, a lot of a tourist’s money will go straight to taxes and fees when they rent a car.
"Arizona's taking it a little bit further in the context that they really have a stadium tax,” Barton said.
In 2000, Arizonans voted to make tourists who rent cars here help pay for the Cardinals stadium in Glendale.
Now, the rental car industry is pushing federal legislation in Washington, HR2469, to stop further taxes on tourism.