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The Consequences: What Happens If You Return a Rental Car Late? : Automotive Addicts

The Consequences What Happens If You Return a Rental Car

Renting a car can be very convenient, especially when you are traveling. Yet, you should be careful with your rental time; otherwise, you may face consequences. So, we will explain what happens if you return a rental car late. 

You may assume that returning a car late will add additional days to your bill. Yet, it is not that simple since every rental agency has its own rules. The US rental policy covers everything from rental fees and returns policy to high interest rates and limited access to car rentals. 

Now, let’s dive in and discover!

What Happens If You Return a Rental Car Late?

Returning a rental car late may lead to several consequences, depending on the rental car agency, the rental agreement, the state, etc.

The most common situations of returning a car late are facing late return fees, paying surcharges for multiple days, losing potential discounts, paying high interest on your credit card, or facing limited access to car rentals.

Since it may happen often to get stuck in traffic, almost every rental agency has a grace period of 29 minutes for daily rentals. If you return your rental car after that, you may have to pay an extra fee or face other consequences, depending on your specific situation and rental agreement.

Consequences of returning a rental car late

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Before renting a car, you need to consider your needs. You can choose economical, standard cars and SUVs or check out some luxury cars for rent. Once you decide what type of car you need, check the rental price and carefully read the agreement. Based on the vehicle type, the renting prices vary, as well as the late fees.

So, what occurs if you bring back a rental car after the due time? The following are some of the most common consequences.

Late return fees

If you return a rental car late, you will have to pay a late return fee. The price range of this fee depends on several factors, including how long the car is overdue, the terms stated in the agreement, and what type of vehicle you have rented. 

Late fees usually start charging between 30 minutes to one hour late and can range from $10 to $50 per day, depending on the rental company. For example, some companies charge a flat rate of $10 per day, while others do not charge anything if you request an extension.

Late return policy

Rental car companies have different policies for late returns, which may vary from company to company. Policies can range from being flexible to being strict. 

A flexible car rental policy means the rental company allows changes to the rental agreement, like extending the rental period or changing the pick-up and drop-off location. On the other hand, a strict policy means the rental company has severe fines for any change to the original agreement. That is why reading and understanding the rental agreement before signing it is important.

Furthermore, rental car companies may use different criteria to determine when a car is considered late. Usually, most rental companies allow a grace period of 29 minutes, which means you will not be charged a late fee if you return the car in this timeframe. Yet, you should always check the rental contract to see the company’s specific policy.

Surcharges for multiple days

Suppose you return the rental car after the grace period the rental car company allows. In that case, you will have to pay an additional rental fee. The rental is calculated based on a 24-hour period. That means you could be charged for two full days of rental, even if you return the car only a few hours late.

Many rental companies advise that the car will be checked in the next business day if you return it after hours. You are responsible for the rental car until then. 

Loss of additional discounts

Another consequence of returning a rental car late is the loss of any special discounts you may have received. Rental car companies often have deals for longer rentals, like weekly or monthly rentals. If you return the car late, you may lose that discount and pay the total amount.

High-interest rate

If you have used a credit card to rent the car and you return the car late, you may get high interest rates on the rented amount. Most rental car companies will charge late fees to the credit card used to make the reservation. Late fees can accumulate high interest rates, especially if you have rented the car for an extended period.

Limited access to car rentals

If you return a rental car late and the company charges you a fee, it may also affect your future ability to rent a car. Many rental companies track late returns and late fees. If you return a rental car late more than once, the company may flag your account, meaning you will have limited access to future car rentals.

Damage fees

If you return a rental car late and damage the car, you will be responsible for those damages. If the car was involved in an accident during the late period or suffered any other kind of damage, you will be liable for those damages. That is, the rental car company will charge you accordingly.

In addition, the car company might sue you for breaking the contract. Depending on the situation, they could also report you for damaging their property.

Legal consequences

In rare, extreme cases where the rental car company did not have any other option to recover late fees, they may file a lawsuit. The rental company could sue you for any outstanding late fees, damages, or other violation of the rental contract. You may pay thousands of dollars if the rental company wins the case.

Car Rental Tips

The following tips and tricks might help you when renting a car:

Get bonuses and discounts through partnerships

Car rental agencies often collaborate with other companies, such as airlines, credit card issuers, and hotels, to offer bonuses and other discounts. So, if you have hotel points or airline miles, you can check whether they collaborate with a car rental agency and book them. The benefits vary from partnership to partnership, but you can expect a certain discount.

Make sure you are insured

Insuring your rental car may feel confusing and expensive. First, you should check whether your home or auto insurance covers car rentals. Moreover, certain credit cards cover rental car insurance. This will save you from the rental agency’s overpriced car insurance.

Earn bonuses on your credit card

Some credit cards accumulate extra rewards on car rentals. Check if your credit card offers this and pay for your car rental. Plus, some credit cards offer cash back or bonus points for gas purchases. You will earn credit card bonus points since you need to refuel your rental car several times.

Consider roadside assistance

Besides bonus points, cash back for gas purchases, and discounts for car rentals, some credit cards offer roadside assistance. Therefore, check if your credit card offers free emergency roadside assistance. 

Pay attention to specifics

When you decide to rent a car, check the details. Car categories can be confusing because there are different car labels like economy, standard, full-size, luxury, premium, SUV, and more. Hence, to choose the right car, consider what you need. That is, whether you need more car seats, bigger baggage space, an entertainment system, etc.

Avoid airport supercharges

Whether you are flying or not, airports have the best rental car outlets in a city. Yet, remember that many rental agencies charge extra fees at airport locations. So, you can avoid airport supercharges and take your rental car from a different location.

Fill the tank up yourself

Finally, this is a handy rental tip. Although renting a car with a full gas tank seems convenient, it is not. This is because they will probably expect the tank to be full when you return the car, which might be time-consuming for you.


So, what happens if you return a rental car late? In short, returning a rental car late may be costly. Among the late return of rental car outcomes are late return fees, surcharges for multiple days, loss of extra discounts, high-interest rates, limited access to car rentals, damage fees, and legal consequences.

Therefore, always make sure to understand the rental agreement before you sign. By paying attention to the contract and its details, you can avoid paying late fees and facing penalties.

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