16 September 2013

Rental car companies use "electronic fuel metering"

Excerpts from an interesting column in the Travel section of the Washington Post:
Karen Freeman thought that she’d returned her Chrysler 200 Sedan to the Richmond airport with a full tank. She thought wrong. “An agent noted that the tank was full,” says Freeman, an architect from Atlanta. The gauge also registered that the tank was at capacity, she says.  But a few days later, when she reviewed her credit card bill, she discovered that Avis had charged her an extra $7.43 for 0.8 gallons of gas, or about $9.29 per gallon.
Avis isn’t the only car rental company measuring fuel down to a tenth of a gallon. Hertz is installing this technology, which is referred to by the industry term electronic fuel metering, in its fleet over the next few months in an effort to ensure that every drop of fuel is accounted and paid for...

If you’re renting a high-end, low-mileage car, your chances of having a vehicle with electronic fuel metering are good. You can either prepay for a full tank of gas through a rental company’s fuel-purchase option and time the return of your rental to the moment the tank reaches the “E” mark, or you can fill the tank to the top just before you return it and hope for the best.

Mark Frissora, Hertz’s chief executive, says that his company loses $50 million a year in fuel. Its new system, called Zibox, is capable of shutting off a car engine remotely and operating car locks from afar. It relays location data, tire air pressure and fuel-level information back to Hertz, too. In other words, it will know exactly how much fuel you have in the car at any given time.

“This is going to be good for customers,” Frissora says. 
Yes, we believe that.

And the part about being able to shut off a car engine and operating its locks remotely is a bit scary.


  1. I'll believe this when I see copies of checks issued to the car renters for full tanks in excess of the company electronic reading was. Random fill points imply that there should be at least a good percentage of overfills.


    And double :P


  2. If you believe that capitalism works, any excess profits will eventually be returned to customers - if it turns out that National, Hertz and Avis are conspiring to fix prices, then that isn't capitalism. Anyway, it will benefit the honest customers.

    1. The way I understand it as being of potential benefit to customers is that in the past if the person who rented the car before you failed to top up the gas tank fully, then you start with a 97% full tank and have to pay more when you top up at the end. At least now you should get a 100% full tank at the start.

      But I don't understand why "excess profits will eventually be returned to customers" rather than to stockholders and executives.

    2. What Bub means is that competition between the rental companies will eventually drive down rental costs until they get back to their previous profit margin (unless as he notes the companies are conspiring to keep prices artificially high). There will be excess profits enjoyed by the first adopters, but it likely won't be sustainable. And that's the miracle of capitalism.

      The same concept applies for airlines charging for checked bags. In the past when checked bags were free, all else being equal, it meant that ticket prices were higher to account for the cost of handling checked bags. This was a bad deal for people who didn't check bags as they were basically subsidizing others who did check bags.

  3. People are going to start 'burping' the rental car when they fill it up. I know I would.

  4. I rented a van last month from Enterprise. It was a 3/4 full. I was told that I had to return it 3/4 full or get dinged. So before I returned it, I filled it back up and tried my best to get 3/4. I failed. I put in more than that. So they get a couple (or more) free gallons from me.

    This ticked me off. I was wondering if all rental companies are trying this now? Is it a trick to try to get extra fuel from their customers? I could see that if someone returned a car full, they could pump out 1/4 of the tank and use it elsewhere and hope that the next customer overfills it.

    Anyhow, if this is the new standard, then it s brilliantly evil. But it makes me not want to rent from them if that is what they do.

  5. Actually, when I rent a car, I really prefer if the car is only filled to around 3/4 of a tank. That way, when I return it, I'm assured that I'm returning it with more fuel in it then when I rented it. And that way, I can save money, since it has been my experience that Car Rental Companies (ALL of them) charge top dollar (and more) to fill up tanks. If I pay 3.25 a gallon to fill the tank, I'm still going to save money, since the rental company would charge me 4.25 and more (I've seen over $5 per gallon) for each gallon to fill it.

  6. Some cars can already be hacked into and remotely shutdown and unlocked: http://www.autosec.org/pubs/cars-oakland2010.pdf (Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile) and http://www.autosec.org/pubs/cars-usenixsec2011.pdf (Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces)

  7. It's been my fairly limited experience that there are rarely gas stations immediately adjacent to airports. I've never fully understood why this is, but it always makes me paranoid that I'm having to fill up and then still drive several miles (to the airport or down the long roads often found on airport properties) to return the car to the rental company. I wonder if they take this into account or not.


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