Car rental companies are up to their old tricks again

Back in June, consumers were puffed up with pride when Hertz announced it was ending its policy of overcharging customers for gas. If you returned the car without filling the tank all the way again, Hertz gave customers the option of pre-buying gas set according to the going rate at the pumps in that city, plus a $7 fee. Considering that before then, it was gouging us for twice the market rate of gas, or some $8 a gallon, the policy revision was a breath of fresh air.

We're gasping again. A few weeks ago, with none of the P.R. fanfare that accompanied the policy's implementation, Hertz quietly eliminated them. We're back to square one. As gas prices became more manageable, the rental car company's panic evaporated, and now that it isn't so desperate for our business, its true colors are returning.

Hertz's policy, poorly disclosed to customers, has also been that if you drive less than 50 to 100 miles during your rental, you are automatically charged a refueling fee. Even if your tank was returned full. That policy, too, seems to live on, unchanged. (I've asked Hertz to tell me if it does. No response so far.)

In early summer, the Maryland Attorney General was threatening to sue car rental companies over practices like these, and some bystanders thought that the legal pressure was what convinced them to relent. Something must have changed behind the scenes -- back-room deals, perhaps? -- because Hertz is no longer playing ball.