Which Car Hire Fuel Policy is Best?

When you're looking at car hire prices on comparison websites, you'll see a wide variety of prices for similar cars. But it's not just the base cost of the hire you need to take into consideration when you're searching for the best deal for you.

The car hire companies all set their own fuel policies, with some firms having more than one policy, which can be confusing. Some deals represent the best value, while others offer you more convenience. In the middle ground, you will find more flexibility. The best policy for you will depend on your priorities.

What Do the Fuel Policies Actually Mean?

There are generally four hire car fuel policies you will come across:

  • Full to Full – When you pick up the car, it will have a full tank of fuel. If you return the car with a full tank, there will be no fuel fees to pay.
  • Full to Empty – You pay a premium price for a full tank when you pick up the car, and you try to return it with as little fuel left as possible. You don't get refunded for any unused fuel.
  • Full to Empty (Partial Refund) – You'll pay for a full tank at the premium price, but you will be refunded the local price for any fuel you don't use.
  • Free Tank – The car will be full when you collect it, and you can return it without filling up.

We'll take a closer look at these policies to enable you to make an informed decision when you're renting a car.

Full to Full

With this policy, you don't get any nasty surprises. If you return the car with a full tank of fuel you only pay the local pump price for the fuel that you have actually used. There will be no service charge or refuelling fees.

A deposit will be blocked on your credit card at the start of the hire, but that will be released when you return the car full. It can be an expensive mistake to not return it full as you would have to pay a fuel surcharge and refuelling fees. Some companies state that you must provide a receipt from the nearest petrol station.

To get the best from this policy:

  • Check that the car is actually full. If not, inform the staff.
  • Check where the closest petrol station is, and that it will be open when you're dropping off the car.
  • Keep the receipt when you refuel just in case the staff ask for it.

This policy might not be for you if you're concerned that you'll be in a hurry when you return the car, or whether a nearby petrol station will be open.

Full to Empty

You will be charged for a full tank of fuel when you collect the car and return it as empty as possible. The benefit is that you can just drop off the car without worrying about filling up. If you value convenience over cost you might consider this option, but you should be aware that:

  • You could pay more than double the price for the fuel than you would expect to pay locally.
  • You won't be refunded for any remaining fuel.
  • Running out of fuel would cancel out the convenience factor and cause you a lot of hassle.

Although the base hire cost could appear very cheap, the cost of the fuel could actually make it much more expensive.

Full to Empty with a Partial Refund

This policy is similar to the full to empty policy, except that you will be refunded for any fuel in the tank when you return the car. However, you will be charged for the full tank at the premium price, but the refund will be at a lower price. Depending on the company, refunds are usually based on a quarter or eighth of a tank increments. It is advisable to take a picture of the fuel gauge when you drop off the car so you can prove how much was left.

Free Tank

With this, you get a full tank of fuel and you return the car with whatever is left in the tank. This is quite a rare policy and will often be part of a deal to include extras in your car hire, such as additional drivers or GPS.

This would probably suit you if you would have paid for the extras anyway, but you should look at the base cost of the hire, plus the extras and what a tank of fuel would cost. If the deal is cheaper than these combined costs, you should maybe go for it.

You should remember to check the small print for any car hire before you finalise the booking and pay any money. That way you can avoid unpleasant surprises at the hire counter.