Renting a car and tolls: how it all works

If there’s anything that drives us nuts about driving, it’s two things: people who don’t know the right of way and tolls. While we can’t really help elevate the competence level of other drivers, we can help you sort out that whole thing with the tolls. And you’d actually be surprised – it’s one of our most commonly asked questions.


Tolls can represent an interesting conundrum for travelers – especially those on a budget. Here are some of your options and how you can plan to manage them with your next rental car and/or the next time you travel.


So, what to do first?


The first thing you do is plan. When you are driving in a new, unfamiliar place where you know you’ll encounter tolls – you just need to stay ahead of the game. But to be sure – you’ll still have to pay. You can go through some rental company’s toll policies, but that can turn a cheap rental into a pricey one quickly. You can also pay out of pocket, but that can turn into an inconvenience.


So what are your options?


The first option you have is to simply avoid tolls altogether. In some areas, you can travel from A to B without ever having to pay tolls so long as you’re smart about it. Some people call it shunpiking – or the practice of actively avoiding toll rolls. The upside is well, no tolls! The downside is that you’re likely to find yourself on quite the adventure in terms of getting around. Travel will inevitably take you longer and of course – it takes time to map these things out.

The second thing you can do is simply bring your own personal device. For example in the Northeast US, there’s the E-ZPass. It’ll work across states and simply deducts the amount from your transponder’s account. This is usually the easiest thing to do, but bear in mind – not every region reads another’s transponders. To make things worse, you could accidentally whiz through a tollbooth without paying and that’ll result in not only a hefty fine from the state, but also a bill from the rental car company. So if you decide to pursue this option, do your homework first!


Lastly, you could simply use the rental car’s service. You will get charged for the tolls incurred, but you’ll also get charged by the company for the privilege of having the pass. While this isn’t the most palatable insofar as your wallet is concerned, it does make the most sense if you’re taking a longer road trip.


At the end of the day, we recommend abiding by the rules of the local rental car company. Unexpected tolls are frustrating, but they’re not something that should be a source of stress as all companies are well versed in navigating those waters.

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