A lot of times when you rent a vehicle, you are not always able to perfectly plan out your drop off time.
Maybe you have an early or late red-eye flight or some other obligation that forces you to drop off the car very late or very early.
In those situations, what exactly are you supposed to do with your rental car if the rental car agency is not open?
In this article, we will provide you with some advice on how to handle after-hour drop offs, so that you will know exactly what to expect and you can avoid some common pitfalls.
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Do rental car companies allow you to drop off after hours?
Most major rental car companies allow you to drop off a rental vehicle even after the rental car center is closed. This policy may not be officially advertised on the website but if you contact the rental car location they will usually verify that this is possible.
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How do you drop off a rental car after hours?
Verify the rental car company’s policy
As mentioned, most major rental car companies offer after-hour drop offs at their locations. But it’s possible that not all of them will so if you know you will have to drop off a vehicle late, call that specific location and inquire about it.
Some locations may not offer after-hours drop offs but they still might be flexible if you book an advanced payment booking. For example, they may stay open 30 minutes later since you are already paying for your rental vehicle and they can plan ahead.
If an airport location is not open 24 hours it might stay open a little bit later if they see that your flight has been delayed, so be sure to always add accurate flight details to your booking!
Verify you are at the correct location
The next step is to make sure that you are dropping off your rental car at the correct location.
If you are dropping off your vehicle at a non-airport location, this should be pretty easy to verify. For example, a lot of rental car locations have clear signage and it would be hard to mistake them for another location.
But if you are dropping off after hours at an airport, sometimes it’s not so clear.
This is because at small or regional airports, the drop off lots are not always well marked. Furthermore, sometimes several rental car companies are sharing the same lot while others may have their own lot.
This is why it’s a good reason to verify where the drop off lot is whenever you pick-up your vehicle.
Turn in your key
The next thing you will need to do is to turn in your key. Do not leave the key inside of the vehicle.
Sometimes there is a box or some type of slot where you can insert your key.
Again, make sure you are putting it in the proper box.
Take a look at the image below and you can see the slot for Avis on the right hand side of the booth.
If you want extra proof that you returned the key you can always record yourself placing the key into the slot or box.
Take photos of everything
When you return your vehicle during business hours a lot of times there are multiple people around and you deal directly with a rental car agent who takes custody of the vehicle.
In these situations, it’s less likely that “foul play” will happen although it still can.
But when you return the vehicle after hours there’s a chance that your vehicle might be sitting by itself for several hours. Therefore, there is an opportunity for dishonest people to do things like run up your mileage, reduce the fuel amount, etc.
So it’s a good practice to take photos of the fuel gauge, mileage odometer, and also photos of the exterior of the vehicle.
And don’t make the rookie mistake of taking your photos too zoomed in!
Instead, be sure to include the surroundings when you take your photo. If it’s dark, use the flash or a flashlight to illuminate the nearby ground, signs, parking lot numbers. Video can work, too.
This way if anything happens you can have proof of the status of the vehicle at the time you returned it and someone cannot accuse you of taking those photos before you returned the vehicle.
It also helps to keep track of your credit card statements or receipts if you filled up the vehicle before dropping it off.
Be aware of the risks
Whenever you return the vehicle after hours, you are still technically responsible for that vehicle until the rental agency opens back up and an agent officially takes possession of your vehicle. This is a common policy for major rental car companies such as Avis, National, and Enterprise.
For example, Enterprises states:
If returning after hours when a branch is closed, the customer is responsible for the vehicle until the satisfactory check in of the rental vehicle the next business day.
Therefore, if something happens to the vehicle after hours you will be responsible for it.
If you took photos of your vehicle, that might help your case that you personally did not do the damage but it’s still possible they could put it on you.
If you have collision damage waiver or some other form of insurance, you should be covered but it will still likely be a hassle to deal with for a while.
For those reasons, you may want to think twice about returning a vehicle after hours if the lot is located in a sketchy area.
And regardless of the local environment, make sure that you lock the door on the rental car! You don’t want to get sued for negligence in the event someone were to access the vehicle and do some damage.
Your liability for turning in a vehicle after hours should be clear in the terms and conditions whenever you book your rental vehicle so it’s always helpful to go through those.
How after hour drop-off hours affect your rental rate
Rental car companies do not “turn back the clock” whenever you return the vehicle very early or very late.
For example, if your rental car was to be turned in at 7 AM and you returned it at 3 AM, you most likely will not get a discount for turning it in four hours early.
Instead, the time will end whenever the agent officially picks up your vehicle.
This can be really important if you are turning in your vehicle late.
Most rental car companies have a grace period where they allow you to turn in your vehicle a little bit late without a penalty.
For example, you might be able to return the vehicle one hour past the timeframe and still not get charged extra. Each rental car company has its own policy and you can check out a breakdown of those here.
If a rental car company closes at 10 PM and you return the vehicle at 11 PM, it’s very possible that the rental car company will not consider your vehicle turned in until they reopen in the morning.
Therefore, the grace period will probably not apply and you may have to pay for an extra day or at least some extra hours. So that’s just something to keep in mind.
Dropping off a rental car after the rental car location is closed is usually possible.
However, you want to verify this before hand and also verify where the drop off location is.
Finally, take pictures of important details like the fuel gauge and mileage and be aware that you are probably responsible for that vehicle until the rental car location opens up in the morning.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.