Have you ever wondered if you can smoke in a rental car?
It may be really tempting if you ever get a craving or just want to relax on a long drive during a trip.
But is it possible that you could be risking big fees and also exposing other travelers to harmful chemicals?
In this article, we will talk about the risks with smoking in a rental car and also break down the different policies for major rental car companies to see if any of them allow it.
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Overview of rental car company smoking policies
Most if not all major US rental car companies outlaw smoking in rental cars.
Some local agents may not enforce the ban, but that’s probably very rare.
The penalties for smoking in a rental vehicle could be pretty steep as rental car companies could hit you with a fee for up to $500. It’s even possible to get a permanent ban with some companies!
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Why is smoking in rental cars banned?
Car rental companies don’t permit smoking in rental cars because they want their cars to be odor free.
Customers are less likely to rent cars if the interiors smell like cigarettes. Also, smoking could damage cars with burn marks, littered cigarette buds, and ash discoloration.
Smoking in rental cars is also unethical and perhaps even dangerous.
The effects of smoking in a car may remain long after you’ve returned it, and it’s unethical to expose other people to those dangers.
You have probably heard of second-hand smoke before which is smoke that you come into contact with from other people smoking nearby.
But have you ever heard of a third-hand smoke?
Third-hand smoke refers to the tobacco residue left behind from smoking cigars and other tobacco products.
Third-hand smoke builds up on surfaces within cars and can even be re-emitted into the air.
You may have experienced third-hand smoke if you’ve ever sat in a car with a stale smoke smell in the interior.
Third-hand smoke in vehicles is a huge health concern and difficult to prevent.
Studies have found that commonly used ventilation methods failed to decrease third-hand smoke. For example, rolling down the windows while smoking may not significantly decrease the contamination.
How to avoid smoking fees after your next car rental
The only way to avoid smoking fees is to either not smoke or have the car cleaned before returning it if you’ve smoked in it.
But if you’ve picked up a rental car that someone else already smoked in, that’s a different story. In that case, you can use the following tips to avoid paying the smoking fees.
Don’t accept it if you smell cigarette smoke before picking up the car
If you suspect someone has already smoked in your rental car before you, inform the company. And get a different car. Otherwise, the car company might hold you responsible for the smell after you’ve returned it.
Be on your toes, if the smell emerges
Inform the car company immediately if you smell cigarette smoke in the car after you’ve already picked it up. They will usually douse the car with strong cleaners to sanitize it, removing the smell.
When you inform them, ensure you explain that you didn’t smoke in the vehicle. The company should not charge you for the cleaning if you’re not responsible for it.
Get a waiver
Make sure the car company doesn’t charge you for smoke damage if they accept you didn’t smoke
Ask the car rental company to give you a waiver when you return the car. Car rental employees are usually in a hurry, so you’ll have to ensure they provide you with a proper waiver.
Be mindful of late charges
Rental companies are notorious for adding late charges, potentially including smoking fees, even after you’ve paid your rental fees. So check your credit card statement at the end of the month you rent a car.
Notify your credit card issuer immediately if you notice any suspicious charges in your statement.
Should you still try to smoke in a rental car?
If you anticipate having strong cravings to smoke while in a rental car, you might still consider smoking during your travels.
But this is a bad idea.
As you will see below, rental car companies may impose huge fees for turning in a vehicle with evidence of smoking. And as you probably know, it’s pretty easy to detect if someone has been smoking inside of a vehicle.
It’s true, you could resort to certain tactics like smoking with the window down but those are not full proof. For example, you could still easily get ash inside the vehicle which could be difficult to get out of a seat.
But more importantly, as mentioned above, it’s really hard to get out the remnants from third hand smoke.
So chances are unless you are an expert cleaner, you will be leaving behind harmful chemicals and exposing other people to them. It’s just not a very considerate way to go.
Instead, if you really have to smoke when renting a vehicle, park in a designated smoking area and smoke outside.
How Do Rental Car Companies Know if You Smoke?
Rental car companies have an agent inspect your vehicle after you return it. These inspectors are trained to spot physical evidence of smoking, like ash burns or the smell of tobacco.
It’s relatively easy to find evidence of smoking in a car. Cigarette smoke leaves a strong smell that’s hard to miss. Non-tobacco products like marijuana and even some vapes also leave behind strong smells.
The smoking policies of different car rental companies
Pretty much all car rental companies ban smoking, but the policies vary. Some explicitly ban smoking non-tobacco products like marijuana, while others don’t.
The penalties for smoking also vary. Some companies charge higher fees than others. A few will even permanently ban you from their service for smoking in their cars!
Alamo’s terms and conditions state that you accept that their vehicles are ‘non-smoking cars’ and agree to pay additional cleaning fees if the car has to be cleaned and deodorized because of smoking.
Avis states that smoking is not permitted in any rental cars. They began a non-smoking policy in 2009. They also charge a cleaning fee of $450 if you violate this policy.
Budget does not permit smoking in any rental cars. This ban includes non-tobacco forms of smoking like vaping and e-cigarettes. They charge a variable cleaning fee depending on the degree of damage.
Enterprise forbids all smoking in rental vehicles. And they charge over $500 in penalties.
All of National’s cars are also explicitly non-smoking vehicles. They also charge a variable cleaning fee if evidence of smoking is discovered.
Silvercar/Audi on demand
Silvercar prohibits all smoking in rental vehicles, including smoking non-tobacco substances, legal for medicinal or recreational purposes. They charge a cleaning fee of a minimum of $300 if any smoking evidence is found.
Sixit has a 100% smoke-free fleet, and they ban all types of smoking, including cigarettes and cigars. They add an extra cleaning fee to your rental cost if you return a vehicle with evidence of smoking.
Thrifty implemented a fully smoke-free policy in 2013. They’re one of the few major car rental companies that used to allow smoking. Before 2013, they had a separate smoking and non-smoking fleet.
But due to repeated hygiene-related complaints, they became smoke-free in 2013. Nowadays, they also charge a variable cleaning fine if you smoke in their cars.
Turo bans all tobacco and non-tobacco smoking, including marijuana or marijuana substitutes. Violation of this ban results in a fee of $250 plus an additional 3% processing fee and a permanent ban.
Smoking in a rental vehicle is just not a good idea.
The fees for getting caught can be very high and it can be pretty difficult to remove all of the evidence of your smoking, especially because you can’t undo burn marks and ash can be difficult to remove.
Even if you are thorough with your cleaning, chances are you’re still leaving behind harmful chemicals in the vehicle and that will force others to be exposed to them which is not a very considerate thing to do. So my advice is to just not smoke in your rental vehicle.
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.