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Your Ultimate Guide to Fuel Policies

In this guide:

What is a fuel policy?

Like any car, a hire car needs fuel — and the cost of that fuel is rarely included in the rental price.

There are many car hire companies to choose from and each company sets their own fuel policy which can make it confusing for customers, therefore Your Ultimate Guide to Fuel Policies is here to help.

Q. So which fuel policy is best? Different people prefer to pay in different ways, choose the right one and you’ll keep your fuel costs to a minimum.

Before you go ahead and choose, you should take a few minutes to find out how they work — and which one is most suitable for the trip you’re planning.

5 Fuel Policies: what they mean

The companies we work with offer five different fuel policies:

Policy Name

Policy Description

Full to Full No surprises
The fuel tank will be full or part-full when you pick your car up. Just replace the fuel you’ve used before you drop your car off and you’ll pay no fuel fees at all.
Pre-Purchase

Pay for convenience
You’ll pay for the fuel in the tank when you pick the car up. Try to drop the car off as empty as possible, as the car hire company won’t refund you for unused fuel.

Pre-Purchase (Refunds)

All about flexibility
Pay for the fuel that’s in the tank when you pick your car up. You’ll get a refund for any fuel you don’t use.

Pre-Purchase (Partial refunds)

Flexibility – at a price
When you pick your car up, you’ll pay for the fuel in the tank — and pay a non-refundable service charge to cover the car hire company’s refuelling expenses. You’ll get a refund for any fuel you don’t use.

Free Tank

Included in the rental price
The car will come with a free tank of fuel. 

When you’re choosing a car, our site clearly shows you which fuel policy comes with each car. If there are any fuel policies you really like (or don’t like), just tick the boxes on the left-hand side — and you’ll only see cars with your preferred fuel policy / policies.

Full to Full

No surprises

The car will come with a full fuel tank (or part-full, in some cases). As long as you replace the fuel you’ve used before you drop your car off, there’ll be:

  • No refuelling fees / service charges.
  • No paying more than local pump prices.
  • No paying for fuel that you don’t use.

Although you’ll have to leave a deposit for the fuel, the counter staff won’t actually take any money. They’ll just block the funds on your credit card until they’ve checked the tank at the end of your rental (you may have to wait several days before this money is unblocked). If there’s any fuel missing at drop-off, they’ll keep some of your deposit: they may charge more per litre than a local petrol station would, and there might be a refuelling fee too.

Whether the tank’s full or part-full when you pick your car up, the idea is the same: before you drop your car off, just make sure there’s as much in the tank as there was at the start.

Top 5 Tips Is Full to Full right for me?
  1. When you first get in the car, check the fuel gauge — if there isn’t as much fuel as there should be, tell the counter staff before you drive away.
  2. Before you drive away, locate the nearest petrol station that’ll be open when you need to fill up (the counter staff should be able to help).
  3. Don’t drop your car off with too much fuel (there’ll be no refund for the extra fuel) or too little (there’ll be a charge).
  4. When you fill up before you drop the car off, keep your receipt to show to the counter staff.
  5. When you’re comparing rentals, don’t just look at the price of the cars. A Full to Full fuel policy can save you money, even if the car looks more expensive at first glance.

✔ Maybe…

This could be the fuel policy for you if you’re keen to avoid:

  • paying more than pump prices
  • paying a refuelling fee
  • having to buy fuel you won’t use.

✘ Maybe not…

This might not be the best choice if you’re worried about:

  • rushing to catch a plane
  • finding a petrol station that’s open when you need to fill up.

Pre-Purchase

Pay for convenience

When you pick the car up, the car hire company will charge you for the fuel in the tank — and you should drop the car off as empty as possible (which is why this fuel policy is often called ‘Full to Empty’).

You do need to be aware of three drawbacks:

  • The car hire company may charge a lot more per litre than a local petrol station would.
  • You won’t be refunded for anything in the tank when you drop the car off: you’re basically giving them that fuel for free.
  • Trying to drop the car off completely empty isn’t very realistic — and can be risky.

Car hire companies often give refunds for unused fuel if you’re renting for 3 days or less. If you find a short rental that doesn’t give refunds, we may be able to find you a better deal: just tick the ‘Fuel Options’ on our Search Results screen (the screen with the pictures and details of all the different cars).

Top 5 Tips Is Pre-Purchase right for me?
  1. When you’re comparing rentals, don’t just look at the price of the cars. A Full to Full fuel policy can save you money, even if the car looks more expensive at first glance.
  2. Think about the holiday you’re planning. If you’re not going to drive much, do you really want to pay for a full tank?
  3. When you first get in the car, check the fuel gauge — if there isn’t as much fuel as there should be, tell the counter staff before you drive away.
  4. Be careful trying to drop the car off with the tank almost empty (especially with a diesel car, as running out of fuel can cause engine problems).
  5. When you’re picking the car up, you could ask about the other fuel policies available: you might be able to swap. Just make sure you understand what’s involved before you agree to anything.

✔ Maybe…

This could be the fuel policy for you if:

  • you’re planning to do a lot of driving
  • you’re worried about looking for a petrol station at the last moment
  • we find you a ‘Pre-Purchase’ car which is a lot cheaper than any car with a different fuel policy.

✘ Maybe not…

This might not be the best choice if you:

  • don’t want to pay more than pump prices for fuel
  • don’t want to pay for fuel you might not use
  • aren't planning on driving much — e.g. if you're visiting a small island, or spending most of your holiday in one place.

Pre-Purchase (Refunds)

All about flexibility

Pay for the fuel in the tank when you pick the car up — and the car hire company will refund you for whatever’s left in the tank at the end of the rental. This means:

  • You won’t have to worry about finding a petrol station on the way to drop the car off.
  • However, the car hire company may charge a lot more per litre than a local petrol station would.

Your refund may be based on eighths of a tank — so if you dropped the car off with a tank that’s almost full, you would be refunded for 7/8 of a tank.

Plus, you may have to wait several days before you get your refund for unused fuel.

Top 5 Tips Is Pre-Purchase (Refunds) right for me?
  1. When you’re picking the car up, make sure the rental agreement promises a refund for unused fuel at the end. If not, you should ask for this in writing.
  2. When you first get in the car, check the fuel gauge — if there isn’t as much fuel as there should be, tell the counter staff before you drive away.
  3. If you can, fill up before dropping the car off: you’ll pay normal pump prices for the fuel you put in, but your refund will be based on the car hire company’s prices, which can be much higher.
  4. If you don’t get the chance to fill up, you can drop the car off with any amount of fuel.
  5. So with this kind of fuel policy, you can go for the cheaper option — or the easier one.

✔ Maybe…

This could be the fuel policy for you if you want to avoid:

  • paying for fuel you won't use
  • looking for a petrol station at the last moment
  • trying to drop the car off with almost no fuel left in the tank

✘ Maybe not…

This might not be the best choice if:

  • you don't want to pay more than pump prices for fuel
  • we find you a 'Full to Full' car at a similar price

Pre-Purchase (Partial Refunds)

Flexibility — at a price

When you pick the car up, you’ll have to:

  • Pay for the fuel in the tank — which will probably cost more per litre than at a local petrol station.
  • Pay a non-refundable service charge to cover the car hire company’s refuelling expenses.

You will get a refund for any unused fuel in the tank at the end of the rental, although you may have to wait several days for this.

You won’t get the service charge refunded, regardless of how much is in the tank when you drop the car off. Depending on current fuel prices and the size of the car’s fuel tank, this charge is usually somewhere between £10 and £40.

Your refund may be based on eighths of a tank — so if you dropped the car off with a tank that’s almost full, you would be refunded for 7/8 of a tank.

Top 5 Tips Is Pre-Purchase (Partial Refunds) right for me?
  1. When you're looking at how much different cars cost, don't forget to take the service charge into account.
  2. When you first get in the car, check the fuel gauge — if there isn't as much fuel as there should be, tell the counter staff before you drive away.
  3. If you can, fill up before dropping the car off: you'll pay normal pump prices for the fuel you put in, but your refund will be based on the car hire company's prices, which can be much higher.
  4. If you don't get the chance to fill up, you can drop the car off with any amount of fuel.
  5. So with this kind of fuel policy, you can go for the cheaper option — or the easier one.

✔ Maybe…

This could be the fuel policy for you if you’re not sure:

  • how many miles you're going to do
  • how much fuel you'll have left in your tank at the end of the rental
  • whether you'll have time to fill up before dropping the car off

✘ Maybe not…

This might not be the best choice if:

  • you don't want to pay more than pump prices for fuel
  • you don't like the idea of a non-refundable service charge
  • we find you a 'Full to Full' car at a similar price

Free Tank

Included in the rental price

As the name says — a free tank of fuel! As long as the rental price is competitive, this can be a great deal.

  • When you pick your car up, the tank will be full.
  • You can drop the car off with any amount of fuel in the tank.

This kind of fuel policy can come as part of a special offer of some kind, so there might be something else included in the price as well, such as one or more additional drivers. 

Top 5 Tips Is Free Tank right for me?
  1. Everyone likes a freebie, but fuel isn't the only cost to take into account.
  2. See what other deals are available — we might find you another car that comes with a lower price, saving you more than the cost of the tank.
  3. These deals aren't very common, but if we can find you one with a good price (and the car has everything you're looking for), you've got a great deal!

✔ Maybe…

This could be the fuel policy for you if:

  • you're planning on using most or all of the free tank
  • the rental price is attractive

✘ Maybe not…

This might not be the best choice if:

  • you aren't going to use much fuel anyway
  • we find you another deal at a much lower price