Petrol policy at Malaga airport: when to return the car full or empty
An unfair petrol policy, together with large queues at the car rental desks inside Malaga airport and unclear rules with regard to the insurance included in the rental price are probably the three most common complaints about car hire one can find online.
Car rental companies worldwide apply a number of different petrol policies and Malaga is no exception. The three most common fuel regulations in southern Spain are 'return full' (also known as full-full), return empty (also called full-empty) or 'partial refund'. The rest of the policies which one may encounter whilst renting a car at Malaga airport are exceptions or slight variations of the three aforementioned fuel policies.
When you rent a car in Malaga it is important to know, that fuel is normally not included in the prices shown on comparison websites and not even on the website of the local car hire companies themselves. However the costs corresponding to the fuel policy applied by the local supplier should be taken into consideration for a true price comparison in order to avoid comparing apples with oranges. So what exactly are the advantages and inconveniences of every single policy?
Return the car with a full tank of petrol
We're talking about a full-full petrol policy when the rental company in Malaga delivers the car with a full tank of petrol and requests the customer to return full again. It is considered a fair fuel policy for two reasons: you only pay for the fuel you are really using and you're paying the petrol or diesel at the price charged by the petrol stations in Malaga. The only down point of the return full policy is, that you diesel at the same price as the local petrol station. Please note, that you must make sure to return the car with a full tank, because otherwise a refueling charge may apply and the company may charge the missing fuel at a premium (a price much higher than at the petrol station). Car hire companies in Malaga which apply a full to full petrol policy are mainly multinationals like Hertz, Europcar, Avis, Sixt or Enterprise. Sometimes the local supplier may ask for a deposit on your credit card for the fuel (e.g. they will charge you upfront for a full tank) and refund the money when the car is returned full again. A popular variation of this policy is 'return the same', which means that if the car is delivered with half a tank you will have to return it the same (please note, that there is no compensation when you return the car with more fuel than it was delivered, e.g. with more than half a tank).
Pickup full and return empty
When you are asked to return the car empty you will have to pay for a full tank of petrol or diesel at the time you collect the car and you must return the car as empty as possible as there is no refund of unused fuel. The argument of the car hire companies offering this policy (usually local companies like Niza Cars, Delpaso, Marbesol, Record rent a car, Goldcar ) is, that this petrol system avoids unnecessary waits at the car return, as the staff does not need to check the fuel level of the vehicle hence the customer does not need to wait for the corresponding refund. The downside of this system is, that you will be charged a full tank (including reserve), but it is obviously impossible to return the car completely empty, so in fact you're giving away the remaining fuel (for which you've paid) to the car hire company. Another downside of the system can be, that the rent a car company charges the fuel at a premium (more expensive as the local petrol station). Even in case you return the car with a quarter of a tank you're giving away 1/4 of the price you've paid for a full deposit.
Partial refund or fuel reimbursement
With a partial refund policy the car rental company in Malaga refunds the unused petrol or diesel. The amount of fuel to be refunded is rounded down to the nearest 1/4, so in the best case you'll break even and in the worst case you lose almost 1/4 of the price paid. You still pay the petrol to the local company, so in case they charge the price per liter with a premium there is a small loss involved. The trickiest part of this petrol policy is the service charge (sometimes called administration fee or refueling costs). This is a fixed amount you will be charged which in no case is refunded, even if the vehicle is returned completely full. The price of this service charge is established by the company and can vary between 20 - 37€ per rental agreement (depending on the size of the vehicle). It is important to bear this amount in mind when you compare the prices of different suppliers as there is no way to avoid paying this charge and the amount should be added up to the basic rental price for a fair comparison.