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Avoid Car-Rental and Purchase Fees

Renting a car is fraught with fees -- and most of them, unfortunately, are nonnegotiable. But calling ahead to find out how much you'll be charged at least guarantees that you won't be surprised. And you can avoid a few charges by traveling smart.

The convenience of renting at the airport or hotel will cost you extra. Expect to pay a "concession recovery fee" -- typically 11% to 13% of your rental. Rental agencies are simply passing the buck: They're charged a fee by the airport or hotel to operate there. Avoid the extra cost by renting off-site (unless a long cab ride will soak up your savings).

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Companies generally offer three choices for purchasing fuel: prepay for a full tank when you rent, fill 'er up yourself, or pay the com-pany's rate when you return the car. Prepaid rates are often close to average pump prices in the area. But unless the agency is giving you a discount, or you return the car empty, getting your own gas is generally your best bet because you won't be credited for leftover fuel.

Expect the rental company to pass along its annual cost to register the car. This fee (about $2 a day) is not negotiable.

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The collision-damage waiver is the most hyped add-on you'll see -- and the least worth paying for. Your own auto policy generally covers rental-car damage, and most gold and platinum credit cards pick up the deductible. So skip the CDW; you're likely covered already.

Renting at a discount Web site, such as Hotwire.com, will get you lower rates because the site doesn't disclose which rental company you're working with until after you've paid. If you'd prefer to know with whom you're dealing, Alamo, Avis and Hertz all provide detailed full-fee pricing quotes on their Web sites, including taxes, surcharges and fees.

You face substantially higher fees when you buy a car because dealers are trying to recoup their costs for everything from getting you in the door to completing the paperwork. For instance, your state's fee to register the car is nonnegotiable. But many dealers add another $200 or so to cover the cost of doing the legwork. Check with your state's department of motor vehicles to get the actual fees, and go to the mat for the rest.

Documentation fees, which could be a couple hundred dollars and cover the cost of doing the paperwork, are legit. But they're often inflated, so negotiate them along with the cost of the car. While you're comparing the invoice price of the car with its sticker price, get the invoice price of options, too, from Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com).

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Whether the options are from the manufacturer or port-installed (added after the car leaves the factory), they're not included in the base price. If you don't want the options, see whether the dealer has a model without them. If not, haggle to as close to invoice price as possible.

Andrew Beck saved more than $2,000 on his 2008 Mazda3 Mazdaspeed by knowing how to play the game. "I pitted two rival dealers against each other," says Beck, who lives in Falls Church, Va. In the end, one dealer lowered the price, gave Beck a good trade-in deal and dropped the cost of the port-installed options. Beck even finagled his way out of the $635 manufacturer's destination charge, which is usually considered nonnegotiable.

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