carsCAR RENTAL COMPANIES  HAVE INCONSISTENT BILLING PRACTICES

Though I typically don’t have a need to rent cars, I did so recently on a few different trips.  My experience with Budget made me want to never rent another car again, and this isn’t the first time that my credit card meant carte-blanche to the car rental company.

CORPORATE CAR RENTAL OFFICES VS. FRANCHISE OPERATIONS

Apparently, when you rent a car from Budget, Hertz, Avis, etc., you are possibly renting from the parent company.  However, plenty of franchise operations, privately owned and managed, rent out cars under the names: Budget, Avis, Hertz, etc.

AIRPORT CAR RENTAL AGREEMENTS

Once you book a daily car rental rate online, over the phone or through your travel agent, you must sign a contract at the airport.  This isn’t easy to understand, because the rental contract invariably adds airport fees, etc., that you may not have seen on the quote.  Then, of course, the car style you expected to rent is probably not even available anymore.  You are now forced to spend more money and get a bigger, fancier car; or shift down a gear and get a more modest car that costs almost the same as what you expected to rent.

After signing the contract for the car rental, and hopefully not for additional insurance, a big money maker for the car rental companies, you get to check out your new car.  In my case, I was given a van that had 25,000 miles on it and seemed very worn out and dirty on the inside.

But before I could leave a little inspector man came out and asked us to look over the car, as he quickly walked around our car and told us there were just a few little scratches on the bumper—he put the little sketch of the scratches on the contract, mumbled a few words in broken English that we didn’t understand, and sent us on our way, as there was a huge lineup of cars trying to leave the Vancouver airport.   I looked closely around the car, and pretty much agreed with the inspector, but it was dark in the garage and we were feeling the need to get out because of the long line of cars behind us.  The kids were getting antsy.

GETTING CHARGED FOR DAMAGES

As it turned out, we never drove the car, even once after getting it to the hotel in Whistler.  The car turned out to be unnecessary.  The total charges Budget told us to expect to pay were about $400 for 4 days, including all the airport fees and gas.  We were supposed to drop off the car in downtown Vancouver, at the Budget office there, and not at the airport, from where we rented the car.

What an experience the drop-off was.  We showed up with the van, having not even driven it outside of the empty hotel parking lot in Whistler, and just driving it back to Vancouver, without any stops along the way.  The agent in the Budget office there told us to wait for a supervisor to go out and inspect the Toyota Sienna.  After a few minutes, we went outside to meet him, only to discover that the agent found a small one-inch dent at the top of the hood, close to the windshield.  A weird place to find a dent.  It was barely visible and something we had never seen.

BUDGET’S FRANCHISE OFFICE HAD MY CREDIT CARD ON FILE AND COULD CHARGE ANYTHING THEY WANTED

True…very true.  So what should have cost about $400 for a car we never even drove, we were told Budget’s franchise office would charge us now a total of $1,400 for damages.  No discussion, and they weren’t turning back.  Interestingly enough, the couple behind us had the same experience earlier in the day with the same agent.  This was truly a racket, this operation.

AMERICAN EXPRESS PROTECTS YOU AGAINST CAR RENTAL CLAIMS

Fortunately, I had charged the car on my American Express.  My insurance agent at State Farm told me to immediately call Amex, stop payment to my credit card, and speak with American Express’ Claims department.  I was saved by them, and they started a file, to deal with Budget and State Farm, to find resolution to this.  I am not sure that Visa would do the same, but American Express is known for dealing with claims in car rental situations, and they have worked quickly to find answers.

I am now considering a driving trip from my own garage next trip!

Jennifer Litwin