Rental Car Rip-Offs Keep Coming.

If you spend any time at all reading columns by consumer advocates working with travel industry issues, you soon become aware that rental car companies are a major source of complaints.

 Christopher Elliott has regular columns dealing with travel issues appearing on line, in USA Today and in National Geographic Traveler magazine.
 
(Who knows what’s going to happen to those illustrious publications now that Rupert Murdoch has bought National Geographic. With Murdoch involved, I fear the worst.)
 
In one of his recent on-line columns, Elliott tells the story of a business traveler who rented a car from Enterprise in Denver. When she brought the car back after a one-week rental, the manager noted a few small dings. The renter said they were there before she took possession of the car. Not to worry, the manager said, because “anything the size of a golf ball or smaller” is considered normal wear and tear.
 

Fast forward a couple of weeks: the renter gets a bill for $1800 from Enterprise saying she was liable for the dents because (1) she put 500 miles on the car during the time she had it and (2) there were hail storms within a 500-mile radius of Denver, ergo (3) she must have irresponsibly driven into a hail storm. How’s that for convoluted logic!
 
With a few exceptions, these rip-offs seem to be occurring on an almost random basis, the implication being it’s a few unscrupulous managers at individual locations perpetrating these frauds, perhaps to spike revenue in order to qualify for incentives or bonuses. It does seem, however, that certain car rental companies are the subject of complaints a lot more than others—Enterprise seems to lead that pack. That does cause one to suspect that a few companies may have an unwritten policy and, with a wink and a nod, actually encourage this kind of what we might charitably call “revenue enhancement”.
 
Here’s another thought: I’m going to be renting a car this weekend in San Diego and, as usual, have made my reservation with Avis. I’ve been a member of their loyalty program, Avis Preferred, for many years and have never once had any kind of a problem. And that leads me to wonder if being in the company’s system as a longtime, loyal customer might not be one possible way to “self-insure” against a rental car rip-off. Whatever works!