Inspect Rental Car To Avoid Extra Fees

April 19, 2009|By Catharine Hamm | Catharine Hamm,Tribune Newspapers

I returned a rental car Feb. 2 to San Francisco's airport in the same condition as it was in when I picked it up. (I'm a Budget Fastbreak member, so there is no person who goes over the car with me.) Two weeks later, I received a letter stating that I had returned it with "excessive soilage which will require special detailing," and my credit card was charged $127.24 for "the interior damage to the vehicle." This is not true. I was a single driver visiting my aunts in their retirement homes. I have no way of proving my claim nor, I might add, does the rental facility at SFO, yet they emerge victorious because they had access to my card number. I contacted Budget, but so far, nothing. What should I do?

Budget ultimately agreed to refund the traveler's $127.24, and as much as I'd like to believe it's because this is the right thing to do, it may have more to do with her getting us involved. Am I being cynical or overestimating the power of the press? You be the judge: When the traveler first contacted Budget, the representative agreed to refund just $27.24.

Regardless of why Budget refunded the money, there are lessons to be learned.

The traveler used the Fastbreak service, which saves you time but, in this case, not heartache. She should have inspected the car carefully before driving it away. "In general, if a vehicle is not to the customer's satisfaction at the time of pickup (interior is dirty, etc.), we recommend that the renter advise a customer service agent before leaving the rental location," Alice Pereira, manager of public relations for Avis Budget, said in an e-mail.

As an extra measure of protection, take pictures of the vehicle in its pristine state and then again when it's returned.

And if that doesn't do the trick, you can dispute the charge on your credit card.

Credit card companies get my hackles up with some of the sneaky stuff they do, but they win points for the help they give consumers who have a problem charge.

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