That’s the question Michael Sand was faced with, as he and his family of seven arrived at the Dollar Rental Car counter at the Milwaukee airport.
And sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it, so allow me to put this into context.
Sand had reserved a Dodge Grand Caravan for eight days over the Christmas holiday. He prepaid almost $700 because he needed a large, family-friendly vehicle to accommodate both people and luggage.
But what happened next has become an all-too-common complaint amongst Dollar customers.
“We were told the only vehicle available was a Ford Transit Connect,” Sand writes. “I advised the agent the Ford was too small for the seven of us and our luggage.”
The agent then added insult to injury. She began arguing with Sand that the two vehicles were the same. As Sand tells it, the agent was “incredibly rude.”
Incredibly rude? It doesn’t take much to convince me that a front line customer service agent may have been a tad abrasive under the circumstances.
Because here’s the reality: the Ford Transit Connect was the last vehicle in Dollar’s inventory.
Here we have a low-paid agent, working on Christmas Day, accommodating unhappy customers who themselves have been traveling all day, and in the end, having to be the fall guy for the company’s inventory problem.
Sand stood his ground. The Ford Transit Connect is not comparable to a Dodge Grand Caravan. It is not roomy. It is not comfortable. In fact, Ford quite accurately categorizes it as a commercial vehicle, which is usually outfitted for delivery services and other utilitarian purposes.
And faced with Sand, his wife, his five children, the Ford Transit Connect, and probably Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” playing in the background, she blurted out exactly what had been bottled up inside: “Do you want it or not?”
And faced with his exhausted family, the late hour and this unfortunate reality, Sand accepted the vehicle.
But that didn’t mean he was going to be happy about it. He called Dollar the next day to lodge a complaint. Dollar said the complaint would be escalated, and that he could exchange the vehicle at another location. But, as Sand aptly notes, “There are no other Dollar agencies in the state of Wisconsin.”
Sand was stuck. Or rather, smooshed. The Ford Transit Connect is significantly smaller than the Dodge, by 13 inches in length, 7 inches in width, and roughly 50 cubic feet of cargo space.
When you’re a solo business traveler, it might hurt your ego to drive around in such a vehicle. But when you’re carting around your own miniature basketball team, their gear and a partridge in a pear tree, every inch counts.
Sand says his grievance went beyond mere discomfort. “Using such a vehicle created not only a seriously unsafe condition, it was also a hardship,” he tells us. “With literally 30% less cargo room than a standard minivan, this vehicle was not able to carry more than four pieces of luggage in a standard manner; consequently, such variance would be considered a breach of contract.”
Sand says he can send us pictures, but I’m already uncomfortable just thinking about it. As for the breach of contract argument, he might be onto something. Unfortunately, when you rent a car, you become a party to an adhesion contract, which is non-negotiable. That’s something you can’t get around. And one of the terms of that rental contract is a clause in teeny, tiny print, explaining that customers cannot sue the rental company for conflicts arising out of the contract. The customer’s only recourse is mandatory arbitration.
And for anyone who thinks that mandatory arbitration is a pro-business policy, you’re right. Arbitration costs money — and a lot of it. In the vast majority of cases, the value of any claim arising out of a rental car contract is far exceeded by the costs of arbitration. Rental car companies have corporate attorneys and outside counsel on retainer 365 days a year. For them, it’s the cost of doing business. For consumers trying to recover a few hundred dollars, it’s the end of the road.
If you thought Dollar cared about Sand’s complaint, you’d be wrong. Nobody called him back. Until, of course, our advocacy team got involved. Dollar offered him a 20 percent refund on the rental and $150 in vouchers for future rentals.
I’m sure he can’t wait to be a return customer.