Can this trip be saved? If “everything is covered” why are you charging me for this flat tire?

One of the most common car rental complaints I get — no, the most common — involves travelers who declined the optional collision-damage waiver and ended up with what what they believe to be a fraudulent claim.

But it rarely goes the other way — which is to say, having the insurance but then not being covered.

Well, meet Tom Brouillette, who rented a car from Rent-A-Wreck in Albuquerque, NM.

He explains,

When the car was checked out, I was offered a Collision Damage Waiver, which I bought with the understanding that “everything was covered,” in the words of franchise owner Rick Voccio.

While driving one night, the driver’s side tire went flat. I immediately pulled off the road and changed the tire with the spare. The next morning I called the office and spoke with an assistant who refused any coverage for replacing the tire.

It was pointed out by the mechanic on duty (who installed the replacement tire) that the wheel was worn on one edge indicating misalignment. This may or may not have had anything to do with the flat, since the tire is now missing.

I decided I would wait to have further discussion about the tire with the owner.

Let’s get straight to those further discussions, which happened by email. In the first series of emails, Brouillette sends a photo of the tire to the franchise owner in Albuquerque. He writes back and says that it’s the wrong photo of the damaged tire and offers to knock $50 off the $117 repair bill.

Related: In today’s edition of What’s your problem?, I help a reader navigate a scary government maze.

To which Brouillette answered,

When I rented the car from you, you said “everything was covered” if I purchased CDW. On faith that that was true, I paid extra for the coverage.

There is nothing in the contract that excludes tires. I pulled off the road immediately when I could tell the tire was getting flat and installed the spare on the side of the road. It was not a simple puncture, since the steel belts of the tire were damaged as well.

In the photo, it shows uneven wear on the tire. At minimum, the car was out of alignment. Becky asked me to return the damaged tire–and now you cannot find it.

I am not trying to take advantage of you or mislead you. Neither am I asking for any other compensation for time lost or any other expenses.

I run a small business myself, and I know it’s hard work keeping everything running smoothly. I pride myself on customer service: in the rare instance where the customer isn’t satisfied, I refund what they ask. In the long run, it pays off in referrals and returning customers.

I hope you will reconsider your offer and reimburse the $117.

Here’s how Rent-A-Wreck responded:

My offer was made as a matter of customer service and not through an acceptance of liability or modification of the terms and conditions to the contract. As I attempted to communicate on the telephone, I previously contacted the law firm that prepares our contracts to get some additional clarity with respect to tire coverage; however, their response was that it was already covered under the definitions section of the contract.

With regards to my statement of “everything is covered” when purchasing the CDW. It is my thoughts that it is out of context – the caviat [sic] to that statement is “so long as you do not violate the terms of the contract” which I explain to all customers that have questions regarding the CDW and that CDW is not insurance.

I am sorry that your rental was not as smooth and as troublefree as we wish for all of our renters.

You are correct, I do not have the tire, so today I called the Chevron station to where the tires were replaced and spoke with Ernest. He confirmed that the tire failure was caused by a puncture; however, it could not be repaired as the inside sidewall was damaged by driving on the tire once it was flat.

OK, we’re getting nowhere fast on this one.

Let’s go to the fine print. The Albuquerque franchise has a page with some helpful information. Although there are no details on CDW, it does describe the extent of a related loss-damage waiver (LDW) coverage:

LDW protects the renter and additional renter against most damages to the rented vehicle during the entire rental period regardless of fault unless the renter violates any of the terms and conditions of the rental agreement. LDW is a waiver of the renters’ responsibility for vehicle damage, not insurance. LDW does not cover theft. See the brochure at the rental counter for details. Certain restrictions apply.

I imagine the CDW terms are similar, and particularly the “certain restrictions apply” part.

So really, this comes down to a difference in interpretation. The franchisee says punctured tires aren’t covered; the customers believes they should be.

Rent-A-Wreck may be correct. But if a car rental insurance policy doesn’t cover flat tires, then why even bother? It also makes you wonder what kind of other exceptions the business will pull out of its hat when it comes time to make a claim.

Still, in reviewing these letters, I’m not entirely convinced that this franchisee will agree to cover the tire out of his own pocket.

Update (2:45 p.m.): Rent-A-Wreck is refunding the tire “in the interest of goodwill.”

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Carver

    I voted yes, but good luck. More than regular rentals, these folks specialize in cheap junk vehicles then making the money on anciliiary fees. Right after graduation from law school, my car was stolen,  Rent a Wreck, or Ugly Duckling, or one of their ilk was the closest car rental place within walking distance.  I rented a crappy car for a day just to get to work.

    When I got a chance to read the contract closely, it was so full of loopholes, exceptions, and “certain conditions” that it was a wonder that everyone didn’t get charged extra.

    Some conditions include not driving more than 50 miles from the rental location, not driving over 75ph, not driving out of the state, even if under 50 miles.  I thought it was strange that I was also responsible for ensuring that the car had sufficient fluids, correct tire pressure, etc.

    Needless to say, I returned the car the very next day and rented from a real car rental agency.  I plead the ignorance of youth.

  • sirwired

    This is clearly fodder for small claims.  With modern suspensions, you are often not able to tell you have a flat tire until the sidewall is toast.  I know, because I’ve done it before; by the time the tire started making the whump-whump noises (and certainly before it started pulling) I immediately pulled over (as in, within a 1/4 mile on a highway) the sidewall was so trashed it smelled like overheated rubber.

    Certainly if you drive on a flat tire well after the steering starts to drag and you are leaving tread bits in the rear-view, or drive on a low-oil or overheated engine, you deserve what you get.  But I don’t think that’s the case here.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yes, go after this crook. If “everything is covered” that means the tires, not just what the franchisee wants to be covered.

  • Jason N

    But depending on exactly where/when you rent, even with extra ‘fees’ (which real agencies are starting to love too), the discount agencies can still add up to less than the ‘real’ ones.
    Only way to tell is to actually do the work and shop around though.

  • Azeem Ahmed @ Traveltamed

    i just voted for YES. its really saddening how these rental companies act to the situation. Many of them out there turn to be fraudulent by lending cars that have run for years together and are in no condition for long distance drives. It is important to thoroughly check before we risk ourselves. In these situations they should maintain a policy which they always fail because they aren’t honest enough.

  • BillC

    This appears to be a clear cut case but there are a couple of things that I have questions about. I am curious as to why he did not keep the tire since it was a rental vehicle. He should have changed the spare and proceeded to the rental agency first thing rather than have the tire replaced somewhere else.

    This does not mean that I don’t believe that the insurance should not cover the damage but we don’t have the terms and conditions to read.

  • Kevin Mathews

    This really isn’t worth the time and effort this guy is putting into this.  $67 is a small price to pay for the lesson learned here.  Pay the fee, then never rent from this guy ever again…

  • emanon256

    I voted yes.  It sounds like the owner is clearly trying to get extra money for a car that was not maintained properly.  Especially since the mechanic told the OP one story, and the owner is claiming another and the tire is mysteriously missing.  So did the Owner charge the OP?  The OP might be able to dispute the charge, otherwise, I would say let the Owner sue to OP.  I doubt they will get very far.

    At first I thought the name Rent-A-Wreck was a joke.  Wow!  I would avoid that place by the name alone.

  • Gerry

    Bottom line: Under the guise of “Friendly service”, lays the true motives of all Car Rental Companies & that is to squeeze every last cent from you that they can.
    I used to be exclusive with Hertz until they pulled a similar stunt with me some years ago. From renting almost 100 days a year to nothing but I doubt that they even cared. I now rent from whomever has the best price. One crook is as good as the next.

  • Kovsky

    My only comment is why did you rent from these people?  Just check for the more legitimate rental companies and you can approach their fees.  I also don’t see replacing the tire – just leave the spare on and take the car back.  That’s just what we did in Alaska once and Avis refunded the $10 we paid to have it changed.

  • 2thDoc

    This underlines the importance of finding a reputable national car rental chain, join their loyalty group, and use them exclusively if at all possible…I have found them to be cheaper and much less hassle in the long run. I rent maybe 30 days a year and use Hertz Gold….I receive the Gold Membership for free through my American Express Platinum Card and then take the American Express primary coverage option, at about $19 per rental (not per day, but per rental) and it becomes my primary insurer if there is a claim. While I like to save a buck, I am more motivated to eliminate hassles…don’t miss the dollars while you are bending over to pick up the pennies!

  • Kelly

    I voted no only because this guy (the owner) is going to give you nothing but trouble, especially since this isn’t a national chain like Budget or Enterprise and nothing will ever get accomplished but stress and frustration. If we were talking more on the hundreds of dollars then yes I would say either mediate or take him to small claims court. But I don’t think it is really worth it!

  • AutoSlash

    There’s a lot I can say here, but I will simply state that Rent-A-Wreck is not considered one of the top tier companies.  Their response to this matter is indicative of why.

    There’s a misconception that a company like Rent-A-Wreck would be cheaper than a more reputable company like Dollar or Thrifty.  While this may be the case on the surface when looking at their standard rates, you can often do just as well or better using coupons found on, or using a service such as

    Stick with the well known brands who are committed to customer service and avoid these fly-by-night operators who will make a buck at the consumers expense any chance they get.

  • MikeZ

    Sounds like you have no problem just giving away your hard earned money. Even if it was $10, the monies should be refunded simply because the CDW implies that everything is covered. I would fight with the owner simply on principal, and based on how he is offering money back, seems to me that the lawfirm told the owner that the exclusion isn’t necessarily in black and white.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    This business owner obviously doesn’t understand the accounting principle “Good Will”.  What is most telling to me is the tire going ‘missing’.  Get involved, Chris, and it that doesn’t work, the OP should take the guy to small claims.

    IMHO, the tire blowing due to misalignment should have been taken care of by the company even w/o CDW.  It’s a maintenance issue, not a customer mistreating the car issue.  Maintenance falls on the owner of the car.

    This is tantamount to my loaning my car to a friend and saying, “Oh, yeah, I need some new brake pads.  Take care of that while you’re out.”

  • Asiansm Dan

    I have several flats during my numerous car renting experiences, never had a charge about a flat and I never took any coverage because my credit card Diner Club provide the primary car-rent insurance.
    It sounds like some new scam scheme.

  • Jason N

    Sounds like you don’t value your time very much.
    If you knew it would just take a 5 minute phone call, then great. But spending hours getting nowhere is just a waste of time. It’s just a matter of how much effort you are willing to put in to get $67 back.

  • Z44212

    That’s what I would have done, given the time. Bring it back on the donut and tell them, “your tire is broke, gimme another car.”

    If at all possible, I wouldn’t have spent my time and money on their car.

  • S363

    I’m becoming convinced that there needs to be a standard contract mandated by Federal law for rental car companies.  To be sure it can have options but they need to be standard options.  The companies are getting away with way too much.

  • Chicky

    Running over a nail doesn’t cause the steel belts to show through the side of a tire. This means at least one of three things (probably all three): the tire should have been replaced a couple thousand miles ago; the front end was misaligned; and the tires were not rotated regularly. Each of these is a maintenance issue. Ergo, it is the responsibility of the rental agency.
    The only thing I’d have done differently (if I chose to replace the tire) is ask the mechanic to put the shredded tire in the trunk, rather than keep it. Then, take a photo of the tire IN the trunk, which kind of eliminates any question about it being the tire which was replaced. I’d have returned it, tire and all to the rental agency. But I’d have probably done as another poster suggested and put the donut on the car, driven it back to the office, and said, “I need another car, please.” And still taken a photo of the shredded tire.
    This owner is trying to tap dance around the fact that he doesn’t maintain his cars very well. Carver or another attorney can correct me here, but if, God forbid, the OP had been seriously injured because the tire failed, wouldn’t the company have been on the hook, liability wise, if it were determined the tire failed because of poor maintenance?
    Small claims, no doubt, if Chris can’t get a resolution.

  • Grant

    Hi, Jason,
    I don’t think this is a matter of the OP not valuing his time very much, but rather valuing principle more. If it was me, I’d haunt Mr. Voccio. Outing him here was a good start, but ohhh, there’s SO much more to be done. Is there an Albuquerque TV station that investigates consumer complaints? Call them. Google ‘consumer complaints’ or some such. You’ll find all kinds of sites where you can publicize Voccio’s customer ‘service’. File an action in small claims court. Even if it costs more than you could possibly get back, do it! New Mexico probably has a department that regulates auto rental businesses. Have a chat with them. File a complaint with the State Attorney General. Have fun with this. You may never see the money you’re owed, but you’ll be helping your fellow consumers, and who knows… you might just drive this shylock out of business. At the very least, he’ll have enough acid in his stomach to eat a hole in a ship’s hull. Vendetta!!! (I have to go take my meds now.)
    Grant :-)


  • Bodega

    FYI: If you google CDW and tires, you will see that most rental car companies do not cover tires or windshields with this coverage. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    And you think that renting with a “reputable national chain” is going to prevent this scam? Think again. The majority of car-rental damage scams ARE from “reputable national chains”. Enterprise comes up over and over. And not everyone rents cars often enough to make it worthwhile to belong to a loyalty group.

  • Mindy

    Tires are not covered by the insurance provided to the franchisee and are probably not covered by the rental CDW.  CDW = Collision damage waiver.  A punctured tire isn’t caused by a collision.  

    That said, punctured tires are a cost of doing business.  As long as the renter wasn’t driving in inappropriate areas or surfaces and took proper precautions to prevent further vehicle damage by changing the tire when flat, they should have no liability in the case of a flat tire.  I would absolutely take it to small claims, I’d like to see what a judge has to say in the matter.

  • Sunnykm

    From the story it seems as though the renter was not in the same city as the rental car agency when the flat happened.  Putting the flat tire in the trunk may not have been an option if the trunk had suitcases and/or work materials in it.  

    Probably more pictures of the shredded tire with the mechanic in the picture would have been a good documentation for small claims.

  • Gratianus

    The only reason I hesitated before voting for your mediating the disagreement is that $117 ($67 after the Rent-A-Wreck franchisee offered a compromise) these days is hardly worth getting worked up about. By any reasonable value of their respective times, both parties now have invested more than that in their correspondence.
    However, it’s the larger issue, what restrictions the car rental company might pull out of it hat when, excuse the phrase, the rubber meets the road. In Chris’ piece, it’s not clear to me whether those restrictions were ever specified, and if they are not, then Rent-A-Wreck is in no position to assert them. 

  • jim6555

    The difference is that Avis is a “real” rental company with a reputation to uphold. When one rents from a company with a name like Rent-A-Wreck, it should be expected that vehicle condition and customer service will be secondary to pricing.

  • Jim Traber

    Shill alert!  Auto slash commenting on a car rental company that dpoesn’t advertisie on their site while promoting one that does!  Dirty pool Autoslash – BTW Dollar Thrifty doesn’t cover Class por Tires with their LDW either, read their policies here 

  • MikeZ

    You need to read the story again. The belts were not showing through the side of a tire. The belts were damaged because the rim damaged them when the tire went flat. Also, the story said “uneven wear”, nowhere did it claim the mechanic said the entire inside of the tire was bald, or that there was a serious problem with the vehicle. Tires do not go flat from a misalignment unless it is so bad and so long that you can not only see the belts, but completely wear through them. At that point you have a VERY unsafe condition which the company would be liable for in court. The entire misalignment thing is a red herring and not pertinent to the story.

    Reading back through the story, I do have a problem with the owner claiming that the photo given to him by the OP is not the tire in question. Then the owner offers to refund part of the cost?? Something just doesn’t match up with the owner’s story.

  • flutiefan

    Rent-A-Wreck IS a “real” rental car company. they have been around for years. just because their name is a little laughable doesn’t mean they aren’t legit.

  • Rent-A-Wreck

    Hi Chris and all the blog followers here– Tire damage is a
    constant source of friction between customers and rental car agencies, it is
    truly where the rubber meets the road, as the saying goes, since the tires of a
    vehicle are where damages are most likely to occur in any vehicle.   

    Rent-A-Wreck is not alone in excluding tires and glass in
    our CDW.  Many if not most of our competitors
    also do not cover tires and glass in their CDW, and in some cases those
    competitors sell a separate product  at
    the counter to cover glass and tire damage. 

    While our franchise owner in Albuquerque is an ethical
    operator with a fine track record for customer service, who went beyond his
    legal obligation to offer to pay $50 of the $117, in the interest of goodwill we
    have contacted the customer, Mr. Brouillette, and we will be refunding him the $117
    cost of the tire.   

    This case has also sparked an internal discussion about our
    policies on CDW in regard to tires and we will be conducting our own
    investigations and meet with key franchise owners to determine whether revisions
    to our CDW policy in regard to tire damage are necessary. 

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention – Jason Manelli

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thank you, Jason.

  • Bill

    rent a wreck wanted me to sign a blank charge slip about 30 years ago.  Realizing that they were a scum bag organization, I never darkened their doorstep again.

  • Geoff

    Not all car rental companies are the same. When you look for a junker; oh excuse me a wreck, then you get what you buy or are sold. Tough luck on the tire.

  • Amaiero

    I appreciate the clarification and explanation and its nice that Jason is refunding the money. However, the fact the CDW does not cover tires and windsheilds is something that should have been made clear when he purchased the policy. The owner said everything was covered. He did not say everything except windsheilds and tires. He may be reputable etc but he did mislead the customer. I think the most important thing in customer service is clarity. The terms should clearly state what is and what is not covered and when selling the coverage the owner/customer service rep should be clear in his/her statements so as not to mislead the customer.

  • Rachel

    I voted no because it says that Rent-A-Wreck refunded the tire.

  • web/gadget guru

    “so long as you do not violate the terms of the contract” 

    What I would like to know is what term of the contract was violated?

  • Eric

    Perhaps a call to the state attorney general’s office might be in order as well.  Seems to me there must be laws in most states about renting/leasing unsafe vehicles.  If they neglected the maintenance on this vehicle, the chances are they did the same on all their cars.

  • Clare

    “In the interests of goodwill” they are giving their customer the money he justly deserves?  Oh, really?

    Rent-a-wreck is obviously sweating now that they’ve seen Chris’s post, but they clearly still don’t have a clue how to handle customer service.

    When you speak of “goodwill,” that suggests that you, the vendor, are doing the customer a favor that you don’t REALLY have to do.  But if the OP took Rent-a-wreck to small-claims court, they’d learn pretty quickly that giving the customer his money back isn’t a FAVOR.  Here in the real world, outside Rent-a-wreck’s own little la-la-land, we call it JUSTICE.

  • Carver

    Its the principle of the thing.  Being scammed would irk me regardless of the amount.

  • Carver


    Its not your CDW policy that needs revisiting but rather your definition of ordinary wear and tear.  A flat tire should be considered normal wear and tear unless the renter was engaged in some sort of prohibited or abusive behavior.       

  • simondelao

    In the “Interest of Good Will” my ASS! In the interest of “Good Will” I will never rent from Rent-A-Wreck.

  • L2y2

    Exactly! Does driving the car and pulling over when the tire blows constitute violating the terms of the contract? Was he supposed to anticipate the blowout and pull over before he went more than an inch? Ridiculous for them to try too fall back on that…

  • Marvin

    This story, like others, tells me that I should remember to buy an eleven foot pole when renting a car.  I wouldn’t touch Rent-A-Wreck with a 10 foot pole.  Run, don’t just walk, to another car rental service.

  • NYC

    “With regards to my statement of “everything is covered” when purchasing
    the CDW. It is my thoughts that it is out of context – the caviat [sic]
    to that statement is “so long as you do not violate the terms of the

    I’m sorry, I need a shower after that statement.  Tires and windshields are commonly damaged, so why on earth would someone say “everything” is covered unless you were purposely lying???

  • Bill70

    Do you think other companies would be any better? (I don’t)

  • Grant

    I second Mr. Traber’s ‘shill alert’, but for a different reason. Why is it that AutoSlash is allowed to tout itself so often in the ‘comments’ section? Nobody else does that, and it seems improper. If AutoSlash wants us to know about their company, let them buy an ad on the site. Other companies do.   

  • Chris in NC


    “Rent-A-Wreck is not alone in excluding tires and glass in our CDW.  Many if not most of our competitors also do not cover tires and glass in their CDW, and in some cases those competitors sell a separate product at the counter to cover glass and tire damage.”

    This is news to me. I had the misfortune to have a flat tire once while renting a car. BTW, I did not take out CDW. The agent did not charge me and said it was no big deal.

    I have NEVER heard of a separate policy to cover glass and tire damage. Consider that windshield chips (not cracks or broken glass) are common, and can be repaired in less than 30 minutes for minimal costs, I think it is really sleazy to even considering billing a customer.

  • Carver

    yes, of course.  I had a blow out with Alamo and Budget.  Neither gave me any grief.

  • LateVilla

    This underlines the importance of finding a reputable national car rental chain, join their loyalty group, and use them exclusively if at all possible…I have found them to be cheaper and much less hassle in the long run.

  • Ashley

    Don’t give in and you WILL eventually win.  Get a lawyer to send them a letter and they will fold eventually.  It is pathetic that is what it takes, especially over such a small bill (for them) but out of principle you should not under any circumstance give in.

    My tire on my rental car just blew out/up.. tread came off and everything just a few days ago and Hertz did not give me issues.  However I am a Government employee and if you are on official business, they can’t charge you anything.  I refuse to ever rent a car for personal reasons because I am too afraid of getting into another situation like yours.