My rental car is a “gasoline bomb” — am I entitled to a refund?

Nothing extraordinary happened when Paul Candia rented a car from Budget in New York recently. There’s no frivolous damage claim, no extra fee, not even a rude employee to complain about.

But Candia wants a full refund. The reason? Halfway through the rental, he received a message from the rental agency that his vehicle had been recalled, and that he needed to change cars immediately.

“It was a terrible experience,” he says.

Terrible enough to merit a full refund? Absolutely, he says.

After receiving a voice-mail message, he tried to contact Budget for clarification. That’s when the problems started.

I called Randy who was in Costa Rica who gave me no help. Lindsay in Kansas gave me no help, either. Ryan in Dallas finally explained to me that there was a problem with the car and it was dangerous to drive. He said there was a problem where the gas line was welded to the gas tank.

He said we would be OK as long as we were not in an accident.

Oh, that’s reassuring.

What followed was a confusing back-and-forth, with Candia trying to make arrangements to return the car and still make all of his appointments. He eventually returned the vehicle to a Manhattan location, but ran up an extra $12 in cab fare.

But that’s not all.

My wife and I suffered extreme anxiety during this ordeal as we felt we were driving a gasoline bomb that could explode at any time — accident or not.

We were extremely upset from the time we found out about the recall until the time we turned the car in to Budget.

My wife and I suffered extreme anxiety during this entire ordeal and would like the entire bill of $207 plus $12 for the cab ride to our hotel reimbursed immediately.

Budget hasn’t refunded the money. Candia wants me to help him get one.

Here are a few relevant details: The vehicle in question is a 2012 Chevy Cruze. The recall affected nearly half a million cars. Here are a few details from GM.

I haven’t said much about the recall controversy, mostly because it’s a non-issue for readers of this site. I respond to complaints, and since no one has complained about driving a recalled car, I haven’t really had a horse in this race.

Interestingly, while Budget’s position on recalled cars may not sit well with some consumer advocates, it is, in practice, pretty responsive when it comes to recalls. Earlier this year, Avis Budget Group removed 10,000 Ford Focus models from its fleet after a recall, for example.

Switching vehicles was a hassle for the Candias, no question about it. Also, Budget could have handled his incoming calls better by briefing its agents on the recalls or providing him with a dedicated phone number for customers affected by the recall. It might have also handled the transfer better by agreeing to cover some of his costs.

Budget couldn’t have known that its Chevy Cruze vehicles were about to be recalled, and they did the right thing by phoning Candia immediately and arranging a switch.

In the end, Candia and his wife got what they paid for: a rental car. But aren’t they entitled to something for the anxiety and hassle? Certainly, an apology would be a good start. Those are free. A voucher would be good too, but Budget isn’t really required to do anything beyond giving this customer a functioning car.

Or is it?

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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  • TonyA_says

    IMO, groceries not too many. That’s the down side. However there is always Chinatown and Queens. Heaven.

  • TonyA_says

     If Stress Free is what they need, then avoid driving in Manhattan.

  • LadyLightTravel

    And how do you know that yours was NOT one of the bad ones? The consequences are too high to ignore the risk, even if the probability is low.

  • Helio

    He is asking a $12 refund for the cab.  I believe it was an expense he was going to incur anyway…

  • LadyLightTravel

    There are different levels of recalls. Some are far worse than others. You can’t treat them all equally. Since the renter didn’t have all the information they had to assign a higher risk to it.

  • SooZeeeQ

    Why ask for clarification?

    Take the car in and exchange it.

    A lot of the larger rental agencys have off-site locations and in hotels, and I am willing to bet there are quite a few in New York.

    $12 for a cab ride here in San Diego gets me 2.5 miles to the airport, so in New York, he either got a good deal or went just a few blocks, and they could have walked.

  • kittymocha

    I just rented a Cruze from Budget in AZ the first weekend of July.  Nothing was told to me about a recall and nothing happened.  Maybe my specific car had been taken care of under the recall but if they had contacted me, I would have just returned the car and switched to another.  We’ve all had recalls with our personal cars and take care of it.  Maybe refund them the $12 but not the whole rental cost!

  • Unegen

    Don’t mediate this one.  This guy is way, way overreacting.

    Here’s what should have happened:  He should have returned the car to the nearest Budget location immediately.  Budget should have given him a new car, possibly an upgrade to make up for the inconvenience.  That’s all.

    That didn’t happen, but not because of anything Budget did.  This guy is just being a drama queen.

    And, please, $12 cab fare in Manhattan?  That’s like, two blocks, right?  :)

  • emanon256

    I did guess Florida thinking golf carts and retirees.

  • emanon256

    I was lucky, I lived right across the street from a Whole Foods, and there was another great locally owned full grocery store a block away. But in many areas, a full grocery store is pretty far.

  • IGoEverywhere

    When you travel, you have to expect little snafu’s. They claim that their lives were exdagered, but probably not! Recalls are recalls and, I’ve had a few, but, I don’t stop driving in the middle of the turnpike and go screaming away from the car. Budget should offer an apology from their very stupid and uninformed agents, and that is it.

  • emanon256

    In light traffic that will get you almost 4.5 miles.
    $2.50 flag fee and then $0.40 per 1/5 mile or $0.40 per minute in slow/stopped traffic.  NY Taxis are pretty reasonable.

  • lost_in_travel

    Sorry – my tone was harsher than I meant it to be.  I assume that recalls are organized at a corporate level so a plan would be in place there.  ASSUME  is a very bad word.

  • KaraJones

    I almost fell down laughing at that!  : D

  • lost_in_travel

    I agree that recalls are very common, but my most recent one suggested that a battery cable might have an issue and recommended that I park the car outdoors until I had it checked out.  Guess the company did not want to pay for my garage if the car burst into flames.

  • KarlaKatz

     You guys are making me long for  my years in Manhattan… le sigh.  Walked or took the subway for everything… hair, food, friends, great bars :-)

  • AAmerican1

     If he was staying in a Manhatten hotel he was paying a minimum of $30 a day to park the car so what’s a $12 cab ride? A savings of $18 bucks. Nobody rents a car in NYC and if he was in New Jersey why drive into the City to return the car when you can take it to Newark?  I would not  mediate. this.

  • emanon256

    I didn’t think you were harsh. If I’m not mistaken most of the locations are actually private franchises and the 800-number mainly handles reservation. I would also assume they have some plan in place, but I seriously doubt the reservations agents are kept in the loop, and even if they are, they aren’t paid enough to care.

  • Donna Caruso

    If I were that anxious (suffered extreme anxiety) about that car exploding, I would have left it right where it was and demanded Budget come get it & bring me a new rental while they were at it. Why get back into a car which may or may not explode!? 

  • Dave Lieberman

    Give them their $12 cab fare and maybe a goodwill comp day, but no… no refunds.

  • pauletteb

    Why does Chris continue to waste his time on totally undeserving OPs? There are plenty of people with VALID complaints!

  • Dick Jordan

    How long did the “back and forth” about arranging to replace the originally rented car with a new one? Who was responsible for any delay (if more than a few hours/day) in swapping out the car, Budget or the customer? Without those facts, it’s impossible to determine whether the customer should have received additional compensation.  But in any event, it would have made good sense on Budget’s part to give him a voucher for a future rental

  • flutiefan

    i was with you until “stupid and uninformed agents”… was that name-calling really necessary? you seem to pull those cards out a lot.

  • Sonya

    Take a chill pill. Are these people so oblivious to auto recalls that they really expected their car to explode?  This is no one to blame but the ridiculous legal system that enabled consumer to sue to hell out of companies. It is all precautionary. If they are so fearful, they can live in a bubble in the mountain with doors that can deter atomic bombs.

  • Extramail

    The best idea I’ve read is that budget should have done the work of swapping out cars. I’d be curious as to how other companies handled this recall.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Anxiety? Anxiety is sitting in a crappy airport waiting on a delayed flight with no dependable wifi!!! OMG!!! Do they expect me to read a book or something!!??!??

    Therefore, due to my anxiety…

    I demand a full refund!!!
    And therapist bills!!!
    And a steak dinner!!!
    And a Dos Equis!! Make it cold! I hate warm beer!!!


  • Raven_Altosk

    Also, for some lullz:

  • Sadie_Cee

    If the car is too dangerous to be driven due to a defect in its manufacture, it should not be driven. Period.

    Earlier this week, Ford recalled its 2013 Escape autos due to danger of fire igniting in the engine.  Ford advised owners not to drive the car.  Dealers were instructed by Ford to pick up the cars and to issue loaners to drivers.  That, to me, is responsible behaviour.

    One can only wonder why GM and Budget did not do something similar.  

    In one of his conversations with Budget, the OP should have told them that he was abandoning the car, given them its location, locked the car and sought another rental.  Inconvenient and possibly in violation of the contract, but his safety takes precedence over everything else.

    BTW has anyone been keeping count of the number of recalls by auto manufacturers over their 2012 and 2013 lines?  What is going on? 


  • Wrona

    Hmm, is this your current life? ;)

  • Spysea

    “My wife and I suffered extreme anxiety” blah blah…….. Chris move on to something that really needs your expertise.

  • Sadie_Cee

    You’ve got it.  We don’t know if the car we are driving is one of the flawed ones.  We should not be faulted for erring on the side of caution and refusing to drive the car.
    Ford recalled a car of mine some years ago. I cannot now remember the exact reason, but I ignored the recall notice.  Within a short time both Ford and the dealer were contacting me repeatedly.  I yielded and took the car in.  Ford has learned lessons since the Pinto fiasco.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Pretty much, yeah. LOL!

  • Jeremy

     Light traffic in Manhattan?  Surely you jest!

  • emanon256

    Midnight to 4am on a weeknight. Or sometimes you just hit the lights right.

    My home-work commute was 2.5 miles when I lived there. The few times I took a cab, I rarely paid over $10 and that was including the tip.

  • Elmo Clarity

    There is a big difference between you being the owner of the car and able to deal with it “after work”.  But a person renting doesn’t have the luxury of down time while in a strange city on business.  If in the middle of a business trip you get notice that the car you are driving my be unsafe and are told to exchange it immediately as the OP indicated, I can see where it could cause a higher level of stress.  However, I agree with a lot of the other comments made here.  I think the OP is overplaying the “stress” to try to get more compensation that he deserves.  I also agree with a few of the other comments that Budget did not handle the exchange very well and they should get something for the hassle.

  • JenniferFinger

    Yes, it was a hassle, but the point was to make sure he got a safe car. Budget could have done better to make sure its agents were up to speed and not jerked him around on the phone, but I don’t think that entitles Candia to a refund. It might entitle him to the difference between the cost of his replacement car and the original car at most.

  • andrelot

    Let’s compare the situation with air transport. Suppose FAA and Boeing issues a directive to replace some component of the entire 777 fleet, because they can cause an accident although the risk is not enough to ground all planes.

    Would such passengers be entitled to refund for “anxiety”?

    What the OP is indirectly implying (pun intended) is that Budget should rather not have told them of the recall and stayed quietly until they returned the car.

    While I do have many issues with the state of car rental industry, this is clearly and example of snowflakes trying to “game the system”.

  • Bill___A

    It isn’t that hard to change out a rental car and you have to be prepared for those eventualities. Most car rental places at least have an airport location which is open late, so it needn’t interfere with appointments.
    Although I deal primarily with Hertz, Budget is a reputable company which I’ve dealt with several times over the past few years, including just in May.
    If they are scared and terrified about the “gas bomb”, they should just stay off the roads. There are many many risks.