Should I have to pay for my car rental to be towed?

Photo by Thierry Gregorius/Flickr Creative Commons
Question: We rented a car from Hertz in Ireland and had a flat tire. After a lengthy dispute between Hertz and our credit card company, we’re getting letters from a collection agency. I hope you can help me.

Here’s what happened: When we rented the car, we purchased Hertz’s optional insurance and collision damage waiver, which covers everything except wheels, tires, fuel contamination or keys. On the first day of the rental, we had a flat tire and a bent rim. We couldn’t drive to the nearest garage because the car didn’t have a spare.

After the vehicle was repaired and after we returned to the States, Hertz tried to bill our credit card for the repair and the tow. We realized that the cost of the tire and wheel would be our responsibility, but were surprised that the tow was not being covered by insurance. Our contract did not state any limitation of our insurance’s towing coverage.

We disputed part of the bill with our credit card, and it credited us $527, which is the entire charge on the vehicle damage report. According to our bank, the dispute was settled in my favor because the rental contract lacked verbiage that says the customer understands there may be delayed and amended charges and that they may be charged to the credit card. Apparently, this language is required in Europe in order for vehicle damage charges to be charged to a credit card.

But that wasn’t the end. I just received a letter from a collection agency. It is attempting to collect a debt on Hertz’s behalf, and is threatening to damage my credit rating. My husband is a full-time U.S. military member, we are good people that have suffered an unfortunate event on what should have been the vacation of a lifetime. Can you help? — Kathy O’Leary, Ballston Spa, N.Y.

Answer: Hertz should have let this go. It made too many mistakes with your rental, including handing you the keys to a car that didn’t have a spare tire and failing to adequately explain what you would — and wouldn’t — be liable for.

You thought that by buying its optional insurance, your tow would be covered. As a matter of fact, when a car rental company sells you its pricey insurance, it often promises you’ll have “nothing to worry about,” and I can imagine your agent giving you similar assurances.

Here’s how you could have avoided this: First, you might have checked your rental car for a spare tire. If your vehicle doesn’t have one, ask for a different car. With a spare, you might have avoided a costly tow.

Calling Hertz roadside assistance was the right move after your flat, but you could have made inquiries at the time you returned your car before leaving the country about what damages you’d be liable for. That’s the best time to address what might be on your bill — not when you’re 3,000 miles away.

Personally, I think that if you bought the Hertz insurance, your tow should have been covered. And if your credit card company sided with you (even if it was for other reasons) then Hertz should have just let this go.

I contacted the company on your behalf, and it dropped its collection claim.

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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  • Robert Karpel

    Something like 15% of new cars do not have a spare tire – we went over this in April in this post:
    As far as the tow goes, I agree that the towing should have been covered but that the customer should have been responsible for the tire / bent rim (what did he hit?)

  • Josh S

    An American driving on the left/wrong side of the road. I bet he hit a curb too hard when trying to deal with a turn that felt backwards. But that’s a shot in the dark.

  • sirwired

    The insurance is expensive enough as it is; tossing free roadside assistance in there would be a good idea.

  • backprop

    Ah! The Elliott Deck of Misfortune comes out again: The Ace of Military Veteran!

    “My husband is a full-time U.S. military member, we are good people that
    have suffered an unfortunate event on what should have been the vacation
    of a lifetime.”

    I wish people would stop doing that. Do they think it bolsters their case? Every time someone peppers their letter with a sob story, it makes me think there must be something about the facts themselves that lack merit.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I’ve got to ask how exactly did they get a bent rim? Did they continue driving on the flat or did they hit something?
    If they hit something, would that have been covered by the insurance?
    In addition, they stated that the only disputed PART of the charge, but the credit card company actually refunded them the ENTIRE damage charge. So not only did they get the Tow free, they also got the damage to the vehicle covered as well?
    I’m not sure why Hertz dropped their collection attemps. Sounds to me like these guys still owe Hertz some money. I think Hertz should have dropped the part of the bill pertaining to the Towing of the vehicle, but they are well within their rights to collect on the Tire Damage itself… The credit card company simply stated that Hertz did not have the right to charge the customer’s credit card after the fact, it did not actually say that Hertz isn’t entitled to their money they are owed…

  • Raven_Altosk

    There’s no reason to include your personal situation/vocation/etc for one of these cases. If you were wronged by a company, it really doesn’t matter.

  • NakinaAce

    Please Elliott stop with the ridiculous advice to check the spare tire, check the wiper fluid level, check the air pressure in the tires, check the tread depth in the tires,check this and check that. Everyone that rents a car has a reasonable expectation that the car will be in a merchantable condition. Legal crap not withstanding at least you should give up this ghost of basically undoable ex post facto advice. I am disappointed in you. The rest of what you write is reasonable but please checking to see if there is a spare tire?

  • MarkKelling

    At least they didn’t claim the entire vacation was ruined by the flat tire and expect the car rental price to be refunded in full and a free rental next vacation too.

  • typhn

    Not sure if Ireland operates the same way, but in the UK, you can purchase third party ‘excess cover’ for a very reasonable rate. This covers the excess the rental company would charge in case of damage and also covers additional items like glass, tyres, etc. . You need to purchase it online before the rental starts. At around 30-40% of the daily insurance cover of the rental company, its a great deal. (And it works – I have had to use it twice without any hassles).

  • Chris Johnson

    Don’t you know, in Ireland the word is “tyre” not “tire” ! Maybe that’s why you went through this nonsense. :) Just kidding. In any case, I voted yes on this poll, because the insurance policy did not exclude the cost of towing. If it had said something with regard to “services associated with…” the various items excluded, I probably would have voted otherwise.

  • MarkKelling

    You would think that any car rental company would include roadside assistance in the rental at no additional charge. After all, isn’t it in their best interest to have control over fixing anything that goes wrong with their cars?

    If the rental company sends a tow truck and takes the vehicle to its choice of repair shop, then the chance of no further damage being done is better. If the renter calls whoever they can find and the vehicle is taken to some friend of the driver’s repair shop who may have never repaired that type of vehicle before, the repairs done may be either incomplete or additional things may be done that were not needed.

    The comments made by the OP about their special circumstances unfortunately hurt their case in my opinion. Every vacation I take is the “vacation of a lifetime” because it is the only time I will be taking that vacation! When people state they are active military, retired on a fixed income, traveling with handicapped relatives, or whatever, it makes it sound like they expect things to be done for them that the rest of us who can’t claim a special situation wouldn’t have done for us. Like waiving certain fees or charges you know you owe.

    Glad Hertz was generous in this situation.

  • William_Leeper

    In this instance, I must agree the military but was a little much, but a military CAC has gotten me out of a jam or two. In regards to the actual case at hand, if Hertz called the tow truck, hertz pays the bill unless the insurance/contract says otherwise. In this case, I don’t think that was the case! They should do the right thing, and pay for the tire/rim though!

  • Daddydo

    It seems to me that Hertz is, as always, screwing over the customer. The car rental usually is the low point of any vacation. It is an interesting fact that people that rent cars often, know. Get an American Express credit card – Blue is free – Gold, or what ever else you care to pay for. Car insurance from dollar 1 is included on rental cars. I have used it 2 times with total ease. I also agree with all of the others, PEOPLE, state the facts, having your life history is a turn off. Unless of course it’s the impairment that creates the problem, like everything with TSA

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I remembered that article, as well. Thanks for posting the link to it. Quite strange that Chris doesn’t even mention that possibility in this case. He flat-out calls it a “mistake” the car didn’t have a spare and faults the OP for not checking to see if there was one. It’s quite possible it was standard policy and none of the rentals may have had spares.


    One of these days, I want to see a letter saying “My husband is a full-time meth dealer who sells his product to children, we are not very nice people that suffered this unfortunate event on what should have been the vacation of a lifetime”.

    (but I’m glad this was able to be resolved, no matter who you are)

  • cjr001

    Well, it had been awhile since we’d seen a rental car horror story from Ireland. And, having read enough of them, I don’t think it matters who the corporate name is (whether Hertz or another that an America would recognize), the problems are all the same, where the entire situation is designed to screw you, the renter.

  • cjr001

    I’m not sure what the benefits are for Amex, but every card’s benefits are going to be different. For example, my Visa has a auto rental collision damage waiver, but Ireland and Northern Ireland (and a couple of other countries) are excluded.

  • The Scotsman’s Kitchen

    It is not a Legal Requirement in UK/Ireland to Carry a Spare Tyre
    It used to be a few years ago, until they relooked at the MOT (Ministry of Transport) Test that cars go through after three years old, and it was decided to drop that part out. So Manufacturers jumped on this and really stopped issuing spares with their cars in UK/Ireland, as it was not a legal necessity ! So Checking for one is really irrelevant!!
    It tells you the laws here. So be warned if you go to UK/Ireland, there will not by probability be a spare tyre in your rental car, so if this happens to you, you’ll be in fir a whopping bill also!!
    From One Concerned UK Citizen to you all

  • Don Nadeau

    I highly recommend AAA or CAA membership, which gives you 1) towing and 2) towing, if you wish, to one of its verified vendors. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

  • The Scotsman’s Kitchen

    That is fine if they were in USA or Canada, but not in Ireland/UK

  • ראובן

    Exactly! If this guy was a serial killer he’d still shouldn’t have to pay for the tow.

  • JimDavisHouston

    Chris; I have to disagree with your statement about checking for a spare tire. Body damage, and cracked glass is a must to check for, but spares, jacks, fluid levels, etc should be the responsibility of the rental agency. If this nonsense goes on, we’ll all have to take the car to a certified mechanic for a check up before we go on our way. These rental agencies are getting way out of hand.

  • technomage1

    The only relevance here to being in the military here is that we can suffer disciplinary actions and/or loss of security clearance for failure to pay debts. I’m guessing most people’s bosses would probably not have the authority to fire/take pay from/or imprison them for failure to pay.

    It’s doubtful in this case anything would happen to the member, but it is something the military takes seriously.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Renting a car from ElCheapo Cars is one thing, you never know how they do things. Paying premium money to rent from a well-known brand like Hertz entitles you to some customer service. Shame on Hertz.

  • J Herrmann

    Chris — There is an annoying pop-up on your newsletter site every time I vote. And I have Firefox pop-up protection.

  • JenniferFinger

    It wasn’t necessary to include that the husband was military or that this was supposed to be the “vacation of a lifetime.” That does come off as entitled.

    I’m not sure about the advice to check for a spare tire either. If a car rental agency contracts with any customer to offer them a car, shouldn’t the onus be on them to make sure at the time of rental that the car is available, functional, and has all necessary safety equipment? Most people just don’t have sufficient education training in automotive knowledge and maintenance to really do any kind of extensive check on the condition of the car beyond seeing any obvious damage like dings, dents, window cracks, or flat tires. As far as I’m aware, auto shop isn’t taught too much in high school anymore in America.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Now you’ve given me something to look forward to!

  • rsleeth

    AAA has reciprocal agreements all over the world. It could have helped in this situation. Also if rented through Hertz with a AAA membership you get additional benefits. And before anyone asks, yes, I do work for AAA.

  • Guest

    “Personally, I think that if you bought the Hertz insurance, your tow should have been covered.”

    Well, it’s nice that you think so. However, that is why there are rental contracts. They spell out exactly what the renter is and is not responsible for. I’m guessing Roadside Assistance was offered and subsequently declined. In the rental contracts for my company (and I work for one of the big 3) towing fees are explicitly the responsibility of the renter unless Roadside Assistance is purchased.

    A rental company is under no obligation to provide free Roadside Assistance. If you hit a rock and get a flat tire, how is that the fault of the rental company? If you are that desperate to save the $5/day most rental companies charge for Roadside Assistance, then you accept the very real possibility that if something happens that may be out of your control, you will pay for it. Same goes for declining CDW.

    When you sign a rental contract, you agree to all terms and conditions contained therein. You do not get to pick and choose what rules you are going to follow. The renter may have been successful in finding a loophole to get the charge off the credit card, but they are still contractually obligated to pay for the damage not covered under the Hertz coverage. The OP, however, feels they deserve special treatment due to prior military service/what have you, so they ran to Chris’s website to deliberately make Hertz look bad. To avoid bad press, hertz dropped a perfectly legitimate claim. The OP in this case still owes hertz money, even if they were able to weasel their way out of it.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    If you are in the military, you could have your career ruined because of financial problems. I have seen people lose their security clearance because of bad credit, etc. If her husband’s security clearance was up for renewal (usually every 5 years), the military will check the person’s credit report. A black mark from a collection agency could prevent him from keeping his security clearance – which is a career ender.
    So the reference to her husband being a member of the military is not to elicit sympathy. She could have added that military members are held to a higher standard of personal behavior concerning finances.

  • MarkKelling

    Thanks for that explanation. I was not aware of the impact on military service. I should have thought of that because I will be let go from my job if I have collection issues. Something about working for a company that deals with other peoples money and trust.