Why do I have to pay for the flat on my rental car?

When Alicia Reise and her husband rented a car from Hertz in England recently, they had no reason to believe the car was in less than perfect condition.

But there were two little problems. First, Reise thinks one of the tires was faulty. And second, the car didn’t have a spare tire; instead, it came with a canister that could be used to fix a leaky tire, she says.

“We had a flat tire and called the emergency roadside number,” she says. “A person came out and replaced the flat with another tire.”

Problem solved? Not exactly.

“When we returned the car the Hertz people told us we would be charged £150 for the tire. Apparently we were supposed to fix the flat with the canister and take it somewhere – but when you are traveling between small villages, where would you take it?” she asks.

Good question.

It’s no secret that car rental companies have been more aggressive in charging customers for damage to their vehicles. But a flat tire is not an open-and-shut case. If you’re off-roading, for example — and I’m not suggesting that Reise and her husband were — then the tire damage would be on the customer.

Reise insists she drove the car responsibly. What’s more, if she’d had a spare tire, she could have spared Hertz the expense of servicing the vehicle. She’s more than capable of changing the tire on a car.

I tried to find a reference to Hertz’ policy on damaged tires on its UK site, but could only turn up references to its insurance, which covers tire damage.

Incidentally, Hertz isn’t the only car rental company renting cars without spare tires. Here’s another recent case involving Dollar.

Reise believes it’s a scam.

“They could be sending people out with faulty tires and then wait for it to blow, or go flat and then charge the customer,” she say. “Very shaky.”

I decided to ask Hertz about her flat tire. It contacted her and offered to split the difference on her bill, reducing it to £75.

I asked her if she was happy with that outcome.

“No,” she told me. “I am very disappointed. I think they should pay for the tire.”

She wonders how many people realize that if something goes wrong with the vehicle they are liable.

“This practice is so one sided — geared to the corporation only, not the consumer,” she adds.

I agree that the damage claim process could use a little democracy. Also, spare tires are a good idea in all rental vehicles.

But I’m glad Hertz met her halfway on this claim. Question is, did it go far enough?

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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  • MarkKelling

    I do not include mechanical failure in the same category as damage.  But according to other posters here, Hertz UK apparently does.

    A failure of a mechanical part is beyond the control of the driver unless the driver does something to cause the failure. For example, if you are driving along and the engine quits with no warning and it is determined the engine quit because the oil pump failed, that is nothing the driver had control over. However, if the driver runs over trash in the road puncturing the oil pan and the engine quits because of oil loss cause by that, then the driver caused the failue because of the damage done to the vehicle while it was in his control and is liable for repairs.

  • Miami510

    I first got my drivers’ license 62 years ago and this is the
    first time I’ve had to think about this problem.  I am, however, glad to read it, because I
    have  a Hertz rental in another state
    beginning tomorrow afternoon. 

    This is a wonderful site. 
    Now I know to have eyes in the back of my head when renting:  I expect to take pictures of every
    microscopic flaw I can find and photograph it with my iPhone.  I’ll also list it on the contract and have
    the attendant initial my note.  I’m going
    to check for a spare and have that noted on the contract as well.

    I also booked through Hotels.com.  If there is anything amiss I’m going to let
    Christopher know.  Thank you all for the
    accumulated travel wisdom.  Forewarned is
    forearmed, right?

  • backprop

     It’s the caricature!  Everything’s a “SCAM!”

  • Michael__K

    Notice that even Hertz UK doesn’t believe she is responsible for the tire replacement.  Just the roadside assistance (which doesn’t quite add up if you believe that DIY at the side of a narrow road is unsafe).

    Perhaps the companies can revise their contracts accordingly and revise what they tell the public and the media (“The companies say they’ll provide free [roadside] service if the renter didn’t cause the problem”) if they want to change course and follow a caveat emptor model where the customer is responsible for any and all breakdowns if they don’t buy [extra] insurance.

  • SallyLu

    Wow…not all of us worked as mechanics during college!  Doesn’t mean we’re incompetent!

  • Adam_The_Man

    Not everything is a scam, but the poll shows that most people agree with me.  Everyone here is too hard on people who are begin ripped off.

  • judyserienagy

    The vehicle belongs to Hertz, the tire belongs to Hertz.  A reputable auto rental company should keep their vehicles in good condition, including a spare tire.  If not, the renter should be responsible for making the vehicle whole to continue the rental they’re paying for and Hertz is responsible for the cost of a usable car.  What are we supposed to do?  Take every rental car to a mechanic for a complete checkup before we leave town on vacation?  This concept of “that’s the way it is” is ridiculous.  Just another wonderful way for the consumer to be cheated.

  • tomjuno

    The two situations aren’t comparable. I’m lending my car to my friend, not renting it to him. No money changed hands. And if he gets a flat, as friends we’ll come to a reasonable accommodation. But when I rent a car – a business arrangement – both I and the rental company are tacitly aware of potholes, building materials, trash and other junk often strewn along today’s roadways. To me, that counts as normal wear and tear. I don’t need to buy extra insurance to cover it (though I suppose I have it with my premium credit card). Unless I’ve behaved irresponsibly – travelling dirt roads and such – it’s the rental car company’s responsibility to eat the damage. As I’ve said, I merely handed it over to my card company, it leaned on the rental company – and the rental company caved immediately.

  • Michael__K

    Do you expect the customer to definitively prove  that they didn’t do anything improper?

    If so, how?

    If not, where is the evidence that the customer did anything improper here?

  • MikeInCtown

    What he is saying is that the leak may not be noticable once you have filled the tire with crap. Also, the fix a flat stuff makes a mess and tire shop charge EXTRA for times where this has been used.

    I do agree though that they gave the roadside number for assistance, so if there was a significant charge for the service, it should have been communicated up front. Sadly, $75 pounds for a tire fix is still way too much.

  • backprop

     So most people agree with you, but everyone is too hard on people.  Check.

  • MikeInCtown

    People are siding with the OP in the poll because the charge was for the roadside assistance, or at least it seemed that way, because the OP was told they could have just inflated it and driven it somewhere for a fix. there was no mention of a charge to fix the tire at an approved place. Considering it takes less than an hour to fix a tire completely and in the US I have paid no more than $25 for the service, it appears a hundred and fifty is a pretty damn big charge.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Logically, shouldn’t it be up to the rental company to prove she did something wrong? 

    Best of luck finding anybody who could accurately diagnose where or when a nail ended up in a tire. I once picked up a nail on a secondary vehicle and actually saw it in the tire. I wasn’t using the vehicle so it sat for weeks before the tire finally lost enough air to be obviously low.  I’ve also had tires with slow leaks that quite suddenly turned into flats because the object shifted or somesuch.

  • TonyA_says

     Don’t you sign on the line that says that you received a car in good order ???

  • Joe_D_Messina

    In the caricature’s defense, the poll results and comments frequently tell very different stories.  That seems to be the case on this one, as well.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I agree with you.  And making matters worse in this case, the $10 repair of the flat tire isn’t what the customer was charged for; they got hammered for roughly $230 for roadside assistance. No way did it cost Hertz that much for the assistance and they were probably going to turn a profit on this deal even if they bought a brand new tire. (And charging the renter for a brand new tire wouldn’t have really been fair given the old damaged tire was partially worn out at the time.)

  • Michael__K

    RA only has space to note external dentsand scratches.

  • Bill___A

    I question the cost of the tire.  Road service should come with the rental.   Tire shouldn’t be more than £100 I should think (without checking prices). 

  • MarkKelling

    I am not saying the customer did anything improper.  Nor do I claim the person who punctures the oil pan in my example did either.  
     
    You can easily total an auto by doing everything right, doing nothing wrong, and things happen and the car goes off the road and crashes into a light pole.  If this customer had driven into the light pole and totaled the car, are you saying it is not their fault and they should not pay for the damage to the vehicle?  

  • MarkKelling

    You always have to drive on the “right” ride of the road.  Driving on the wrong side is dangerous.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks to you and @TonyA_says:disqus for this little tidbit.  I promptly went out and checked my Subaru Forester – yep, that language is there.  Warranty expired 12,000 miles ago, so that point is moot.  Checked my husband’s Honda Crosstour (AWD).  Now *that* warranty and owner’s manual says while replacing 4 is preferred, 2 is the minimum and doesn’t void any warranties if only 2 of the 4 are replaced.  Again, thanks for making me aware!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Hey, are you a minor league ballplayer in your spare time?  Omaha Storm Chasers, batting avg .309 as of Saturday?  Got to wonder – you’ve been a mechanic, a lover of gourmet food, travel agent and maybe this same Tony A. (same last name as yours) is also you, moonlighting? 

  • TonyA_says

    Yeah he was traded (demoted) Good guess.

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    I’m confused. Why Hertz charge her 150 GBP ($235)?

    Was it for the cost of a new tire, time and labor for the “roadside assistance,” or both?

    On a UK site called Tyre Price Advisor I found Michelin tires in the 63-69 GBP price range. Based on those prices, it would seem that Hertz may have initially overcharged the renter, but ultimately reduced the charge to something akin to the price of a new tire.

    But that conclusion assumes that: 1) The tire was damaged beyond repair, which always seems to happen when I run over a nail while driving my own car; 2) the renter should pay for all costs of repair/replacement simply because the problem occurred during the rental period.

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  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Okay, have had time to think about this (didn’t get to read this until I got home a couple of hours ago).  I think part of the 150 pound charge included the charge for roadside assistance.  I also think Ms. Reise got charged for a new tire.  Why do I think that?

    If I have AAA come to change a tire and the spare is also dead, they tow me to the nearest place to fix a tire.  They can’t fix the tire on-site.  (Happened to my mom.)  If I have a can of Fix-a-Flat, either I or they would use that before towing.  They *aren’t* going to bring me a replacement tire.

    So – Ms. Reise’s tire wasn’t fixable with Fix-a-Flat. Ms. Reise’s thought that the tire was “faulty” as opposed to merely being stuck with a nail leads me to think the sidewall blew out or the tire was shredded by the time she pulled over to address the situation.  There isn’t enough Fix-a-Flat in the world to deal with that situation.

    If the rental car didn’t come with a spare, either Hertz had to pull that replacement tire off another car in inventory, take one out of some hypothetical back room or go out and buy one.  All of those options cost money.  If the flat tire was repairable, there may or may not be a credit toward the cost of the replacement tire, but I kind of doubt that.  The “administrative fees” and “loss of use fees” and “miscellaneous malarkey markups” would eat up any “credit”.

    Ms. Reise would undoubtedly be upset if part of her vacation were spent waiting for a small village’s garage to get in the specific tire needed to replace her tire, had she been towed and then left to fend for herself.  My local garage sometimes has to wait 2-3 days to get tires for my Subaru Forester.  I have an entire list of places where I’ve had to spend lots of time, sometimes days, waiting for a replacement part for my car.  Perhaps the OP could look at the now 75 pound charge as the value of her vacation time.

    I have no idea what her particular contract said about who pays for what part in what circumstances.  Side wall blowing out?  Manufacturer warranty should come into play and Hertz should work with the OP on that.  Driving on a flat tire until it shreds?  OP’s responsibility.  I don’t know.  Just my thoughts.  Sorry for the length of the post.

  • lost_in_travel

    I picked up a nasty nail in the tire of my BMW  wagon with all wheel drive and had only one tire replaced at the BMW dealer – lucked out because the tread wear was close enough.  Their first thought was to repair the tire, but the nail was a bit too close to the edge of the tread (3/4 “) and I was uncomfortable with it.  

  • y_p_w

    I had a tire blow out on the freeway at the speed limit.  I’ve experienced such a flat, and I knew the “whump, whump” meant a flat tire that was shredded on the sidewalls. I talked to the service writer when I got it replaced and explained what happened.  He said there’s no way a tire can survive a blowout at that high a speed.  It basically shreds itself from the heat and motion within seconds, but at least a good tire will stay in one piece even though there are dozens of holes in it.  A tire that completely flies off (and I’ve seen several) is not a good thing.

    The majority of tires will shred, although I do remember having a flat on a particular tire with super stiff sidewalls that didn’t shred when the tire blew out at 50 MPH.

    For the most part I think forcing anyone to replace a tire should be prorated for the wear.  I would be patently unfair to force someone to pay the entire cost of a tire that’s near the end of its life.  The tires I bought came with an included prorated flat repair or replacement policy from the seller.  They made me pay for the installation for my last flat, but I got a brand new tire for only the cost of the wear from the original to 4/32″.  They charged me $20 for a $120 tire.  I think that was fair.

  • y_p_w

    It should also depend on the wear of the original tire.

    If a vehicle is totaled, insurance doesn’t cover the entire cost of replacing it with a comparable brand new vehicle. It would cover the cost of the value of the car if it’s used.

    If a tire is almost down to the wear bars, then there’s no way that a customer should be made to pay for the entire cost of a brand new tire.  Or tyre.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Agree on the prorating – that’s how manufacturer’s warranties work and would be a good model to follow in general.  As I noted somewhere above, I don’t think that Hertz would pass along any credit that way, although it *should*. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    The customer should never pay for a tire unless the customer did something stupid like run over the do not back up spikes. It;s just as likely that the tire was already damaged by a previous customer or was the result of wear and tear.