Why are we being charged an extra $277 for our rental car?

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After returning from their Hawaiian vacation, Jessica Gennaoui and her husband discover an unpleasant surprise on their credit card: a $277 charge from Avis. Can this bill be fixed?

Question: My husband and I rented an economy car with Avis in Kona, Hawaii, and we’re having a problem with the rental company. We paid $196 for the car, and we returned it with a full tank of gas. But we didn’t speak with anyone at Avis, since we had an early flight to catch.

A few days later, Avis charged us an additional $277. The company didn’t notify us about the charge, but when we looked at the receipt, we saw that it was billing us for an extra day and a full tank of gas.

I sent Avis our itinerary from Expedia, which confirmed our car rental. But now Avis wants to see a receipt from a gas station, which must show a fuel purchase on the date of vehicle return within five miles of the return location. It also claims to need the address of the gas station and the number of gallons purchased, as well as the cost.

Problem is, I don’t have the gas receipt. I want my money back because it’s Avis’ mistake, not ours. Can you please help us or guide us with what to do next? — Jessica Gennaoui, Montreal

Answer: Avis should have notified you and your online travel agent of any late billings, including fuel purchases or additional fees for allegedly keeping the car an extra day. And it should have explained why it was charging you instead of forcing you to do all the work.

It’s true, car rental companies are strict about vehicles returned without a full tank of gas. They even have new technology that can detect when a gas tank isn’t completely full. The solution is to either pay for the fuel-purchase option or to refuel just before you arrive at the airport — and to keep your receipt.

The fuel-purchase option allows you to buy a full tank at market prices, which works if you can figure out a way to return the car with an empty tank. If you bring back the vehicle with half a tank, then you’ve subsidized the rental company’s fuel purchases.

But if you don’t go for the fuel-purchase option, and the needle isn’t on “F,” then you could be on the hook for a full tank at a premium rate, which is double or even triple the market prices. That would explain why you were charged so much.

I believe you returned your car with what you thought was a full tank. I’ve done the same thing, with one difference: I returned the vehicle during business hours. A representative informed me that even though the gas gauge indicated a full tank, the tank wasn’t quite full. He suggested that I visit the gas station across the street to top it off, which I did.

Point being, you probably could have avoided this late charge by returning the vehicle during business hours and speaking with an employee.

Failing that, you could get in touch with someone higher up at Avis. I list the executives’ names and numbers on my website.

I contacted Avis on your behalf, and you supplied the car rental company with your confirmation from Expedia and your boarding passes, which verified the correct return date. Avis refunded the $277.

Should Avis have charged Jessica Gennaoui for a tank of gas?

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I didn’t damage my rental car, so why do I have to pay?

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When Katherine LaFaso returns her Enterprise rental, she’s charged $500 for damages she says existed before she picked up the car. But how can she prove it?

Question: I rented a car from Enterprise in Paramus, N.J., for a month while my car was being fixed due to an accident. It was the only rental available that day, and an Enterprise employee told me there was an open claim with some damages, which were pointed out to me. I was told I would be contacted in a few days to switch out the car for one without any damage, but that never happened.

When I returned the car, there was a more detailed inspection done by a different employee. The damage in question didn’t even look like damage; it looked more like bad repair work or an imperfection. But the bottom line is: I did not damage the car.

Enterprise charged my credit card $500 without my authorization, and my credit card company recently sided with me and credited my account. Enterprise’s damage-recovery unit is now giving me an ultimatum: Pay up, or we’ll send this to collections, and you could face legal consequences. What are my options now? — Katherine LaFaso, Paramus, N.J.

Answer: You could pay this bill — or fight it.

Here are the reasons to pay: Enterprise claims that you damaged its car, and if you don’t settle up, the car rental company will have to cover the damages. Also, your damage claim may be referred to a collections agency, and you might be added to Enterprise’s “Do Not Rent” list.

Here are the reasons to fight: Your claim raised several red flags that were so troubling even your credit card company sided with you in the dispute. There is the arbitrary $500 charge (despite the fact that Enterprise showed you no repair invoice). And any claim at or near $500, which is the normal amount of an insurance deductible, is suspicious, because it looks as if a car rental company is going for the easy money and trying to keep your insurance company out of its business. By your account, Enterprise lost the credit card dispute, which means it couldn’t prove that you were at fault.

I think this easily might have been avoided. First, never accept a damaged car, even if it’s the last one on the lot. If, for some reason, you feel you have no choice, then take lots of photos or videos of the vehicle with your phone. Document any pre-existing damage in writing, ask a manager to sign the rental agreement, and then get the manager’s business card. You’ll probably need it later.

If you’d shown Enterprise the images and a signed rental agreement with the damages documented, you never would have been charged $500, and you wouldn’t be receiving threatening letters now from the damage-recovery unit.
I’m getting a little tired of these cases. If car rental companies simply asked their customers to photograph their vehicles before driving them off the lot and offered a clear way to document any pre-existing dings and dents, then these cases would disappear overnight. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to end these time-wasting claims, unless they are amazingly profitable.

I contacted Enterprise on your behalf. It reviewed the claim, and although it said there is “no evidence” to support the allegation that the damage was pre-existing, the regional manager who was handling this claim has left the company. As a result, Enterprise couldn’t clarify some questions and follow normal protocol. Enterprise dropped its claim.

Should Enterprise have dropped this claim?

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