When Noeleen and Eddie Newman got back home to Ireland, they were shocked to find an extra $1,200 charged to their credit card by Budget Rent A Car for their rental while visiting the U.S. After we got involved, Budget offered them a partial refund. Is it enough?
This is a tough one. In reviewing this case, the key question is: What was in the rental agreement they signed? What the couple remember about what they agreed to is not what Budget says is on the signed contract.
When the Newmans planned their August visit to the United States, they reserved a car from Budget and prepaid 650 euros, about $724, for a 24-day rental. When they picked up the car in Chicago, the rental agent told them the car came with a built-in GPS, which they believed was included in their prepayment. They say the only extra they agreed to was the toll tag option.
But they were charged an extra $40 per day, plus taxes and fees, for an upgrade the Newmans claim they never agreed to take. And that’s where it gets tricky. They initialed and signed the rental agreement using an electronic signature pad. The problem with those is that they don’t always display the entire contract in a form that’s easily readable. What makes it worse is the Newmans were not given a printed contract because the agent claimed that the printer was broken.
So they went on their way with a rental folder that had information about the vehicle but that did not contain the document they needed most – their contract.
There are some important lessons here. Never leave the car rental desk without a printed copy of your rental agreement. Ideally, you should have the printed version to review before you sign. Then take the time to read it to be sure everything is correct. If it’s not what you agreed to, then insist it be corrected right then and there. If you don’t do that, and if it later comes to a dispute, then it will be your memory against their document.
The potential for disputes isn’t the only reason that having a hard copy of the rental agreement is important. For instance, if you are stopped at night by a police officer because the vehicle has a defective taillight, you will need to show proof that it’s a rental. That happened to me.
There are other important car rental points to keep in mind that you will find in the Frequently Asked Questions section of our website, including the risks of upgrade roulette.
The Newmans contacted Budget to get the extra $1,200 charge removed, claiming that the agent made no mention of an upgrade, that they would never have agreed to an additional $40 per day, and suggesting that the agent might have been the one who clicked the “accept” button for the upgrade.
Budget’s response was they had reviewed the rental document which showed the couple had accepted an upgrade when they signed the agreement. It was their memory versus Budget’s copy of the contract.
There is a bigger question that comes out of this case: What should you do if the printer at the car rental location really is broken and the agent cannot give you a hard copy of your rental agreement? In addition to our poll below, we’re interested in your thoughts about this question.
As for the Newmans, the couple could have escalated the issue by using the Budget executive contacts on our website. Instead, they wrote to us. After our advocate got involved, Budget credited the Newmans for about half of the extra charge. They decided to accept the offer.