Sounds like a scam: Budget Ireland bills me for a new clutch, but I only drove a few clicks

Renting a car in Europe can take some getting used to for the average American visitor. The vehicles are smaller. Gas is more expensive. And most of the cars have manual transmissions.

And Americans, who are accustomed to driving automatic-transmission vehicles, are notorious for burning out clutches. It’s gotten to the point where any transmission problems are blamed on operator error — whether it’s true or not.

But when Ashley Pallotta contacted me back in 2009 with her burned-out transmission story from Ireland, it sounded like a possible scam.
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Can this trip be saved? Budget wants $8,381 for a four-day rental

I‘ve seen high car rental bills, but the one Fareeda Elqatto just got from Budget is in a class by itself.

She rented a Chevy Cobalt for four days in Akron, Ohio, and when the car broke down because of an engine problem caused by a filter leak, the car rental company asked her to buy a new engine. Elqatto hadn’t purchased car rental insurance from Budget, so in the company’s view, either she — or her car insurance company — was on the hook.

But is that fair? Elqatto says Budget is to blame for giving her a car with a mechanical defect.

“They are trying to say the filter leak was my fault, which is completely false,” she says. “I drove that car with much care and trusted that it was given to me in good condition.”

I know next to nothing about cars, which is one reason I’m asking for your help with this case. The driver had the car for only a few days before it stopped working. Can a negligent driver cause a filter leak, and should Elqatto be held responsible for what happened? Or was this a “pre-existing” condition, which Budget should cover?

The other reason I’m writing about this problem is to warn you: Car rental companies are pursuing their customers for every ding, dent, scratch — and blown-up engine. You are guilty until proven innocent. Although this may be an extreme example, you need to protect yourself when you rent a car by carrying reliable primary insurance, otherwise you could be sent a bill for eight grande.
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