What should we do about repeat offender car rental companies?

RentalAbusers

The resolutions of our advocacy cases almost never get overturned. But, as Ian Fleming might have said, “Never say never.”

When Carol Amitin’s story about Enterprise appeared in my syndicated column, we had one of those unfortunate moments. Amitin, you’ll recall, rented a “courtesy” car from Enterprise and was accused of damaging it.

Readers of this site urged us to advocate for her. Amitin disputed the charges on her credit card and won.

Last week, I heard from her with some bad news. Enterprise was pursuing her for even more money.

“I just received another letter from Enterprise asking for $817 instead of $317,” she told me. “I was hoping that would be the resolution even though I had not heard from Enterprise at that time. With your expertise in these matters, is there anything you can do to finally resolve this situation?”

Of course, I immediately contacted Enterprise. She won the credit card dispute. Leave this customer alone, please. The case is pending.

But it raised an even bigger question: How do you deal with a repeat offender like Enterprise, with a reputation for pursuing customers even when it doesn’t have a convincing case? Can anything be done?

Turns out I’m not the only one asking the question.

“I, too, had a problem with a car I rented from Enterprise,” says Steve Depetris, a reader from Oakland, Calif. “The problem was that Enterprise did not honor the quoted rate when I dropped off the car. Getting nowhere with the people working at the Enterprise office, I, too, did a credit card dispute for $50 of the total $150 bill.”

That’s when the law of unintended consequences kicked in, he says.

“Apparently, Enterprise has a policy of blackballing any renter who initiates a credit card chargeback,” he says. “I was put on a ‘Do Not Rent’ list for Enterprise, which also included their other car rental companies, Alamo and National. I was never notified of this or even knew about it until I later attempted to rent cars from Enterprise, Alamo and National, when I was informed by the counter personnel that I was on the list, and nothing could be done about it, even though I had confirmed reservations in each case.”

In that case, there was no appeal.

“There is nothing quite like the feeling of despair that comes from holding a confirmed reservation that is not honored by the company,” he adds. “So you may want to alert your readership that, in winning the battle with Enterprise, they may well lose the war.”

How true. Fortunately, Depetris managed to eventually persuade Enterprise to reinstate him.

And then there’s this from reader Michael Smith in San Francisco. He rented a car from Enterprise under his employer’s name and got a flat tire. The bill: $270.

“I demanded proof, which resulted in copies of photographs of my injuries to the truck,” he says. “The unit number on the truck pictured was not the truck I rented.”

Even so, he says Enterprise insisted he pay the $270. His boss refused.

“Someone at Enterprise is doing this — and keeps doing this,” he says.

Actually, Enterprise insists it only pursues legitimate claims, and that its Damage Recovery Unit is not operated as a profit center. But recent cases we’ve received suggest there may be another side to this story.

No doubt about it, Enterprise is, for better or worse, a frequent topic of conversation on this site. But how do we stop these shenanigans from happening? Don’t consumers have rights?

Of course they do. But this is not like fighting for airline passenger rights, where the federal government regulates an entire industry. Car rental companies are regulated on a state-by-state basis, and companies have great lobbyists in the state legislatures and give generously to re-election funds.

That means when a piece of legislation comes before a state legislature or court, like Colorado’s precedent-setting case on loss of use, consumers essentially have no representation. Cases and legislation almost always favor the car rental company because consumers don’t have any advocates at the state level to say “that’s not right.”

That’s a shame.

I don’t know what the fix is, but maybe a good first step is to try something at the federal level. Car rental customers are harassed by false claims, extra fees and come-ons for pricey and unnecessary insurance. And don’t even get us started on the contracts, with their onerous arbitration clauses that try to keep valid claims out of court. The nerve!

They’ll never win at the state level. But at the federal level they just may have a chance.

Should car rental companies be regulated at the federal level?

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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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • jmj

    More regulation is hardly ever the answer.

  • sirwired

    Blanket statements like “More regulation is hardly ever the answer” are hardly ever the answer either.

    A simple rule like: “Car rental damage claims may not be filed against a renter after the rental return receipt has been issued.” don’t seem too unreasonable or burdensome to me.

  • Ribit

    I agree that activities of the rental car company cited here require heighten awareness by the consumer. But I also agree that regulation is not the answer. (ex. How is the do-not-call database of the FTC working for you?)

  • sirwired

    The Damage Recovery Unit “isn’t a profit center”? Hogwash. I suspect that they remit all money collected back to the local locations exactly so they can claim this. And I also suspect that there’s no requirement that all money collected for damage actually be used to repair cars.

  • sirwired

    Speaking for myself, the DNC list worked for many years, dropping call volume dramatically.

    Yes, robocalls are a problem, but the DNC list was hardly ineffectual. (And without it in place, you’d probably receive all those annoying live calls you used to, on TOP of the robocalls/scams you get now.)

  • John Baker

    I’m a believer in once the rental car company accepts the vehicle, they should be responsible for all damage that is found. After all, by driving the vehicle, they could have caused the damage.

    I’m also fine with a business opting to no longer do business with you if owe them money (winning a chargeback is about validating the underlying charge its about if the charge followed all of the rules. You still owe the money). Would you continue to work for an employer that isn’t paying you?

  • Joe Blasi

    needs more

    Like any billed repairs must be done and can only bill for lost of use if the car is being fixed.

    Where and tear stuff (like tires, clutch, others must be prorated and or fixed at the companies cost)

    Any added fuel over the asked to return the car at must be paid out at the same rate as the fee for returning the car with less.

    The companies must have there own before and after photos to make a damage clam.

    Toll admin fees can only be billed per day used or flat rate per rental

    Max look back 2 weeks

  • Nathan Witt

    “I’m also fine with a business opting to no longer do business with you if owe them money…” The problem in this instance is that Enterprise is the only party deciding that a given customer owes money for damages. The widespread notion that because someone sent you a bill, you owe money, allows these kinds of shenanigans.

  • Zod

    I support the free market by just using certain vendors and making sure everybody knows the difficulties I had with that vendor! Because a company SAYS they don’t do a thing using their public voice, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a culture of doing that thing that sint discussed to outsiders.

  • John Baker

    Ok … but if they think you owe them money, why should they be forced to continue to do business with them.
    More importantly, if you think they fraudulently charged you (which you would have to claim to not pay), why do you want to do business with them?

  • James

    Like any billed repairs must be done and can only bill for lost of use if the car is being fixed.>/blockquote>

    Why? If I have a minor fender-bender, and chose not to repair my car, should I not be allowed to collect the projected cost of the repair, as compensation for the depreciated value?

  • Ward Chartier

    There is a long history of the Federal Government stepping in to legislate to prevent, correct, or punish organizations who abuse the public with impunity. One memorable example is that after roughly 20 years of increasing industrial injuries and deaths, Congress approved the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Such legislation hurts not only offenders, but also upstanding and professional businesses at costs that we consumers pay. Ideally, the industry would police its own, but clearly other major car rental companies are not pressuring the owners of the National, Alamo, Enterprise combine to conduct their practices with reason.

  • mbods2002

    You have a point there. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to continue to do business with a company that tried to rip them off. Personally, I will never do business with Enterprise. Too bad a rep.

  • Alan Gore

    Any non-utility business has the right to ‘fire’ a given customer, but If it’s not illegal to operate a secret blacklist that prevents that customer from doing business elsewhere, it needs to be made so immediately.

  • Alan Gore

    If you’re a car rental company, any minor dings and scratches that you opt not to fix can be charged to the next ten suck- oops, I mean naive customers – to whom you rent that car.

  • AJPeabody

    I just got a sizable check from a class action against a fax spammer. Sometimes things work.

  • Blamona

    The problem with government regulating is that company fines go to the government, not the “victim”!

  • Patrica

    Yes! Imagine my disabled elderly sister, flying cross country, waiting in the airport from midnight to 6 AM for the rental car company to open to be told her CONFIRMED & prepaid car rental reservation was not going to be honored! She had assumed her insurance had dealt with and paid a claim by the rental company 6 months previous. No notice, nada, only to be hit with crap like this secret blacklist. She paid an extra $500 from her own pocket just to be able to RENT a car, and only after I escalated the case from my home. ( Other car rental agencies were too far for her to walk, let alone to deal with her suitcase and carryon. )

  • 42NYC

    false claims concern me and in my opinion are one of the biggest issues in the travel industry (along with hidden resort-fees). Return the car, do a walk-around, if no damage you;re good to go.

    I’m not sure what ‘extra fees’ youre referring to though. Theyve always been pretty clear about what add-ons are available and what the cost might be.

    Insurance – yes, they offer it. yes, its often unncessary BUT, its the consumers job to know what kind of insurance one has and how it might apply to a rental car. The person behind the counter at Enterpise is not a licensed insurance agent and legally can not make recommendations on if the additional insurance being offered is the right choice.

  • The Original Joe S

    This blog is enlightening. Shows what companies are to be avoided.

  • Carrie

    More regulation is hardly ever the answer UNLESS so many people are getting ripped off. And it seems to be happening to alot of rental customers that do not have the means to fight back.

    As suggested in this thread, maybe keep a running list of the worst offending car rental companies and not give them my/our business.

  • jim6555

    A major reason that the DNC list is ineffective is that many sales calls now come from outside the United States and the US Government has no jurisdiction.

  • mburrows

    Enterprise is the dregs of an already crummy industry, car rental. Chris and other travel writers should help spread the word and share alternatives. Car rental is the grittiest part of travel. Experience, affinity plans, and cash can make air travel and hotels actually pleasant. Nothing can make car rental pleasant. Let the marketplace fix the issue. Use mass transit, taxis, Uber, or a car service. But skip the car rental counter.

  • Gary K

    I voted ‘No’ because I don’t see how the Feds would help the situation. That said, in cases like Carol’s I would contact the state Attorney General’s office, where she resides and also where the rental took place (if different) — some of them have proven to be effective in getting ‘bad actors’ to modify and/or cease their consure-unfriendly behavior, especially where the business does not have the ability to move their operations to another state.