Did Hertz upgrade me into a broken SUV?

By | February 19th, 2016

When Robert Pascal picks up his rental car in Shannon, a representative hands him the keys to the wrong vehicle. And that’s just the beginning of his problems. Can this rental be saved?

Question: I recently reserved a midsize rental car in Shannon, Ireland, through Hertz. At the airport, a Hertz representative upgraded us to an SUV, which sounded bigger, but was not.

We were given the keys to an Opel Mokka, which was so small we could not fit our bags into it without putting two of them on our laps.

I have driven a stick-shift car for the past 53 years, but when I started driving this car I had trouble getting it into gear. I must say I was a bit frazzled since the car was so small and there were four of us in it. I did get it going, but noticed a smell coming from the car right away, so I drove it around the airport block back to Hertz. I had the car 15 minutes max.

Hertz claimed I ruined the clutch. They “upgraded” me to an automatic for 50 euros a day more. I did not have any problems with that automatic Audi. But when I turned the car in I was charged another 802 Euros for damage to the clutch, so my total cost was 1,699 euros instead of the 268 euros that I had been quoted.

I did not get the Hertz rental car insurance because of the cost and I felt that I was already covered. I had expected that my car insurance, or my Platinum Amex card, or my USAA travel insurance with rental car coverage would cover the damage, but none of them would, because the first two do not cover Ireland and the latter does not cover mechanical damage.

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At this point I do not have any other solution to this expense, which equaled the whole cost of our trip, less airfare. This is a very big expense for us, as you can imagine. I would appreciate anything that you can do since I think that the clutch was already defective as the smell started almost immediately. — Robert Pascal, Bellevue, Wash.

Answer: Hertz was generous to upgrade you into an SUV. I would hate to see what a midsize car would have looked like, or how your party of four would have handled your luggage. But the company should have also offered you a working car, and I’m not sure if it did.

The transmissions on European cars don’t always work the same way as on American vehicles. If you don’t believe me, try putting that European rental into “reverse.” I will gather a few car rental employees so we can watch you.

My point is, Hertz should tell its American customers about any idiosyncrasies with their transmissions before they drive away. And you should ask. Otherwise you could end up with a burned-out clutch, which is what Hertz claims you did. Was that you or the previous renter? It’s hard to know for sure. But it happened while you were driving it, which means you’re responsible.

I’m surprised Hertz didn’t require you to purchase its insurance. Ireland is among the countries that more or less require you buy the car rental company’s expensive insurance option. You must have showed the representative proof of comparable coverage, which should have covered this event.

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You weren’t at the end of the line, by the way. You could have contacted one of Hertz’ executives. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.

I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It insists you damaged the transmission, but agreed to refund half of the repair bill, or 401 euro.

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