Oh no, I’m stuck with two car rental bills

evening roadQuestion: My husband and I recently rented a car via AutoEurope for a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. We received a pre-paid voucher for a rental from Hertz.

When we landed in Munich, Germany, a Hertz representative told us our reservation had been canceled. After some delay, checking on his computer and his garage, he assured us that we could obtain another smaller car. He said it would cost slightly less than our original rental amount, but that we would have to take up the refund of the original reservation with Auto Europe.

My husband signed a new charge slip (of course, all in German) and we were glad to finally be on our way. The Hertz agent only gave us a credit card receipt, but no rental agreement.

While still in Europe, my husband sent an email to AutoEurope, letting it know about the cancellation. We returned the car without incident.

Now both Hertz and AutoEurope are charging us for the car. After several months of multiple e-mails and phone calls, AutoEurope advised us that their original charge indeed was for our reservation, which they state was not canceled, and that the Hertz charges were not for a new rental but for unrequested extra insurance, a car return relocation fee, entry to Czech Republic fee and a winterization fee.

I am so mad and offended by the dishonesty of the Hertz agent in Munich and the collusion of AutoEurope. Do we have any recourse? — Pat Shopher, El Macero, Calif.

Answer: AutoEurope’s voucher should have worked. But instead of taking the next rental, you should have contacted AutoEurope immediately and asked it to fix the problem with Hertz. That way, this misunderstanding could have been avoided.

I’ve dealt with a few cases like this, where reservations for international rentals were canceled and then rebooked at a higher rate. Usually, customers end up with an extra fee or two, but I’ve never seen it rise to this level.
Some of the fees charged by the Hertz location in Germany seem suspicious. If you never asked for insurance, why should you pay for it? A winterization fee? (That would be for winter tires, which should come standard with any car driving in winter conditions.)

Why did you sign a contract that you couldn’t understand? You have the right to ask for a contract in a language you understand, or at least for a translation. But instead, it looks as if you assumed the terms of your rental were the same as for the AutoEurope rental, and they weren’t.

The vouchers issued by a company like AutoEurope should include all mandatory charges, and if Hertz had accepted it, you probably wouldn’t have had any surprises on your credit card bill. You made a valiant attempt to dispute this with each company, short of taking this matter up with your credit card.

Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. I contacted Hertz on your behalf. It refunded 251 euro, the full amount of Hertz’ optional services.

Do car rental companies make it too difficult to resolve billing disputes?

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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 the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    I sell AutoEurope with complete confidence and have never had a problem with them. The OP should have read their voucher BEFORE leaving on their trip as AutoEurope has their international phone number listed that should have been used BEFORE doing anything else with Hertz. Since no agent is mentioned as handling this reservation, then the DIY’er has an obligation to made note of who to call if there is any problem with their booking. Hertz did the right thing but sadly not until Chris got involved and that is disappointing.

  • MarkieA

    “Why did you sign a contract that you couldn’t understand? You have the right to ask for a contract in a language you understand, or at least for a translation.”

    I certainly agree that you have the right to ASK for this. Heck, you have the right to ASK for anything. But really? So, if a Russian tourist comes to Disney World, speaks very little English and wants to rent a car, the Orlando Alamo has to present him with a rental contract in Russian? Or does this just apply to traveling Americans?

    And if the rental agent was going to scam you anyway, I doubt that any “translation” provided would be accurate.

  • Travelingproguy

    I’m so confused. The way people talk about them on here, I thought Hertz was the perfect car rental company that did no wrong? I mean, that’s surely the reason they almost always charge more than everyone else, right?

  • technomage1

    I was thinking the same thing. I’ve signed plenty of car rental agreements in German. Their country, their language, and the burden to know it is on me as the visitor.

  • technomage1

    It’s not always so easy to call. You have to find a coin pay phone (good luck), have euro change, etc. unless you have an international cell phone. I’m not sure if I’d have done any differently than the renters in this case, honestly.

  • TonyA_says

    Even Rick Steves says to watch out for car rental consolidators.

    Consolidators, such as Auto Europe or Europe by Car, compare rates among various companies (including many of the big-name firms), find the best deal, and — because they’re wholesalers — pass the savings on to you. You pay the consolidator, and they issue you a voucher to pick up your car in Europe. While this can be cheaper than booking direct, my readers have reported problems with consolidators, ranging from misinformation to unexpected fees. Because you’re working with a middleman, ask ahead of time about add-on fees and restrictions or you might not learn this critical information until you pick up the car. If any dispute arises when you show up at the rental desk, call the consolidator’s toll-free line to try to resolve the issue. Once you sign off on something with the vendor, it’s difficult for the consolidator (or anyone else) to reverse what you agreed to. If you have a problem with the rental agency, the consolidator may not be able to intervene to your satisfaction.

    Article: Chosing a car rental company

  • http://first2board.com/thedealmommy Dia (The Deal Mommy)

    I LOVED Auto Europe, until last year, when I got an extra $100 bill in the mail from my rental in Tenerife for ONE gallon of gas…and I’m pretty sure the tank was full! They wouldn’t stand up to the Vendor (Europcar), but AMEX sided with me when I disputed the charge.

  • Bill___A

    They’ve done no wrong to me. Stories like this surprise me, I’ve never seen this happen personally…but it must happen somehow or we’d not hear about it.

  • TonyA_says

    Sounds like the car rental broker did not disclose that the car rental company had other mandatory and optional fees that will be charged when they picked up the car. By this time, don’t we already know about the winter tire fees in Germany?

  • EdB

    I have had nothing but good experiences from Hertz. It seems most of these negative stories come from Europe. I’m wondering if a lot of them might be caused by workers trying to take advantage of the visiting American. Was this place a corporate rental local or a franchise?

  • EdB

    I pretty much agree with what you are saying, but if you are going to be traveling in a foreign country, personally I feel you should also arrange ahead of time to have local currency if possible and a cell phone plan that works where you will be going. I’m sure they did a lot of other planning ahead of time, like for transportation. Sounds like they just stopped the planning a bit too soon.

  • Londoner1936

    Why rent through a third agency like AutoEurope? I have rented from Hertz, mainly in France, and I do speak French, but using the Hertz web site, US version, even in France or Britain, and paying with a US credit card in US dollars, to make the reservation, Never had a problem; rental honored, declined any or all extras, and no vouchers or other prepaid issues. The rates seemed OK to me, and no other issues came up.

  • bodega3

    Tony, AutoEurope places a lot of information about additional fees, insurance, what is included in the rate, how to reach them on each voucher. They are pretty thorough based on my years of selling them.

  • technomage1

    I agree if you can do both its a good idea. It’s hard to find banks that have foreign currency in my area, though, and none of them will give you coins, only bills. I don’t know what the costs/availability of international calling is on US cell phones since I did most of my travel while already stationed overseas. Maybe it’s easier to obtain than I think. When I lived in Europe, you just got an SMS when you crossed country lines telling you what some of the rates were.

  • bodega3

    I understand what you are saying but if you are traveling internationally, you need to be prepared. There is usually a tourist office/desk at the airport or train station and you can go ask them for assistance. AutoEurope’s phone number is toll free and they are open 24/7.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    Come on, you’ve been flying all night, you’re dealing with a brand name like Hertz, you’re been standing around for an hour to get your car; I’d sign whatever they gave me too so I could get on with my trip. It’s not like you’re renting from Cheap Charlie’s Cars after all. I’d have no way to contact AutoEurope from that car rental desk unless Hertz put the call through for me and what time is it on the east coast of America?
    I’ve been an AutoEurope client forever and I would have sent them an email from my first hotel and expected them to step right up and solve this problem before I returned the car. Peace of mind is one reason that I rent through an American rental car broker.

  • technomage1

    I don’t disagree that you should be as prepared as possible, only that it’s impossible to prepare for everything. Most places I’ve been to do not have phones for use by travelers, and as I recall in Germany the pay phones needed money even to call a toll free number (you got your coin back at the end of the call). That was the few pay phones that even then (early 2000s) existed, and many of those were calling card only (the phones used prepaid calling cards with a SIM chip in them).

    I also think this was a slick move on behalf of the Hertz guy. If someone told me what they got told, I’d probably fall for it too.

  • Michael__K

    Calling the intermediary doesn’t necessarily even solve this kind of problem.

    I haven’t used AutoEurope but I’ve experienced the dynamic:

    Agent from the company you paid says one thing; agent from the company delivering the service says the opposite. Even if the agents can speak the same language (not a slam dunk in this situation) you can’t force them to speak to each other unless they both agree to do so.

    And my experiences haven’t left me with much faith in those international toll-free 24/7 numbers. Sometimes the number simply doesn’t work from your location. Even if you reach a live human, sometimes the off-hours agent doesn’t know the “systems” well enough to do more than take a message and promise a response during business hours.

  • TonyA_says

    Why not just the sell Hertz or the real rental company itself?
    Is the consolidator’s rate worth the hassle?

  • bodega3

    Hertz could put the call through because AutoEurope’s number from Europe is toll free or so to the Tourist desk for assistance on locating a phone. Sorry, but there is a way to contact AutoEurope.

  • bodega3

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I use AutoEurope about 98% of the time on international rental car bookings. There are also other benefits for an agent to book through them, but the main reason I do is that they book car companies I wouldn’t try on my own and expect to get paid!

  • bodega3

    If you have never used AutoEurope you wouldn’t know their service. Their number works and their agents are great. They are also open 24/7 and a live person answers the phone, no message machine.

  • Theodore Rosenberg

    Unfortunately rental companies always seem to have SOME scam working, some large some small – they usually back down if you . The LAST fight I had with a rental company was Enterprise. The problem was a series of things screwed up by their staff, defects with the car, etc. None of the problems were huge, but the sheer number of them was amazing. Calls to the company and emails went unanswered. A nice long post on Facebook got an apologetic email followed by a call from the district manager. He agreed that I had a right to complain, and offered a full refund. It was more than I expected, but not really much money, and well worth it in good will. This has worked about 50% of the time for things not even worth a lot of effortt. the rest of the time the company stonewalls Oh It does not work for health insurance companies, and I make it a point of fighting them on every last penny when I am right.

  • Sharon

    Just as a FYI — many auto rental companies in Europe, and definitely those in Germany (where I live), do NOT include the use of winter tires in your rental fee. That is often, REALLY, NO JOKE!!, an extra … which you are required to accept and pay for during the winter months.

  • EdB

    There are currency exchange locations at most international airports. They may charge more, but it’s probably worth it until you can get to another location where it might be less expensive.