The Travel Troubleshooter: She declined insurance, but then signed for it

Question: My wife recently rented a car in Columbus, Ohio, from Dollar Rent A Car. When I made the reservation for her, I specifically told them we did not want their extra insurance coverage.

My wife is not a frequent traveler so she called me at the rental car counter that day to ask me if she should accept their insurance coverage charges that they were trying to add to the contract. Since our current auto insurance policy covered rental cars, I told her not to accept their charges.

She specifically told the Dollar Rental car agent in Columbus to not include the $20 a day insurance coverage on her rental agreement. However, these charges were added.

I have contacted Dollar regarding an insurance charge of $104, but they refuse to make any type of adjustment or issue a refund. The customer service person at Dollar said my wife’s electronic signature when she checked out the car is proof that she wanted the insurance coverage. The Dollar counter in Columbus has a small electronic signature unit, and my wife would have had to scroll through many, many pages to see various charges via this tiny signature box unit.

What steps can I take to get a refund? — Ted Van Anne, Colleyville, Texas

Answer: The technology your wife used at the time of her rental should have helped her instead of leaving her with an overcharge of $104.

Car rental companies have installed electronic counter systems in order to avoid any misunderstandings with customers. Dollar’s included a series of digital screens that had to be read and acknowledged before finishing the rental process.

Two of the screens dealt with any additional options purchased, their daily cost, and then the estimated rental total, including all options, taxes and fees. When I checked with Dollar, it said it moved to the new system to better explain charges and to disclose any potential issues, such as traffic or toll violations.

If your wife wasn’t used to the system, she probably remembers what it was like before these countertop gadgets. Back then, you simply told the agent you were declining the insurance, and then the employee fixed the contract.

The Dollar employee should have informed your wife that she needed to decline the options on the screen, and cautioned her to read the options carefully. Instead, she may have hastily clicked “accept” several times, in the mistaken belief that she was looking at the right contract.

She would have had several opportunities to see the final rate and then make a correction at the end of the rental process and when she returned the car. Waiting until after she returned from her trip limited her options for recovering the insurance fee she was wrongfully charged.

At the same time, it is in a car rental company’s interests to keep the rental process as confusing as possible. Why? Optional insurance is highly profitable to car rental companies, so the more drivers sign up for it — even accidentally — the more money a location makes. I think there’s no question that Dollar could have been clearer about its insurance. I’ve used the digital screens myself and there’s a lot of small print; if you’re in a hurry, it’s asking a lot to read the whole document.

Still, your wife should have done her due diligence. And so should anyone else who rents a car in this age of surprise surcharges.

I contacted Dollar on your behalf. A representative said although the company’s records show your wife signed off on the insurance, “It is quite evident that Mr. Van Anne will continue to escalate this issue and remains very concerned with how he feels this charge was applied.”

Dollar refunded the $104.

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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • Chris in NC

    LOL! @ Chris Elliott, did you plan to post yesterday and today’s article in this order? Its brilliant!

    Glad you are able to get Van Anne a refund. I feel that many of the comments from yesterday are applicable to today’s case. Unfortunately, since job performance and commissions are all tied into how much insurance an agent sells, this type of problem won’t go away anytime soon.

  • Christopher Elliott

    That was a total coincidence. This story has been in the queue for a while now. I didn’t even notice the similarities until you pointed them out. :-)

  • Raven_Altosk

    Another day, another car rental scam…

    Allow me to translate Dollar’s response of: “It is quite evident that Mr. Van Anne will continue to escalate this issue and remains very concerned with how he feels this charge was applied.”

    We got caught cheating a customer and in order to save face in public, we’re going to do the right thing but still be passive-aggressive jerks about it.

  • Elmo Clarity

    regardless of how the final contract was signed, paper or electronic, if the original reservation indicated that no insurance was wanted, the final contract should not have the optional insurance enabled by default.  Granted, she needs to read what she is signing, but personally I feel when a business hands you a long, wordy contract at the last minute for you to sign, it is so they can slip stuff by like they did here.  I agree the renter has some responsibility in this, but I feel the rental company has a greater responsibility to provide what was requested.

    The response from Dollar sounds to me like they know they were cheating this person and it was only the bad press that made them refund the money they never should have charged in the first place.

  • Kevin

    People argue that competition cuts down on the need for regulation, but here’s a clear, obvious need for a consumer protection regulation. For any car rental agreement, any fee for any optional service or product should be un-checked on any printed forms and should be un-checked on any electronic form submitted to the customer. No “Cross out and initial this if you wish to decline” insurance coverage; the rental companies should be required to get your verbal consent, THEN check the “Add insurance coverage box”, THEN get you to sign or initial that part.

    If it’s truly optional, then you should have to opt-in. Pure and simple. That would go a long, long way toward eliminating these disputes.

  • Carver

    I’m generally not the biggest fan of government regulation, believing that the market is the better solution.  However, I do believe strongly in government regulations in the area of disclosure forms.  I think car rental companies may be due for some federal disclosure regulations, much like their autosales counterparts.

  • cjr001

    This may be one area where Enterprise is still best, in that you have to put your initials on an actual piece of paper on whether you accept or decline each of the insurance options. Since at the very least you leave the rental lot with a carbon copy of this contract, there’s no chance for a situation such as the OP ran into. No chance of trying to confuse you with quick screens on a small display, etc.

    IIRC, Hertz’s printouts also state whether you’ve accepted or declined each insurance option.

    I’ve never rented from Dollar, so I have not seen for myself how their
    system works. However, like with Hertz and Enterprise, Dollar should
    give you some kind of printout stating everything you’ve selected or not
    selected for the rental.

    So, you have the opportunity to review everything BEFORE you drive off with the car. DO SO!

  • Absherlock

    The problem with opt-in is that it leaves the rental agency wide open in the event of an accident where insurance wasn’t purchased. All the renter has to do is say it was never offered. I think the rental companies have every right to make sure that either you have insurance or you affirmatively decline to purchase insurance and take personal responsibility for what occurs to the car.

  • Absherlock

    The original reservation was made by one person, but the contract signed by another. Don’t you think the person signing the contract and driving the car should have the right (and the responsibility) of deciding whether or not to purchase the insurance?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I’m looking at a copy of a printout of the rental agreement I signed with Dollar in NOLA in March of this year.  The printout is arranged in 3 columns, with Optional Coverages in the middle.  “You Accepted” is blank.  “You Declined” has the list of things I declined.  The rates and total price show up in the 3rd column.  The rep at Dollar read off all of the screens that I had to sign to accept/decline.  His tone and delivery indicated that he’d done that many times before.  I don’t know if the location at Columbus adheres to the policy of reading aloud all the screens that have to be signed.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    This is now two in a row of articles about people who don’t read what they sign.  What frustrates me personally is that I always, always read what I sign. (And frustrates the person offering the form to me to be signed.)  That saved us from making a disastrous car purchase when we were first married and then again when we were buying our first house.

    In the first case, the salesman had loaded the purchase with many options we had declined. The salesman rolled his eyes, looked at my husband and said something to the effect that “she’s one of those, is she? You poor thing.” We left and bought a car elsewhere. With the house purchase, they had changed the interest rate and terms. We declined to sign – because we read what we were signing in advance. Half an hour later, the “clerical error” was fixed.

    The rental car industry is not the only industry to play “gotcha”.  I agree with a couple of posters that the forms are made confusing on purpose, but that’s true of many contracts that we incur on our own behalf.  We recently re-financed our house and upon reading the papers (61 pages or so), found a problem with the legal description that we’d called to their attention during the approval process.  The title company rep remarked that we were one of the few he’d ever seen that read what we signed, and that by correcting the paperwork *before* signing, we had saved ourselves a huge headache down the road.

    Read what you sign! (Off soapbox now.)

  • Mark K

    Wide open for what?

    You decline the insurance and have an accident, you pay.  Every rental contract I have seen states wether you accepted or declined the insurance among other options like the prepaid refueling.  I agree that many renters who have accidents and decline the insurance can say that they wanted it, but the contract would hold up in court.

  • Billy

    Regardless of what and where you sign you get a copy of the agreement when you leave with the car and you get a receipt when you drop it off (unless you drop off hours).  She sounds like she paid no attention. 

  • Mark K

    Whether someone is a frequent traveller or not does not excuse them from reading what they are about to sign.  Even if you are in a hurry for whatever reason, read before you sign!  While I would agree that most car rental agreements are wordy and appear to be meant to be confusing, wouldn’t you notice your rental is $100 more than expected?  Or did the husband not tell the wife any details about the rental?

    I have not seen the Dollar electronic system, but I would hope there is an option before the final signature to go back and change the selected options in case of mistake.  I bet there would have been no issue adjusting the contract if the insurance had not been included and the renter wanted to add it after signing the contract.

    I have only rented from Dollar in Hawaii through the so-called free car with hotel stay programs.  I have never felt good about any part of their entire rental process mainly because they are very high pressure about buying all of the insurance coverages they offer.

    Glad to see Dollar refunded the insurance, but I agree with the other posters stating the only reason they did is to avoid negative publicity beyond what has already been generated.  Just hope there is no previously missed “damage” that the OP suddenly gets billed for. 

  • Mel

    I agree. Maybe I’ve just been REALLY lucky, but we rent cars for either business or pleasure maybe 4-6 times a year. We’ve never had an issue, and always politely but firmly (and often repeatedly) decline additional insurance and pre-paid fuel charges.  Our most recent three rentals were all through Advantage and I was surprised at how detailed their markings were of damage to the car, even things I hadn’t noticed. 

  • Brooklyn

    Did you read the part that said “She specifically told the Dollar Rental car agent in Columbus to not
    include the $20 a day insurance coverage on her rental agreement”?

  • Kevin

    Exactly. All it takes is a nice clear statement on the form that says “By renting this vehicle you are accepting responsibility for damage to it, unless you specifically request the Collision Damage Waiver. I have been offered this coverage and have declined it.” Require the person to initial that. It’s still an opt-in, it adequately discloses, and it documents that the insurance was offered.

  • Carver

    That makes no sense to me.  The contract would have a clearly delineated, INITIAL HERE if you want insurance.  No initials, no charges, therefore the renter didn’t want insurance.  Compbined with the fact that the car companies want to sell insurance, this is a non-starter.

  • Travelgal

    Exactly – if he indicated on the initial reservation that he did NOT want insurance, than why did Dollar override that and default it to be included?

    I’m very tired of companies defaulting the things that most of us DON’T want – ie: like internet sites checking by default the check box that allows them to “share” your email address with others, thus bombarding your inbox with annoying ads, or hotels including the delivery of a newspaper for a fee – most infrequent travelers don’t even know that those newspapers are not free anymore at most hotels. 

    NO company should be allowed to include things that are extra charges by default. 

  • Jenny

    So says her husband. We don’t actually know if she really did.

  • Jenny

    Ah, the consumer who continues to take out their frustrations with their spouse on the company and its representatives. Glad to see that tradition carries on.

  • Travelgal

    True I guess – however this can be resolved by a simple modification in technology;  make it so that one of the boxes – yes or no – has to be checked and then signed/initialed by the renter before the contact can be signed instead of defaulting to one or the other and then forcing the renter to make sure to deselect/select the right option.  This would solve the issue of “it was never offered” because the renter would have to check one or the other, thus insuring that they were presented with the option.

    However I don’t think that rental car companies will ever adopt this or default to declined for insurance – as Chris said, it’s way to profitable an item for them.

  • Absherlock

    I was commenting on the Elmo’s suggestion that the person making the reservation had more choice in whether or not insurance was purchased than the person actually signing the contract. 

    And regardless of what she claims she asked for, Dollar claims to have her signature approving the purchase.

  • Absherlock

    If it’s that simple, why not have a similar form that’s an opt-out? 

    Seems like it’s not so much a matter of opt-in/opt-out as it is clarity of forms.  Either way, it’s not a solution in this case as the wife obviously didn’t read what was presented to her and is complaining about it after the fact.

  • Travelgal

    I agree that people should read what they sign – but there are reasons why someone may not take the time to read completely, or even if they do, might miss that something they specifically stated that they did not want (twice in this case) was included.  Ever taken a red eye and been so groggy you could barely walk to the rental car counter?  Ever been under duress during travel because you are on your way to a loved one’s bedside or funeral? 

    In my opinion those contracts are designed to trap people who are not extremely careful, and lets face it – as careful as some of us may be generally, there will always come a time when we miss something like this and get charged for something we thought we had declined. 

  • Jc Too

    SIMPLE REALLY! She told the agent NO INSURANCE. When it came to the area , he could have pointed it out to her to mark it as “No Insurance”: But the agent kept quiet perhaps hoping she wouldn’t notice. More money in his & Dollar’s pockets

  • Linda Loudermilk Tomberlin

    If his wife is an idiot, perhaps she shouldn’t travel alone.

  • Corrodoc

    Dollar is notorious for this sort of chicanery.  At a recent rental at Munich (Germany) airport  I declined LDW because a) I am covered bt my own insurance and b)charging the rental on my platinum master card automatically covers LDW.  Dollar would not accept that and demanded written proof (letter from Master Card) that the card actually covers this in Germany.  I wound up paying several hundred sollars more than I had initially contracted for.  (I have sent details of this fiasco to Chris).

  • DavidS

    Funny. Yesterday I commented on how I have memebership in the major car rental clubs, including Dollar. Most are free and those that aren’t usually offer free membership with a discount code, which is easily found on the web.

    I needed to rent from Dollar at LAX several years ago due to price and availability. I joined their frequent renter club prior to making the reservation online. In addition to a special line, which let me cut in front of a lot of people, all my rental insurance preferences (decline) were saved in the reservation as well. Everything was going so smoothly, I asked if they were going to try and sell me insurance as well, the agent responded “No sir, we have it in your rental preference that you declined.”

    Join the clubs! Even for one rental, especially if you are inexperienced, it’s worth it!

  • Mark K

    Are you sure about the coverage?  Most US auto insurance policies do NOT cover anything outside of the US unless you specifically request that coverage and pay for it.  Also, depending on the credit card, there are more and more countries that are also NOT covered under the car rental damage protection.

    I recently visited Ireland.  Neither my personal auto insurance nor my credit card covered me there.  I had to purchase the coverage offered by the rental agancy.   So I reduced my rental time to the bare minimum to save money.

  • Mark K

    Club membership has its benefits, to borrow a tag line.

    I have memberships in nearly every airline, car rental and hotel program that exists.  Not that I use all of them enough to get any real benefits (i.e. free stuff), but I have never been walked by a hotel, bumped from a plane, or had issues over rental car damage.  Call it lucky if you want, but I think that the mere fact that I was in the “club” has saved me from these problems.

  • Rebecca

    I don’t think she was “wrongfully charged” at all. If she was presented with the options and also saw the total amount for rental several times, it is her fault for not reading the document. I would certainly notice if something was $104 more than I anticipated paying. I also don’t agree with Chris that “Dollar could have been clearer about its insurance.” The specific employee should have explained more clearly (which she probably didn’t, they are trained to rush the customer through), and she certainly shouldn’t have entered the insurance option if the customer told her not to, but, again, it is her own fault for not reading what she was signing. I have a sneaking suspicion that she wasn’t clear with the employee when declining either. The employee is surely trained to upsell, and almost certainly pushed the option. None of us were there, and I am guessing the wife wasn’t doing what you should do when offered the insurance, which is to interrupt right when they try to bring it up and politely but firmly decline, repeatedly if necessary. I have found that if you act like you won’t listen to a sales pitch, they know it won’t work and will usually stop right there. The fact that she called her husband to ask leads me to believe her husband told her to decline when she left and the employee somehow convinced her that she needed it.

  • Sershev

    I tried to rent from Dollar in San Juan PR and they would not even give you a car unless you purchase insurance from them. The rental rates were about $15/day and insurance would be another $20/day with $500 deductible. Myself and few other customers just walked away to Alamo and rented cars there. Another Dollar location in San Diego tried to authorize my credit card for the amount of rental + $500 upfront before even given me a car. For some reasons my card would not authorize that amount at the time and ironically I walked next door to Alamo and rented from there. I ended up paying a few dollar per day more but it was no hassle. Ever since I ingore Dollar for my car rental needs and only use Alamo, National, Avis or Hertz even if the rates are a little more compare to Dollar or other rental companies I am not familiar with.

  • Doctor K.

    Great. I have been psychologically led to buy the insurance, feeling if there was an accident, my car insurer would then drop me or dramatically raise the rates.  Now that I have been assured my status is “not droppable,” I will not buy this insurance.  However, getting into a different car which has other locations for regular devices, I have needed some time to read the manual first before leaving a lot.  Yet I usually leave first.    I am not the only one.  Also my own care is a 1990 model. There are many changes in the cars made within last few years.  Takes some time to learn them.

  • flutiefan

    just wanted to add that I really like Dollar at LAX.  they have always treated me wonderfully *knock on wood*.

  • zt

    Oh, is his wife illiterate?

    My condolences.

  • cjr001

    Regardless of the agent’s actions, it’s up to YOU to double-check to make sure it’s how you want it BEFORE you drive off with the car.

    Considering all of the horror stories about rentals, why would you leave it their hands!?

  • Ajaynejr

    From Corrodoc: Dollar is notorious for this sort of chicanery.  At a recent rental at Munich (Germany) airport  I declined LDW because a) I am covered bt my own insurance and b)charging the rental on my platinum master card automatically covers LDW.  Dollar would not accept that and demanded written proof (letter from Master Card) that the card actually covers this in Germany.  I wound up paying several hundred sollars more …

    The rental company may not demand proof of insurance let alone refuse to rent the car because you decline their coverages  unless its written policies allow it to. You could have stood there and said you don’t have it and they could telephone the cedit card company to get proof of credit card coverage (if it existed) faxed to them. If the rental agensts were unable to do that they would still have to rent the car to you.

  • Backpackersantiago

    Love it. Too Cheeky!

  • Backpackersantiago

    A lot of assuming going on here!

  • Twiddler90

    Seems like you are notorious for not knowing what you are talking about. Like a great many things, when you are outside of the US, the whole ballgame changes. Virtually all rental cars outside of the US are independent operators and not run by the brands US corp ops.

  • Alvin Yow

    Bravo Christopher. I’m inclined to think you have Dollar on speed dial. It has been a few complaints about Dollar that I’ve read you mediate.