Help! My car rental company charged me for running a red light

red lightHere’s a problem travelers are running into more frequently: Months after a trip, they get a bill from their rental company charging them for an unknown traffic violation, plus a handling fee. Often, there’s little recourse.

Or, in Alex Backer’s case, none.

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He just received a ticket from Dollar for a violation that supposedly took place back in May, and was told he had no choice but to pay.

I received a letter from Dollar on Nov. 22 saying I had been charged $100 plus a fee for a red light violation they say happened on 5/17.

I have never run a red light in my 19 years driving, so I believe it must be a mistake.

The date to contest the citation is long past, though. Dollar gave no explanation of how they delayed months in notifying me and failed to notify me promptly about a citation they claim was for me. I requested a refund on this account, and they denied it.

That’s the tricky part about these traffic camera. The municipality sends the fine to the driver to whom the vehicle is registered. But if it belongs to a car rental company, then the car has to be matched to the driver on that day — which could take some time.

I asked Dollar about Backer’s rental.

Mr. Backer had a violation during his rental (ran a red light) and we did not receive the actual violation for a few months.

This can happen with larger cities, when we are sent huge “batch” rounds of parking and/or traffic violations. We set about linking the violation to the correct rental contract and customer to be able to assess the ticket to the appropriate party.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience for this customer. In gesture of customer service, I am crediting the administrative fee assessed for our processing of the ticket, but the actual violation charge must stand.

In case you’re thinking that administrative fees don’t amount to much, check out this recent note from reader Frank Punal, who rented a car from Dollar in Dallas.

We inadvertantly used a toll road while in Dallas and incurred $12.44 in tolls that were charged to Dollar.

Dollar charged us for the tolls and $475 in processing fees. We called the number provided (866 255 0794) and gave up after waiting on hold for an hour. We sent an email ([email protected]) but have not heard back. They have already charged our credit card. Is there another way to appeal the processing fees?

Dollar eventually responded to their written appeal, refunding $400 of the $475 in fees before I had to get involved.

So what’s the lesson here? That car rental companies are charging excessive fees for traffic violations? (You didn’t need me to tell you that.) That traffic cameras are less than reliable, generating false positives for law-abiding motorists? No, you probably knew that, too.

Perhaps it’s only that combining the high fees charged by car rental companies with the unreliable traffic cameras is an accident waiting to happen.

Next time you rent a car, better drive like a Boy Scout.

(Photo: lorentey/Flickr Creative Commons)

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