When you need a rental car locally, most of us are usually in a hurry, and it's usually not a fun experience, like a vacation.
You've been in a wreck, or your car broke down, or you need a small truck for a move.
And what can make it even worse is when you get hit for extra charges that you feel you don't deserve.
Butch Hatcher is a clean-car fanatic, who loves shining his well-maintained 2003 BMW.
So imagine his surprise when a rental car company charged him hundreds of dollars in cleaning fees after returning a loaner car.
"They charged me $300 for a clean-up," he said.
But the cleaning fee was only one surprise.
Rental office not aware he had dropped it off
Hatcher's receipt from the Avis/Budget office shows a late fee of $140 a day for an extra week, even though he insists he had returned the car.
"They said I didn't turn it in," he said. "They said their records show the car wasn't turned in until a week later."
He claims he dropped the car off after hours, locking the keys inside.
"I called customer service and told them I dropped it out front and put the key under the passenger-side seat," Hatcher said.
But apparently the local office never got the message and didn't realize he had returned the car on time. They did not see it for almost a week.
It doesn't matter what rental company you use or whether you are using a car or a moving truck to have such an experience.
Unexpected fees hit many renters
The Better Business Bureau says there are some things you can do to make sure this doesn't happen to you.
- Don't drop off a rental car after hours, unless you are putting it in a secure, fenced-in lot. And even that comes with risks. You could be billed for overnight damage, for instance, if another driver sideswipes the car.
- Take cellphone photos (or a walk-around video) of the rental car at drop off, showing that it is safely back in their parking lot. Include a photo of the interior.
- Take a photo of any scrapes or dents that were there before you rented it, which hopefully were documented at rental time.
That way they can't say you dented it or left it filthy.
We visited the Avis/Budget rental office, where a manager pointed to a sign at the desk reading "no after-hour returns."
He told us they had no idea Hatcher had returned the car.
We asked Avis/Budget corporate if they could reduce the fees due to what seems to be a misunderstanding. A spokesman said they would look into it.
In the meantime, Hatcher is left with hundreds of dollars in late fees.
"They ended up taking $1,600 total," he said, including the cleaning charge for this man who says he keeps every car as clean as his vintage BMW.
As always, don't waste your money.
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