How we lost hundreds of dollars over a car rental

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We’re back from our long road trip! In 70 glorious days we drove from Los Angeles to Alaska, traveled there extensively for three weeks and then drove back to LA. I will be sharing many tales here in the coming days, telling you all about our journey. Mountains, glaciers, oceans and tundra. Whales, grizzly bears and moose. You can expect a hefty dose of them all in future posts!

Unfortunately, I have to open with an issue that’s not as much fun to talk about. Not fun, but totally necessary. If I can prevent one of you from having to go through this, it’s worth sharing here. How we lost hundreds of dollars over a car rental - and how you can avoid making the same mistake.

Important update:

Following the advice in some of the comments, I submitted formal complaints to the California Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. The BBB transferred my complaint to the Dollar Rent A Car headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma and they issued the following response –

I apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the optional services billed on your rental. As our records indicate that this service was accepted and signed for at the time of rental, an adjustment is not warranted. 

However, as a gesture of goodwill, I will issue a one-time refund of the remaining charges on your rental for the Premium Emergency Roadside Service (PERS). A refund in the amount of $234.26 has been issued to the account billed. Though the adjustment was made today, it may take 5-7 business days to reflect on your statement.

Which leaves us only with having paid one oil change out of pocket. And having gone through a lot of stress aggravation during our trip, of course.

How we were overcharged by more than $600

I had made our car rental reservations several months in advance. We booked an SUV – Cherokee Jeep or similar – to be taken out and returned to Dollar Car Rentals at Los Angeles Airport.

The duration of the rental period was 70 days. Dollar limits the length of car rental contracts to 60 days so they asked that we return to a corporate Dollar branch by the 60th day of our trip. By Day 60 we had to get to either the San Francisco airport branch or the one in Los Angeles airport to close one contract and initiate the next one. So far, so good.

Why we didn’t want roadside assistance insurance

Our rental agreement included basic insurance and an additional driver. We knew that the people at the counter were going to try to sell us additional roadside assistance insurance. We also knew we did not want that insurance.

This was not our first time renting a vehicle, obviously. In fact, we have more than a year’s worth of car rental days under our wings. We always decline roadside assistance insurance. Always. Without fail. We feel that we don’t need that considering the fact the the vehicles are new. In the unlikely event that the vehicle breaks down due to our own negligence, we’ll pay for the costs. It hasn’t happened yet – including not in this trip.

I heard stories about how aggressive the people at the counter can be, trying to sell you that extra insurance. However, it is our right as customers to refuse the additional insurance. That’s what we’ve always done in the past.

Taking the vehicle at Los Angeles Airport

We flew into the US on July 26th. Jet lagged but excited we boarded the shuttle and arrived at the Dollar Rental location in Los Angeles airport. We were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime and couldn’t wait to hit the road!

Fortunately, the line wasn’t too long and within a couple of minutes we were standing at the counter. The lady there took our voucher and went over everything. As expected, she offered the roadside assistance insurance. We very clearly said we were not interested. She moved on to type away things on her keyboard as we patiently waited by the counter.

Then she asked me for my credit card.

“It’s all been pre-paid,” I answered. “Not sure what you need the credit card for?”

“Don’t worry,” she assured me. “This is just to confirm your reservation. There will be no additional charges.”

Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

She then had us sign the contract. Now, that does not mean signing any physical papers. Or even a digital version of the contract. You’re asked to sign on a little screen which shows you nothing except for your signature. Since we declined any extra charges AND the lady assured me nothing will be billed to my credit card, we went ahead and signed. One signature for me and one for my husband, the additional driver.

Once we signed everything, we were handed a pile of paper. Lots and lots of paper. This is what the pile looked like –

This packet includes –

  • A return envelope for the location which you should use if you return your keys to the express box
  • A card explaining how to pay tolls using a rental vehicle
  • Vehicle incident report forms in several copies
  • A generic rental agreement brochure (very long and in small print)
  • An ad for Hertz car sales
  • What is apparently your contract with the charges to your credit card. Well hidden in the pile of paper.

We were never shown that contract at the counter. We never signed it. All we did sign was the digital screen and no charges were ever shown to us there. And we were assured by the Dollar counter employee that there would be no extra charges. Twice.

Having rented from Dollar several times in the past, we trusted them. We’re naive that way. We grabbed the papers and went out to the parking lot to get the vehicles.

Oh no…

So, we pick up a vehicle, leave the location and start driving. It took us three hours to reach the outskirts of the city. At that point, chatting about the trip and the car, I was wondering what kind of a vehicle we got instead of a Cherokee. The model had slipped my mind.

I took out the pile of papers and start to sift through, looking for a clue and stopped dead in my tracks looking at this –

Huh? What? Why? Why does it say we accepted the “premium roadside service” when we so clearly declined it?

Frustrated. Angry. Insulted. Violated. Just some of the words I can use to describe my feeling at that moment.

It was late, we were beyond tired and decided to stop for the night. Since we’ve always had positive experiences with Dollar in the past I figured this would be fine. It’s all on the computer anyway. Surely we can sort this out over the phone, right?

The Dollar Customer Service Saga

The following morning, I tried contacting Dollar.

First, I tried the phone.

The lady who took my call apologized for the inconvenience. She said that the only way to remove the charge would be for us to drive back to the LA airport location… Going back would have meant losing an entire day of our trip. Since we were on a schedule, with several hotel reservations to meet, this was not an option.

I explained as much and she said that she was going to put a note on our rental saying that we had called in and asked for the product to be removed. That way, she said, we could handle the refund when we get back to a Dollar location in the end of our trip.

Frustrated that this couldn’t be resolved over the phone, and reluctant to take her word for this over the phone, I wanted a guarantee in writing. So I went back to the Dollar site, looking for a way to contact them in writing. Their website offers a form here.

No matter what I entered,  the form delivered the same result –

(Have I used the word “frustrated” already?)

You’d think an international car rental company would be easy to reach by email. Wrong. There is no email address for existing customers anywhere on the site. I finally found one on the Dollar Facebook page –

So, I sent an email that very same day, using the only available email address I could find. That was on July 27th. I haven’t heard back yet.

As two days went by with no response to the email, I decided to see if the Dollar Social Media people might be able to help, so I sent them this message –

Since I added a copy of the email, they took it upon themselves to try and help instead of providing me with an email address.

At first, they merely repeated the suggestion to get back to the location. Well, we were deep into Arizona by then. Why on earth should drive for 12+ hours each way just to fix something which at best can be described as an error on the part of a Dollar employee? I wasn’t just frustrated by that point. I was angry.

The whole thing really ruined the first few days of our trip for us. It wasn’t just the money. It was the feeling that we were the victims of what is probably a common trap placed in front of other travelers as well. That sense of betrayal was painful. And having to struggle with Dollar’s customer support didn’t help one bit.

Finally,  I got this reply, a week and a half into our road trip –

“We will remove it for you”. Whew! With that clear reply, I figured I could stop dealing with this mess and start enjoying our road trip.

Fast Forward almost two months.

Getting to a Dollar corporate location again

We drove all the way to Alaska, traveled there for a while and then headed back south. We had to get to a Dollar corporate location within 60 days, the maximum rental period they allow per contract.

Having been told over the phone that any corporate location can remove the additional insurance from our contract, I was going to ask them to do that for us. Hoping for a closure, i.e. a full refund, right there and then. I tried not to worry too much about it. After all, I had it in writing from Dollar that they will issue a full refund upon us returning the vehicle, right?

Well, that didn’t work out too well.

We talked to Ron at the Dollar Express counter. He was very nice but said he could not issue a refund for a product that had been purchased at the Los Angele location. All he could do was reimburse us for an oil change we had done while in the Yukon. We had paid $116 for that oil change and Ron took that off the tab. It looks like he somehow refunded money but keep in mind this was money we had paid out of pocket and were supposed to get back anyway.

Ron assured that the guys over at Los Angeles would have no problem removing it. They were the ones with the power to do so.

Ron also opened a new contract – and we did get a fresh vehicle too. We both signed that new contract and drove on. Not very happy but hoping that this nice guy wouldn’t lie to us and things would get sorted out once we finally return the vehicle and finalize our rental.

Wrong again.

Getting back to the Los Angeles location

So, we finished our grand tour and returned to the airport. We left our vehicle in the parking lot and walked up to the counter to finally sort out this mess that started right there, at the same location.

Guess what? They can’t do that.

They’d like to but they can’t. Apparently, Ron from the San Francisco branch closed our previous contract so that the money had been collected there. They can’t do anything about that, sorry. We have to take it up with “Corporate” by initiating “a dispute”.

Sigh. At that point, I was beyond frustrated. There was clearly no point in arguing with that guy, so we just left for our flight back home.

So, here we are, back home. Trying to get our refund.

We are owed the initial sum of $657.76 and the $116 Oil Change fees. Instead, Dollar thinks we owe them a total of $519.30 – the cost of the roadside assistance insurance minus the oil change. In fact, they went ahead and collected that.

Since the email and form still aren’t working, I try Facebook again. I write our entire saga and get this reply –

Ummm, no. I was not looking for a discount.

As I had feared, Dollar now claims that we “used” their product. We never actively used it, mind, but I guess you could say it was there on our contract. Of course, there was no way for us to remove it. They could have but they chose not to, despite endless requests.

And they claimed we “signed” for it. Only we never signed anything that mentioned the additional cost. We signed on a screen that said nothing about that charge. Never mentioned it. The person behind the counter even very specifically told us – twice! – that there would be no additional charges.

Did she make an honest mistake or was she trying to actively scam us so she could get the commission? I have no idea. I tend to see the good in people, so I won’t outright call her a scammer. However, if this was an honest mistake, shouldn’t the Dollar corporate have fixed the mistake as soon as we reported it? Or at the very least, straightened things out after our return? This is what we had been promised during the trip only to finally be given a “discount” for something we never bought in the first place.

How much does Dollar owe us a this point?

$519.30 was the amount they charged to our card. That included the “refund” for the oil change which we had paid for out of pocket.  Only the refund was taken out of a bill we should never have had. So, it’s the $519.30 + the $116.54 oil change fee. Which brings us back to a total of $635.84.

So far, they gave us back $286.86.

We’re still owed $348.98

Is this an actual scam?

I can’t tell for sure that we were scammed. I’d like to think that the Hertz/Dollar corporation does not have a policy encouraging their reps to outright lie to a customer. If they do pay the desk people a commission for the extra insurance that they sell, I hope they tell them to make sure the customer actually wants said insurance.

Did the lady at the desk lie to us on purpose? Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t prove anything. I would think saying out loud “don’t worry, there will be no extra charges” and then printing out a piece of paper with a $600+ charge can’t really go unnoticed. Maybe that’s just me though.

Update: I have since found the following descriptions on the web of the very same issue in the same Dollar Rent A Car branch too.

Does Dollar Rent A Car routinely swindle customers via insurance scam? [w/video]

Dollar is located in Tulsa, OK, right? Turns out the same practice happens there too with their electronic signature systems… As indicated by this article in the New York Times:

A Quick Electronic Signature at the Car Rental Office, and Then Trouble

In a nutshell, don’t trust a rental company’s employees.  If you can, do the following –

  1. If you can add comments to your reservation form, specify that you do not want any extra insurance. Bring a marker along and use it to show the counter employee that it’s printed out on the reservation. Hopefully that will deter her or him from trying to add it to your contract.
  2. Don’t agree to sign at the digital stand until you see the papers. Yes, this will take time – yours and theirs – but otherwise you’re just signing a blank check.
  3. Read any piece of paper that comes out of the printer and has your name on it. They’ll try and confuse you by mixing those up with generic brochures. Look for the ones that have your name on it and triple-check them for “errors”.
  4. If you need to communicate with a rental company, try to have everything in writing.
  5. Record anything that’s promised to you verbally. If you’re given a verbal assurance at the counter  – take out your phone and record them. Use an app to record any phone calls. I know it feels awkward but you need to cover yourself.
  6. If you can, try to stay near the location for the first day or two of your trip. It’s extremely frustrating and limiting but if you find anything wrong with the contract or the vehicle, you need to be able to take it up with the manager at that location.

So, hundreds of dollars and countless hours of stress, here we are. With this off my chest, I hope I can move on to post about the really cool and fun things we did during our trips.

** Update:

Following the advice of the wonderful people who commented already, I filed a complaint with the BBB and the California Attorney General. Hopefully their investigations will help put an end to this practice.

** Another update:

The BBB transferred my complaint to the Dollar Rent A Car headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma and they issued the following response –

I apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the optional services billed on your rental. As our records indicate that this service was accepted and signed for at the time of rental, an adjustment is not warranted. 

However, as a gesture of goodwill, I will issue a one-time refund of the remaining charges on your rental for the Premium Emergency Roadside Service (PERS). A refund in the amount of $234.26 has been issued to the account billed. Though the adjustment was made today, it may take 5-7 business days to reflect on your statement.

Which leaves us only with having paid one oil change out of pocket. And having gone through a lot of stress aggravation during our trip, of course. I just really really hope that something went through there and Dollar will actually follow up on what happened internally, to make sure these things don’t happen to others renting at their LAX location or elsewhere.

Let me know what you think. Have you ever had to deal with something similar? Any tips on preventing this from happening to others? Share it all in the comments section below!

 

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22 comments

  1. Yes, it’s a scam. My sister-in-law just went through this exact thing two weeks ago with Avis. The counter person asked if she wanted the extra insurance protection, and she said no, her insurance would cover it. He then said, “Okay, then just sign on the screen,” which she did. They had added three different kinds of insurance and roadside care, at so much per day. The amount owed for the ‘extra protections’ amounted to more than the cost of the rental itself. She would have owed over $600 when she returned the car. We spent an entire afternoon online, and talking to Avis representatives trying to help her get those charges reversed, only to be told the same thing you were–that it would have to be dealt with in person.

    My sister-in-law had to take a day out of her vacation to drive back to the airport to straighten it out before she incurred any more charges. They were refusing to do anything about it, so in frustration she asked the clerk to speak to my husband on the phone. The clerk refused to speak to him. She then put my husband on speaker phone, and set the phone on the counter so the clerk could hear it, whereupon he demanded to speak to a supervisor and threatened ‘further action’. The clerk disappeared for a few minutes, came back and said “Oh, sorry, our mistake” and reversed all the extra charges.

    Horrible experience. We vowed to never rent from Avis again, but from your post, I think it may be a widespread practice.

    1. Oh no, your poor SIL. This is just so stressful.
      I read a report about the car rental industry in Europe and they said there was a very high rate of complaints, about half of them had to do with these extra charges added like that.

  2. What a terrible experience that you should not have had to deal with during your travels and beyond.

    Worse, Dollar Car Rental should be ashamed of such poor customer service and literally “passing the buck” from office to office.

    I have always used Enterprise Car Rental Company. I will never use Dollar after reading this story.

    Enterprise actually has the customer INITIAL next to the box that says you are DECLINING additional insurance. They show you the contract BEFORE you sign anything. How novel is this?!

    This sounds like a scam to me. You should notify the Better Business Bureau in California, as well as send this to the California State Attorney General’s office.

    The Attorney General’s office exists for purposes such as this. The office can open a possible criminal investigation into this practice and ensure that this is corrected.

    In the meantime, also dispute this charge with your credit card company in writing with all the facts to further bolster your case and to get the charges removed.

    I hope someone in the Dollar corporate office will see fit to return ALL of your money to you, as well as to immediately change this practice.

    Thank you for such a detailed warning blog to all of us consumers. I hope you never use Dollar Car Rental again.

    1. Thank you, Susan! Yes, I will be filing complaints with the BBB. I hadn’t thought about the Attorney General’s office but will look into this now as well. I doubt we’ll ever see the money back but maybe this will help prevent others from having to go through the same ordeal.

  3. Oh my goodness!! My parents prefer to fly for all their vacations and then rent a vehicle. I am definitely sharing your experience with them!! Completely unacceptable!!

  4. SCAM.

    This is not the first time I’ve heard stories like this. My parents were victim to the same thing. Charged for something they did not want, and DOUBLE charged for the car which they already prepaid for. Dollar has this reputation apparently.

    I hope they do the right thing and refund the entire amount. This is certainly a scam.

    I’m glad I cancelled my car with Dollar and went somewhere else for my upcoming trip. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. In their defense, we have rented in the past with Dollar and had no problem whatsoever. It made me wonder if the issue is with the LAX branch. Either way, I was certainly disappointed with how the company refused to take full responsibility over the this.

  5. My dad, who used rental cars extensively, never used Hertz or Dollar, and instead went with Avis or Enterprise because he said they were more honest and upfront.

    I HATE that that happened to you, but THANKS for the information!

    1. My advice would be no to feel too comfortable with any car rental company. From what I’ve read, overzealous counter personnel pushing overpriced add-ons is a problem with all companies. Am old GPS device when you can navigate with your own phone just as well. Or a baby safety seat at a daily rental rate so high, you could buy a better seat at the nearest Target for a few days worth of rental fee. Then there’s the roadside assistance insurance at $9 a day. We were charged over $600 for a couple of months worth of insurance. AAA premier costs $126 a year… It’s a huge money maker for the car rental companies, obviously. The problem begins when the counter employees get a hefty commission for these exuberantly priced products. Clearly it drives at least some of them into pushing these products very aggressively, and sometimes – as has happened with us – through lying and cheating.

  6. Saga is the right word! I can’t believe this is the service you got! I would expect full reimbursement ASAP, this isn’t the way to conduct business.

    1. Hi Donna, I just updated the post to say that thanks to the BBB, we got most of the money back from Dollar. I also updated with new links that show that this is a recurrent problem at Dollar’s LAX branch. Possibly elsewhere too.

  7. Hi Anne
    We had the same experience with dollar location in LA last november.
    Can you tell me, was the lady at the counter a colored lady with very long nails?
    She was struggling with the keyboard with does nails that why I remembered.

    1. Hi Michael, I’m sorry to hear you too had this experience 🙁 I remember that it was a lady with light hair but not much other than that, sorry. No struggling with the keyboard comes to mind. According to the links I posted above, looks like it’s an issue with this branch and very likely practiced by more than one agent 🙁 Did you manage to get a refund?

      1. No refund yet, I just found out yesterday when I saw my credit card.
        They did not ask anything when we got the car.
        She said everything is paid through expedia , even a tank of gas?
        I asked so why you need the credit card, just for deposit it is a standard rule she said.
        Never she told or asked about any extra cost or services or whatever, I gave my card and had to sign for the card. And when we brought the car back I asked again and they said again everything is paid though expedia so no extra charges for gas or something else.
        In total they stole 365 usd from us.
        I’m going to complain at expedia because they are using there name with the scam.
        And I will try at my credit card company.
        Can you explain how you complained at the BBB, this is new to me.

        This way of steeling has to stop!!!!

        1. Sure thing. I started with the Los Angeles BBB because the branch was there but they forwarded my complaint to the Tulsa, OK branch because apparently that’s where Dollar is located. So you can just file a complaint and use their Oklahoma address (copied from their website) Customer Service PO Box 26120, Oklahoma City, OK 73126, United States.
          Here’s a link to the complaint form –
          https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
          It only takes a few minutes to fill in the forms and within a week or two, Dollar replied there saying they’ll refund my money as a “gesture of good will”. Hopefully with more people complaining and demanding their money back maybe – just maybe – they’ll change their policies and crack down on the LAX branch.

          1. I did complain at BBB and did get this as a answer????

            Business Name: Dollar Rent A Car

            The company’s customer service is handled outside our service area.

            For your convenience, we have forwarded your complaint. If you have any further questions, please contact the following BBB:

            BBB of Tulsa
            4937 S 78th E Ave
            Tulsa, OK 74145

            Sincerely,

            Andy Cruz
            Complaint Specialist
            BBB Complaint Department

          2. Hi Michel,
            Yes, that happened to me too. It was fine though, the BBB in Tulsa took care of the complaint and it was resolved within a few days. I hope the same happened to you!

  8. Anne Moss Thank you thank you thank you.

    Look what I got from BBB

    Dear Mr. Groenedijk,

    We apologize for any inconveniences incurred due to this this rental. I apologize for any inconveniences incurred with this rental. After reviewing the charges, there is no refund due, as your signature was on the Signed Rental Agreement, accepting the charges. However as a 1 time courtesy, an adjustment of $328.63 is being processed to the account billed for the PERS and FPO charges. The adjustment is being made at this time, but may not appear on the next monthly statement due to billing cut-off dates. This will be credited back to your charged.

    Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We appreciate you as a Dollar customer and look forward to the opportunity of being able to serve you again.

    And they already payed . So happy that I got my stolen money back.
    Thanks again.

    1. Woohoo! Great news, Nichel! Thank you for the update!
      I hope that as more people file these complaints either Dollar will realize this isn’t a good practice or maybe the BBB will force them to “realize” that…

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