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 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.
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.
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.
Whether this was a scam or a mistake which the company refuses to take responsibility over – doesn’t really matter at this point.
How can you prevent this from happening to you?
In a nutshell, don’t trust a rental company’s employees. If you can, do the following –
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- If you need to communicate with a rental company, try to have everything in writing.
- 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.
- 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.
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!