IN YOUR CORNER
Rent and vent: There should be no surprises on your car rental bill
When a Joburg family returned from their holiday, Avis charged an extra amount they didn't know about
The beach sand a Joburg family left in the boot of their hired car after their Christmas holiday ended up costing them an unexpected extra R415 on their car hire bill.
“After two weeks at the coast, we returned the Avis/Budget car to George airport in the same condition as they gave it to us, with maybe a tiny bit of sand in the boot, which would be expected from a beach holiday,” said Lee Harman.
But two weeks later, R1,500 was debited to her husband’s credit card “with no notice, and we had no idea what it was for”, Harman said.
After many enquiries she discovered it covered that expensive sand-removing valet, plus another R400 for extra roadside assistance they didn’t recall agreeing to, and a contract fee and refuelling fee.
She was particularly upset about the valet charge.
“The car did not need a special deep clean,” she said.
“I e-mailed them back to query this, and three days later I’m still waiting for a response …”
When I queried the justification for the extra charge with Avis Budget Rent a Car’s chief executive Rainer Gottschick, he said the company only did a valet “in extreme cases” where a car needed more than a normal wash and vacuum to prepare it for the next customer.
Asked why the company’s staff didn’t point out the excessive soiling to customers when the car was returned and ask them to sign their acknowledgment that a valet would be required at an extra charge, Gottschick said that was the company’s usual policy.
“From a disclosure point we fully agree with you that the customer should be informed at the time of returning the vehicle to avoid any dispute,” Gottschick said.
“Our process is that the termination agent must get the customer to sign for the valet, or communicate to the customer via e-mail or SMS before charging the valet.
“Unfortunately this did not take place in [Harman’s husband] Mr Rumbak’s case, for which we apologise.
“As our team did not follow the correct process, the valet charge will be credited,” he said.
As for the roadside assistance charge, Gottschick said Rumbak had signed for it on the contract after a staff member had taken him through all the charges.
“Although this was correctly charged, as a gesture of goodwill, we will credit this amount as the correct process was not followed with regards to the valet charge.”
If ever there was a need to read the small print it’s when you hire a car.
Actually, before you hire a car, when you aren’t in a hurry to be on your way, go on to the rental company’s website and read everything you can find about the exclusions and the waivers.
You’ll discover that even if you opt for the super waiver, you’re still fully liable for repair costs if the car is damaged by potholes, dust storms, gravel or sand.
The rental company has your credit card details and authorisation. All they have to do is charge it.
Speaking of which, I was intrigued by the valet the Rumbak family was charged for, given that by their account, the car was clean but for “a tiny bit of beach sand in the boot”.
Why would that be an extra charge?
Avis/Budget’s operations executive Corne Langenhoven said while she couldn’t comment on the amount of sand in the car in question, it was a typical example of the need for an “extra clean”.
“Due to the sand being very fine, and depending on the amount, it could require additional vacuuming,” she said.
“We have mild cases, and then also have cases where cars are returned looking like a kid’s sandpit.”
The standard vacuuming process is not designed to cope with carpets with lots of beach sand, so those cars have to be put aside and vacuumed by a more powerful machine.
“This function is outsourced in smaller locations such as George, where a supplier will typically come do cleaning on site for a fee, hence the valet charge.”
Of course, that should have been explained to the Rumbaks when they returned the vehicle.
In fact, had their rental agent – based as she was in a coastal town during the festive season – taken a few seconds to warn them to remove the beach sand from the car themselves to avoid an extra valet charge, there would probably have been no need for that discussion on their return.
So what besides beach sand puts rental cars in the valet queue?
Mostly stained and dirty seats – they usually need steam cleaning, meaning the car can’t be rented out until the seats are dry, which can take up to two days, resulting in lost revenue, Langenhoven said.
Then there’s excessive dust from extensive gravel road driving, mud inside and out the car, oil and chemical spillages and vomit.
“We’ve identified this as an area where there could potentially be a dispute due to differences in opinion and perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not,” Langenhoven said.
“We are in the process of testing an app developed by Avis in Europe where all items such as damage will be recorded with photographs.
“This will include the condition of valet vehicles, and will hopefully eliminate or at least reduce this pain point in our rental process.”
That will make for a very unappealing photo folder, but at least they’ll be solid evidence of whether it was a few grains of sand or a mini sandpit.