I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT FROM AVIS OR BUDGET – Part III

(cont. from part 2)

I am going to condense the rest of the story because the intricacies can be mind-boggling.

Since I could not reach him electronically I decided to contact Michael Tucker, Avis Budget’s legal counsel, by writing an actual letter. You know, the kind that involves pen, paper, envelope and a stamp. I explained my story and insisted on payment of what was now $458, including the original $297 plus court costs and my parking expenses at the courthouse. A week later, I received an email from his assistant. This was followed by a phone conversation. That was followed by contact with a paralegal, Ted Kushner, who claimed they had known nothing of my dispute.

“How can that be?” I queried, considering that the company sent a representative to the first trial.

“Why didn’t you have the court send the judgment to our headquarters?” Ted parried.

“Because a California court has no jurisdiction in New Jersey,” I replied. “All legal processes were sent to your agent for service in Sacramento. That’s why you have an agent for service.” Ted responded that he researched my claim and found my complaint(s) to be valid. He promised that Avis Budget would cut me check for the full $458.

“I’ll need to receive it before the next court date,” I warned, “or I will be back in court and you will have more problems with me.” (All quotes in this story are approximate paraphrases as no one in or out of their right mind and claim to come close to exact conversations … ever.)

A few days before the August 18 court date (yes, this had been going on for eight months!) I left messages with both Michael Tucker’s office and Ted Kushner. I warned them that the judge had issued a bench warrant and that they had better send me the check. I received no reply whatsoever.

You have probably guessed it already. Back to court I went. The defendant failed to send a representative but there was no penalty. Why? The nimrod “judge” from the previous court session never issued the bench warrant. This judge, however, said she would.

I was in a tizzy. Actually it was a Toyota. Nevertheless, I was now considering flying to Avis Budget’s Parsippany, New Jersey headquarters to try my hand at terrorism.

The next day a UPS envelope arrived. In it was a letter from Ted Kushner explaining that the issuance of the check had run into some bureaucratic complications and he is sorry for the delay. Enclosed was a check for $458. He could have called two days earlier to tell me this before I went back to court. But n-o-o-o, that would have been efficient, and from my experience I have come to believe that efficiency is not in Avis Budget’s DNA.

Perhaps Avis's clogan should be "We Try Hardly.'

The companies from whom I will never again rent a vehicle. Photo – en.wikipedia.org

Let me add one more bit of proof to that allegation. At the beginning of this story I mentioned Avis had sent me two $25 coupons when I first complained about the rental screw-up. Well, a few days before the last court appearance I decided to use the coupons to rent a full size sedan from an Avis Budget location near my home. Why the hell not? I made an online reservation and received a confirmation. And when I got to the location the next day, guess what. Yep, they had no full size cars, so I had to take an SUV. And when I returned it, there was no one at the counter. After waiting about five minutes I called out. The rental agent appeared from the next room and said, “I’ll be right with you.” I stood there another five minutes. When she reappeared, she was chewing on some food and said, “ I had to finish my lunch.” Really?

Case closed.

And that is why I will never again rent a vehicle from Avis … or Budget.

But wait! This just in. I was reviewing my monthly credit card statement this very afternoon and although the charge for the rental should have been 17 bucks., it was $33.62. I called the rental agency and the very same woman told me it was because I had only put 18 miles on the car and that when customers put on so few miles they usually (my italics) don’t replace the gas. Avis charges $13.99 for each delinquent gallon. When I told her that I returned the car with the same amount of gas as when I took the SUV, she would not budge, saying that I should have shown her the receipt and that I had only 24 hours to make a correction. This, despite the fact that I did not get my credit card statement until a month later.

I gave up on her and called my credit card issuer who promptly credited me for the $16.62 overcharge.

And THAT is while I will never, ever, ever, rent form Avis or Budget again.

 

I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT A CAR FROM AVIS OR BUDGET – Part II

Part 2

On our first full day in Southern Italy, with no practical vehicle at our disposal, Cheryl and I took a train from Sorrento to Pompeii.

The ruins at Pompeii

Pompeii. Photo by Alago,public domain, commons.wikipedia.org

The following day we had no choice but to take a bus down the treacherous Amalfi Coast with a return stop in Positano. We passed a dozen places where, if we had a car, we would have loved to stop to soak in the views and take photographs. It was not to be.

The narrow, winding road to Amalfi

The treacherous Amalfi Coast Road

Upon our return home to San Jose I asked our travel agent, Barbie, to see about getting our money back for the car we had reserved, or at least the approximately   140 dollars extra we paid for the automatic transmission. She contacted Auto Europe, the company that booked the car with Avis. Auto Europe was unsuccessful in getting our money back. I contacted Avis Budget Group. myself. They sent me two 25-dollar coupons toward a future rental and a denial of responsibility for blowing our reservation .

I contacted American Express, which took a long time to reply, telling me that I should not have accepted the car Avis had offered me, as if we would have otherwise taken three trains and a bus to get to our hotel. I could have given up at that point, but there was a principle involved here. After all, I am the Consumer Guy.

Trying to call Avis Budget Group at its headquarters in New Jersey got me nowhere. Its answering system is totally digital and I had no way of knowing whom I needed to speak with. I looked up its legal department online and found the head honcho is Michael Tucker. I called back again and entered Mr. Tucker’s name but apparently the system did not “know” that he exists, despite his being Avis Budget’s chief legal counsel.

Can you say, “lawsuit”?

So off I went to my local small claims court, paid the filing fee, and had a subpoena served on Avis Budget Group via its agent for service in Sacramento. I should explain this. If a company does not have an administrative office in the state where you are suing it, it must have an agent for service which can accept legal documents such as California’s “Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER (sic) to Go to Small Claims Court.”

On the trial date Avis Budget’s representative showed in court. His name is bill. He is the airport manager for Burbank Airport, over an hour away from the courthouse. Bill had never heard anything about the case until the day before. He had virtually no defense. The judge awarded me the $297 plus $45 court fee. Avis Budget was notified that it had 30 days to pay up. By this time it was rush hour in L.A. It would take Bill at least an hour and a half to get back to Burbank. Think of it; five hours of the airport manager’s time to defend a case about which he knew nothing and that was indefensible.

But justice was done. I’m kidding. Avis Budget didn’t pay. So back to court I went. The next judge issued an “Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination.” A new trial date was set at which Avis Budget was to present a list of its California assets. Don’t ask; in theory it would have to show where everything it owns in the state is located and what it’s worth.

Three months had now passed since I filed in December of 2014 and once again Avis Budget dropped the ball (or kicked it into the stands). Back to court I went and once again the defendant was delinquent. The new judge (in small claims court the “judges” are usually lawyers who sit in for real judges but who supposedly know the ropes) said he would issue a bench warrant that would require a representative of the company to show up. This would involve the assistance of a sheriff’s deputy. The judge set a new court date.

I WILL NEVER AGAIN RENT A CAR FROM AVIS OR BUDGET

 Why I had to sue Avis Budget Group after it failed to provide the car I had paid for

– Part I

     My wife and I vacationed in France and Italy in May of 2015. Several months before our departure we had our travel agent reserve us a car for Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome. Our intention was to drive the car to our hotel in Sorrento in the south of Italy. From there we would drive to Pompeii as well as the legendary Amalfi Coast. Since the roads in that area are notoriously narrow and most of the Amalfi Coast road is on the edges of cliffs, we wanted to be sure to have a small car. And because my wife is unable to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, we needed one with an automatic. Only by sharing the driving would each of us have the opportunity to gawk at the scenery.

     In order to insure that we were going to get just the car we needed, we paid in advance through Auto Europe, an American booking agency, for an Avis rental. The automatic transmission just about doubled the normal rental rate to $297 for four days.

Car we had reserved for Fiumicino Aeroporto

What we were supposed to get … an Audi A2 or similar

     When we landed at Fiumicino we went right to the Avis desk only to discover a huge crowd waiting for service. We had to take a number and wait our turn; about one and a quarter hours. When we got to the desk we reminded the agent that we had reserved and paid for an economy car with an automatic transmission. “I am sorry,” she responded, “but we have no automatic transmission.”

     “But I paid for one,” I responded, to no avail. I agreed to settle for a small car with a manual transmission.

     “I’m sorry, we have no small cars.” But, as if it were some kind of compensation, she proffered that she would give us a very nice vehicle and a five euro per day discount. And what kind of vehicle did she have for us instead of the small car with an automatic? A Volvo station wagon with a manual tranny.

What we got ... a full-size Volvo station wagon

What we got … a full-size Volvo station wagon

     Because we had no other practical way to get to Sorrento, 176 miles away, we were forced to take the behemoth vehicle.

     Getting to the garage, taking possession of our bus-of-a-car, and leaving, took another half hour. So far, we were two hours behind schedule.

     When we got to Sorrento we saw how unbelievably crowded and narrow the streets were. Not for the faint hearted in a full-size station wagon. We contacted the Avis Sorrento office. They did not expect to get any small automatic transmission vehicles. We made the decision right then and there that we would not use the car until we were to return it to the Naples airport four days later. So each day we boarded the hotel shuttle bus into town and transferred to public transportation.

(episode 2: What we did next)

How I Earn More on My Credit Card Than I can From a CD

(Note: None of the companies, credit cards, or investment strategies mentioned below constitutes an endorsement.)

                If you pay off your credit card balance each month, this article is for you. Otherwise, it’s best you move along to another article. I just heard a radio commercial for a bank that pays a “generous” return of 0.7 percent on its certificates of deposit (CDs). Say what?                 For years I used a Capital One Venture® Visa card as my primary charge card. And I charged all purchases greater than five dollars on it. Why? Capital One pays me 2 percent back on all my purchases. Get it? I was making three times as much on my credit card as a I could get from my bank (actually, my credit union). That money is usable for travel expenses, which means the cost of travel, like airfares, hotels, and meals. But I can also use it to payCredit Card - Captial One Venture for any expenses while traveling.                

You can search for other cards that match that deal. I have one that beats it and I’ll get to that in a moment.                

The catch? Capital One charges a $59 annual fee. So, do the math. If not, Capital One also offers a Quicksilver® Rewards card that pays 1.5% with no annual fee for those with excellent credit. If you charge enough to make the rebate exceed the annual fee, you’re in like Flynn with the Venture Card. Otherwise, you can go with Quicksilver, which has no fee.                

I invest with Fidelity Investments. It now has programs that beat even Capital One’s. Fidelity offers an AmerFideltiy American Express cardican Express card that pays 2 percent and a Visa card that rebates 1.5 percent. Neither levies an annual fee.                

My point? If you have a good credit rating and you pay your credit card bills in full each month, find yourself a suitable rebate card and charge away for on the purchases you would be making anyway. You’ll make a lot more with it than “investing” in CDs.

Easy Ways to Save on Electronics and Travel

Here are easy ways to track prices online that might enable you to compare for the best deals.

 

For electronics, Decide.com offers an app that you can download from the site. The will let you know when the price for the item you are interested in is likely to drop (it claims a 77 percent accuracy rate – so don’t blindly depend on it). You can check price alerts and compare what items will cost at brick-and-mortar stores.

 

If you are planning a trip, Bing Price Predictor (www.bing.com, then click “More,” then “Travel”) to find the best time to buy plane tickets.

 

After you buy your tickets, go to Yapta.com and enter your itinerary the price you paid. It will let you know if the price drops enough to qualify you for any travel refunds (travel refund policies depend on from whom you buy your tickets and what their policies are). If you didn’t buy your tix through a seller with a price-drop refund policy, at least you’ll know if the price dropped enough to cover the cost of changing you tickets.

 

Hotel room bookings can come with a low cost guarantee as well. If you reserve through Tingo.com you will automatically be rebooked at a lower rate if the cost of your room drops. This only applies to rooms with a “Money Back” designation. Just be sure that Tingo has the lowest price to begin with compared to booking though other sites.

Thanks to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for these tips.

*******************

The Consumer Gal and I just had our book, Enough of Us – which deals with other subject matter – published. Now we have to focus on marketing our “baby.” So for thetime being, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  brief consumer tips..

If you would like to learn more about our book, which deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

 

 

 

 

Love the New Car? Wait! Don’t Drive it off the Lot Yet

When I was a kid in the Bronx, yo-yo “season” would come around each spring and every kid in the neighborhood would be walking around with his Duncan or Cheerio. Nowadays, yo-yo season can be an all-year thing … for unscrupulous car dealers. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, if you are dealing with an unscrupulous car dealership, when you make the down payment on your new car (it could be in the form of a trade-in), the finance guy has you sign a great financing agreement and leads you to believe the deal is final.Be careful before you sign for that loan

So you drive off the lot whistling a happy tune (the epitome of which would be “Whistle a Happy Tune”). Hours or days later, you receive a call from the dealer in which you are informed that the deal fell through. The caller asks you to come in and the salesperson tries to convince you to take a higher-interest loan, by about 5 percent. If you say, “No deal,” the dealer tells you that you have driven the car and informs you of the costs, which may include keeping your down payment (or trade-in) or charging you for wear and tear.

Solution: Never drive a new car off the lot without having a fully authorized financing agreement in your clutches.

**************

The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with other subject matter – published. In preparation for the big event we need to concentrate on that project. So for the next eight weeks or so, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  a short consumer tip each week (I hope).

If you would like to learn more about our book that deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

TV appearance tonight

I’ll be appearing tonight on NBC Bay Area news at 11:00 p.m. It’s a story on hidden fees used by merchants in various transactions.
You can find it tomorrow at www.nbcbayarea.com/news and search for “Stephanie Chuang” (reporter).

Here’s a Way We Can Help the Economy: Buy Stuff Made in the USA

Trivia question: For the 2012 model year, which motor vehicle model uses the highest percentage of North American labor? (Note: This is a trick question)

Toyota Avalon – made in USA (mostly)

According to Todd Lipscomb of MadeInUSAForever.com, that would be the Toyota Avalon, with 85 percent of its labor occurring in North America*. Say what? Hey, why not? After all, most U.S. flags are made overseas, aren’t they? So why wouldn’t foreign automakers make stuff, or buy parts, here in order to save on supply chain costs? Globalization means just that – anything can come from anywhere in the world.

Wondering which American vehicle brands include the most North American labor? They would be the Chevy Express Van and GMC Savana at 82 percent, the Chevy Impala,

2012 Chevy Express

Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator at 80 percent. But Honda’s Accord and Crosstour use that percentage as well. Using between 79 and 77 percent North American labor are the Chrysler 200 convertible and Chrysler’s two large minivans (an oxymoron if ever I wrote one).

The point is this; a lot of American-made stuff is at best mostly made in America. The Consumer Gal and I recently bought a set of Tramontina made-in-America pans at Costco. So far, we really like the pans. Tramontina USA is located in Texas. It makes its cookware in Wisconsin. Its parent company is in . . . Brazil. So while the manufacturing jobs are in Wisconsin, and the office jobs are in Texas, the profits go to Brazil. This is the definition of globalization.

As far as I am concerned, the most important aspect of this is where the jobs are, especially in this economy.

A few years ago I got a call from Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa. Unable to answer the trivia question on their Live! TV show, I received a set of All-Clad cookware. It’s made in Pennsylvania. But the package did not say “Made in USA.” Why? Because the handles are made elsewhere and the Federal Trade Commission requires that almost all – as in 95 percent – of a product’s value must have been created in this country in order for it to wear the Made in USA label. So, the Pennsylvania cookware is not “Made in USA,” while the Brazilian cookware is.

We recently bought a memory foam mattress topper that was made in the America and put it on top of our new memory foam mattress that came from Southern California but, alas, we soon learned, came from China.

What to do? Well, if you give a rat’s behind about where stuff is made, read the labels. Appliances, for instance, are often made here. Whirlpool, Maytag and Kitchen Aid, all from Whirlpool Corporation, are mostly made here, (with the exclusion of all their microwave ovens). Some Fisher and Paykel (a New Zealand company) laundry appliances are made here, along with the upscale Viking, Wolf and Sub-Zero brands.

If you are looking for American-made products, here are some sites to try:

www.StillMadeinUSA.com

www.MadeInUSAForever.com

www.madeinusa.org

As for me, the next time I need jeans (or dungarees, as we used to call them) I’m going to bypass Costco’s 14-dollar pants and try a pair of Texas Jeans, made, ironically, in North Carolina. And I’ll be happy to spend 30 buckaroos on them.

Sometimes patriotism comes at a (retail) price.

Happy shopping.

 

*I use North America instead of just the United States as a criterion since Mexico and Canada have no auto industries of their own, U.S. automakers do some assembly in those two countries. It’s a matter of, “since you buy our cars we’ll do some assembly over the border.” It’s quid pro quo.

 

 

 

 

 

A Web Site for Reporting and for Researching Dangerous Products

I am a devotee of Whirlpool appliances. Until recently, I had never owned a Whirlpool, or Whirlpool-made, product that needed to be replaced. Our Kenmore refrigerator was manufactured by Whirlpool. I do not, however, have an opinion on Kitchen Aid or Maytag – also Whirlpool brands – one way or the other.

Last year the Consumer Gal and I bought a Whirlpool gas range and microwave oven/hood. Both products worked well until the mounting blocks that attach the microwave handle to the door began to crumble after a few months. Whirlpool replaced the door.

A few more months and the bottom handle block repeated its demise. Once again Whirlpool replaced the door. When a piece of the bottom block on the third door fell into a frying pan just below it on the range, I had had enough. Wheat if I weren’t watching and the plastic piece, about the size of a nickel, had gotten mixed into the food I was cooking?

I concluded that this was a hazard caused by hit rising from the range and making its way around the pots and/or pans, rising up to heat the plastic blocks, thereby inducing their disintegration. I reported the incidents to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It found no similar complaints, which dismays me. I know I cannot be alone with this problem. I can only surmise that other folks with this experience just allowed the plastic blocks to go their separate ways and decided to live with the attachment screws, which the blocks hid from view, to show between the handle and the door.

When I applied heat to Whirlpool, it allowed me to exchange the Whirlpool microwave for a similar Maytag model, but one with a steel handle (and a nifty turntable that works with oblong baking dishes).

Recently I discovered a government web site that allows consumers to easily file complaints about unsafe products and to look up products with which consumers may have had dangerous experiences. It’s at www.saferproducts.gov.

Fron CPSC web site
Consumer Product Safetwy Commission recalled items

Here are a couple of caveats: Don’t assume that every reported complaint will be posted on the site. My oven handle complaint is not. On the other hand, don’t assume that one or two posted complaints mean that an entire product line is unsafe. When hundreds of thousands of a particular product come off production lines there is always the possibility of a fluke or two.

My own preference for checking the reliability of major products like cameras, TVs, cars, and the like is Consumer Reports. You can all check retailer web sites for customer reviews.

The buysafeeatwell.org blog gives the example of a particular child’s ball that has a tendency to burst and release a toxic liquid. Now that’s something you’re not going to find in Consumer Reports.

So, if you are a consumer maven like me, you might want to bookmark the government site for your own sake and that of others. Remember, that reporting you own experiences with unsafe products you may be saving others from a lot of grief. And if you are looking for a nifty way to waste some time, the site has a monthly roundup of recalled items.

Coupons: Money Makers or Cash Costers?

Lots of folks use coupons. They save you money, right? Sometimes. Manufacturers of retail items, with the exception of the U.S. auto industry, have typically been pretty smart. So they are not giving away the store. The idea behind coupons is to lure you to their products, or to create demand for new ones.

Photo: U-Haul Trucking Rental

I seldom use coupons because they are usually for stuff I don’t need, stuff that’s overpriced to begin with, or “foods” that are bad for me.

The Consumer Gal and I enjoy tea. My wife especially likes herbal teas. I recently came across a one-dollar coupon in the Sunday newspaper for Celestial Seasonings tea. When I saw that my supermarket “club” card price gave a dollar discount, I piled on my coupon and got the $2.99 box of tea for one buck.

On the other hand, I have a one-dollar coupon for “WhoNu?” cookies. It’s a new line of cookies from Suncore Products. They‘re marketed as a nutrition-rich treat, containing fiber, protein, nutrients, yada, yada, yada. My Consumer Guy curiosity (and my sweet tooth) has gotten the best of me. So I will take that tooth to the market and check it out. But here is the caveat. I’ll check the after-coupon price. If I’m not going to save a buck compared to my normal gamut of after-dinner, low-fat goodies, I ain’t buying. And I’m not sure that WhoNus are low in fat.

The primary source of food in our home is Trader Joe’s. Excellent prices and a great array of healthful, vegetarian items are why. TJ sells a huge percentage of stuff bearing its own brand, which allows it to keep prices down. As for name brands, TJ accepts coupons.

We rarely buy foodstuffs we wouldn’t ordinarily buy just because we have coupons. If you don’t stick to that commitment, you could be in for a world of financial hurt. (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)

If I can buy a can of beans at TJ or Safeway that bears the stores’ labels and pay 89 cents for them, but I can get 25 cents off a can of S&W beans with a coupon, which way should I go? That depends. If the S&W beans cost a dollar with the coupon, you know which way I’m going. But if you simply like the taste of the S&W’s better, enjoy yourself! Of course, coupons don’t only apply to grocery items. I collect coupons for restaurants from the Sunday paper. On occasion I buy a Groupon. But I make it a point never to do so for a restaurant or other establishment where I would not otherwise be spending my money (unless I’m interested in trying a new place.

I have about 150 old LP and cassette music albums (for the youngsters out there, they are ancient forms of recorded albums from the days before CDs came along). Kohl’s was selling a device that allows listeners to play their LPs and cassettes and to record them onto CDs. It cost almost $170, a very good sale price. But for each $50 spent, Kohl’s issued the consumer $10 in Kohl’s Cash, which is essentially a coupon. So, with my $30in Kohl’s Cash I bought a $25 plush bathrobe and a $12 pair of slippers – both on sale (of course). They came to about 40 bucks, including sales tax. I ended up forking over only $10 out of pocket for stuff I needed. By the way, man, I’m really diggin’ listenin’ to my old vinyls and trippin’ back to the days when most of rock was real music.

That’s the upside of coupons. Here are some downers:

  • They induce us to buy junk foods and beverages like potato chips, candy, soda and juice drinks;
  • They induce us to buy additional stuff we don’t need or really want;
  • And, according to financial journalist Faroosh Torabi (www.farnoosh.tv) using coupons often seduces us into spending the money we saved, and more, on other stuff. In the September 1, 2011 issue of Bottom Line Personal¸ she refers a Harvard Business School study that show online shoppers who use a $10 coupon tend to spend $1.59 more than those who don’t use the coupon.
  • Bed Bath and Beyond offers 20 percent off coupons which are frequently a great deal. But you need to compare the pre-coupon price of what you’re buying. While some stuff at BBB is priced well, I have also seen items there for two or three times the price I have seen at Target or Costco.

Here’s something else to watch out for – coupon web sites. I find that frequently they offer coupons good at vendor web sites, which are nothing more than the same offer already available from the vendors. I just ordered a ladder from the Home Depot site that was selling for $168. I checked with several coupon sites. They offered me free-shipping coupons for Home Depot on products that cost at least $45. That’s the exact same deal that Home Depot was offering with no coupon requirement. The best way to get the best price on a particular item is to use one of the discount price comparison sites like Buy.com, ebates.com, or one of the many others. I bought the special- order ladder from Home Depot’s web site because there is a Home Depot store near my home and I can return it there if it doesn’t meet my expectations. Plus, they deliver it right to my house.

In summary, a coupon is only a bargain if it’s for something you already want and you can’t get another, equivalent item for less.