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)

Hospital Insurance Gaps Could Make You Sick

You know those extra charges that hotels sneak into your bills, like resort fees, convenience fees, service fees and the like? Well hospitals and their doctors frequently inflict worse ills upon their insured patients. And you could be left holding the bag, and I’d rather not specify what kind of bag I’m referring to.

The problem is worst in emergency situations. Let’s dissect how this happens. If your in-network doctor brings in a specialist, consultant, or other hospital employee who is not part of your insurance network, your insurer may cover only a portion of that person’s fees, or none at all. And when you’re on a gurney in an ER it could be a bit difficult to question their insurance credentials of the gal who just shoved that thermometer into your mouth.

If you are on Medicare, you’re protected against excess fees. But if you have private insurance there are steps to take to protect yourself:

  • Know where to go in an emergency. Make sure the hospital is in your network and inquire as what percentage of ER doctors and medical personnel are in your network. If the percentage is low, look for another facility.
  • If you are to undergo a scheduled procedure, ask your doctor who else will be involved in your procedure and demand in-network providers unless there is an exceptional necessity for an out-of-network specialist.
  • If an out-of-network specialist is required, talk to your insurer well in advance to see if it will cover your costs. If it rejects your request, try to talk with a person higher up the chain of command.
  • If that doesn’t work, wait until you receive a rejection and then file an appeal.
  • If all else fails, you may try asking your state insurance department or attorney general’s office to intercede.

A bit of careful preparation could save you thousands of dollars and ton of grief.

Source: Interview with Elizabeth Ryden Benjamin of Community Service Society, in Bottom Line Personal, November 15, 2014.

 

I’m Glad my Laptop Doesn’t Have a Built-in Camera

 

This is a detachable webcam

My detachable webcam

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother—that is, the omnipresent government—uses hidden cameras inside residents’ homes to keep an eye on them.

Well, in case you were unaware, anyone who is proficient at hacking might be able to do the same to you if your computer is on and it has a built-in webcam.

Ergo I’m glad that my laptop uses a USB clip-on camera for the rare times I Skype.

Hackers who are so inclined can manipulate websites and imbed an invisible permission prompt for the use of the webcam. The nefarious no-goodniks place the prompt on top of a video’s “Play” button, or on another button or link, so that an unaware user gives the hackers permission to start taking pictures through the webcam.

The website www.MakeUseOf.com recommends that folks with webcams download the most recent security updates for their cameras. They also recommend that you regularly scan for malware (better yet, have a security program running on your computer). Of course, you should use a firewall. And just to be sure, watch your webcam’s external light (if it has one) to be sure it’s not on unless you are using your webcam.

If all of this is too technical for you, just place a piece of paper over your webcam when you are not using it.

Now, where the hell did I put my camera?

The IRS is trying to give away more than $150 million

What? The Internal Revenue Service wants to give away money? Well, sort of. For tax year 2010, about 100,000

Dollar bills

Photo: 401kcalculator.org

taxpayers screwed up the mailing addresses on their tax returns. As of last summer, the Treasury Department had about $153 million lying about that should be refunded. That adds up to about $1,530 per return.You can check out whether you are entitled to a refund at www.irs.gov or call 800 829-1954.Good luck. And let us know if you are a “winner.”***********************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.

Package for You? Yeah, a Pack of Pain

The US Postal Inspection Service reports a scam in which you receive an email informing you that the US Postal Service (USPS) had trouble trying to deliver a package to your address. All you have to do is click on the enclosed link arrange for delivery. If you click on the link you will download a

USPS Office of the Inspector General

An exact replica of your nonexistent package

malicious virus that can steal information from your computer. So…how can I put this?…Oh yeah, DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK! In fact, never click on any link in any email that resembles an email like this.What to do? Forward spam emails that involve snail mail to the USPS Inspection service at spam@uspis.gov. If there is a package waiting for you, the mail carrier will leave a notice in your mailbox.

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

The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. 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.

 

Cleaning Your Ductwork Could Mean Getting Cleaned Out

According to Consumer Reports Money Adviser, having your home’s ductwork cleaned may clean out your heating vents … and your checking account. Unless, when you poke you head into the vent you see mold, there is no evidence that spotless ducts will make your life any easier or cleaner.

And according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

Airducts diagram (EPA)

Structural diagram of an air duct (EPA)

“Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces …  air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.”Money Adviser also warns that poorly trained workers might damage your heating system. Companies that offer free “tests” will claim to find mold and then hike the initial cleaning price quote.If you decide to have your ducts cleaned after an inspection, ask the sales rep to show you exactly what he found and to put into a written contract what process the company will use to do the job. Before you sign on the dotted line, check with your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), Yelp!, and your local consumer protection agency (it might be your state’s attorney general’s office).

 **************

The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. 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.

 

 

 

So-called “Convenience Checks” are Convenient . . . for the Banks

You know those “convenience checks” that come with your monthly credit card statement?

Convenience checks

Convenience check promotion with an low introductory rate

They’re for suckers. Here’s why. When you use them you’re usually charged the daily cash advance interest rate of 12, 15, or even 20 percent. Often they come with a 3-4 percent fee. When you make purchases with them you don’t usually accrue the benefits—like airline miles, cash back, and the extended warranty benefit —that come with credit card purchases.The low introductory interest rate may quickly disappear and if using one of these checks causes you to exceed your credit card limit, it could cause the check to bounce and to hurt your credit score.Shred any checks that you receive. Better yet, resist temptation, as I have done, by calling your card issuer and telling it to stop sending the checks.

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

The Consumer Gal and I just had our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published. In order to concentrate on that project 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.