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)

Auto Accident Insurance Payout Could be Highway Robbery.

Your car is hit by an at-fault driver. His insurance company reimburses you for the loss in value (the diminished value) of your car. And, after the initial trauma, all is once again right with world. Right? Maybe not.

According to the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network (ICAN), if you don’t watch out, you could get run over by some sleight-of-hand tricks commonly employed by insurance companies. Sometimes insurers deny that diminished value is covered. According to J.D. Howard of ICAN, never assume that an insurer’s initial diminished value offer is fair. He says that even a fender bender will reduce a car’s resale value by at least 10 percent even if the vehicle is perfectly repaired, because a subsequent buyer will be afraid of hidden damage due to the accident. In case of a serious accident, the loss can be much greater, even with complete repair.

Fender bender

Auto Accident. Photo-Ryanand lenny

What to do if the at-fault driver’s insurance company balks at paying for diminished value? Well don’t tread lightly. Hire an appraiser to establish diminished value. The ICAN website has a list of DV appraisers (www.ICAN2000.com). If the DV appraiser substantiates your vehicle’s diminished value, you can “grille” the insurer and demand compensation. And don’t forget to include the cost of the appraiser’s services in your claim.  

Sources of the above: The Auto Insurance Rip-off,” Bottom Line Personal, November 15, 2013; and Consumer Advocate Network, ICAN2000.com.

But be aware, if you carry collision insurance and your vehicle suffers major damage, your own insurer should cover your loss and seek compensation for your deductible from the at-fault driver’s insurer. Just make sure that you are reimbursed for the diminished value as well.

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.

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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.