The web is full of horror stories of holiday car rentals that go wrong. Usually these complaints involve hidden charges at the point of collection and are centred on spurious refuelling policies or unexpected insurance upgrades.
But in my case our holiday car rental nightmare started after we dropped the car off back at the UK depot of Avis – remember, their motto is ‘”We try harder”.
I have been renting cars from Avis / Budget for the last 8 months or so. I have found it to be a great way to run a car with the flexibility of not worrying about car tax, insurance, maintenance, depreciation etc. It also gives me the luxury of running a nice economical hatchback for most of the year and the upgrading to an estate for our camping trips.
And this is where my little story comes in.
Back in August I hired a Vauxhall Insignia via the Avis call centre – my regular branch recommended me to do this as the way to get the best deal on an upgrade as a regular customer. The offer was good and I happily paid over the phone and then went down to my local branch to collect the car.
Everything was great with the car, and that evening we excitedly loaded up, in the pouring rain, ready for our early morning escape to France the next day.
We had a long day of driving all the way down to Lyon, but the car was really comfortable, and I even posted on Facebook how impressed I was that it had given us over 70 miles to the gallon. That night we stayed in a hotel in Lyon before setting off to our campsite in the Haute Loire, about 90 minutes away.
Because I had fitted a top-box to the car, we couldn’t get it in the hotel car park, so the duty manager suggested that we park right outside the hotel, where the receptionist could keep an eye on it, oh the irony of that offer as we were to discover!
The following morning as we prepared to set off on the next leg of our journey to our campsite I came out of the hotel and immediately spotted a large scratch in the offside rear passenger door. This had happened overnight and I’m convinced it accidentally occurred when a Belgian family who had arrived after us, were manoeuvring their car and trailer next to ours.
I don’t deny the scratch happened when the car was in our possession. This is key to my complaint – I admit liability, it was an accident and that is what insurance is for.
It was annoying, but heh! we are on holiday and we won’t let this get us down. So we set off for our campsite, which I can highly recommend, and pushed the incident to the back of our minds.
Everything was fine, until we returned to the UK.
I took the car back to our Avis depot and swapped over to a nice Citroen C4. As we did the handover I highlighted the scratch and it was duly noted on the paperwork. We then returned to the office as I had to complete an incident report and I got a copy for my insurance purposes. I also told the duty manager that my insurance company knew about the scratch and would deal direct with Avis with regards to the excess payment. All seemed fine.
The following Sunday I was checking our bank account online only to discover that Avis had taken £620 from our account via a cardholder not present transaction.
It transpires that even though I had explained how my insurance company would deal direct, Avis wanted their pound of flesh now.
As you can imagine, neither my wife nor I were particularly happy about this. So, the next morning I drove back down to the Avis depot to find out what had happened. The two questions I wanted answered were quite simple.
1) why did you take money without telling me?
2) how did you value the cost of repair at £620?
In respect to the first question, I have still not received an explanation, nor apology.
The second was easier for them to answer. It transpires that Avis (and I assume all other car hire companies) have a standard price list for repairs. It saves them getting any quotes and they can send the car out right away. From what I can tell, our Avis hire car was out with another customer before that cardholder not present transaction took place.
When I politely explained the situation regarding my excess insurance they just didn’t care. Despite having given Avis 8 months of business, I was made to feel decidedly ‘un-important’ and that the motto “We try harder” applied to the way they extract cash from unsuspecting customers, and has nothing to do with customer care and service.
That night my wife and I searched on Google only to discover the web is full of similar horror stories – I guess one day someone in a similar situation will be reading this. Hopefully the next few paragraphs will give you a ray of comfort.
When I looked at the Avis UK Facebook page, there were lots of posts from Avis about renting a car, many of which had garnered responses from disgruntled customers, none of those complaints appeared to be dealt in the public forum of Facebook – which is a huge No No. It was obvious that we needed to air our grievance in another manner.
For some reason, we decided to contact Trading Standards to ask for their advice. Why? Because in none of the documentation that we were provided with did it state that Avis would, in the event of an insurance claim, simply remove cash from our bank account without any notice or supporting correspondence. Remember, 6 weeks after the event we still don’t even have a transaction receipt for when they took £620 from our bank without our prior permission.
The advice we received was that Avis was in breach of contract because they had not set out this policy in their terms and conditions. They had also failed to provide me with the Terms and Conditions at the point of rental. The advice was simple, it doesn’t matter what had been provided in the past, each rental is a separate transaction. But looking back, I have never been provided with a set of T&Cs, so it was not an isolated case.
At this point, I think most people would just head back to the call centre, or Facebook and try again. But it was obvious to me that I would be met with “Computer says no” at the call centre and any complaint made via the Avis Facebook page would be ignored as it seems that page is a one way street when it comes to communication.
So what should I do? Well, Trading Standards suggested that I write a letter to Avis, putting out my case, and to make sure it was sent via recorded delivery.
And that is what I did. I decided to write to the UK CEO, I found his name on LinkedIn. But, and this is what I think really helped. I searched for his email address on the web and then posted the letter and sent a copy to his email account.
In the letter I was very polite, I even admitted that the scratch happened whilst we had the car. My complaint was how we had been treated and that according to Trading Standards Avis was in breach of contract and should not have taken the cash without our permission. In the letter I told them that I wanted the issue resolved immediately, I didn’t want compensation, just the cash returned to my account. I finished off by stating that I expected a call from his office within 2 days – this allowed for the delivery of the letter.
And guess what? I got that call from the office of the UK CEO of Avis. And guess what. They apologised for how we had been treated, and offered to refund us our money.
Sort of. We had a bit of haggling as they wanted the refund to go back to our card, which takes the bank 5 days to put the cash back in the account. I told them that I wanted it done immediately via a CHAPS payment. After all, the cash left our account immediately and therefore if Avis really believed in “We try harder” then he had to go off to the Accounts department and get it sorted.
And guess what? The cash turned up in our account the same day.
They also sent me a free upgrade voucher for my next rental. Somehow I think that voucher may just go unclaimed.
When I was browsing the Avis Facebook page I came across one specific complainant who was asking why no one had responded despite the fact they had complained many times via the Facebook page. I replied to his most recent post, providing him with the same advice that I had received. I even put the name and email address of the Avis UK CEO in my response. I received a curt response stating that I was wasting my time.
So, when I got my refund I went back to that particular thread and quite smugly announced that I had got a full refund within 48 hours of my writing the letter. That poor chap is still waiting for an answer, let alone any resolution to his particular issue.
So the moral of the story is this. Know your facts, understand how the company works, and make sure you deliver your complaint to most important person you can find.
And if you need to make a complaint to Avis, my recommendation is to write to:
Avis Budget UK Ltd
Avis Budget House