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Travel troubleshooter: Rental car didn't work right from the get-go

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • November 17, 2012 - 1:18 PM

Q I rented a car through Auto Europe. During my rental, the car didn't work properly. The vehicle wouldn't move when I pressed on the accelerator, and it felt dangerous to drive. I called the company from my hotel and asked for another car.

Auto Europe insisted on charging my credit card $138 to tow the car. They say the car wouldn't start, but it actually did -- it just didn't run right. I've been back and forth with Auto Europe by e-mail, and it has offered $50 off on my next car rental. I think it's the rental company's responsibility to give me a working car. Can you help me get a refund for the tow?

A You're right. Auto Europe should have made sure you received a working car. Actually, Auto Europe handles reservations for several car rental companies, so technically, it was that car rental company's responsibility -- but that doesn't really matter to you.

Your case underscores the importance of conducting a careful inspection of your car before you accept it. If your vehicle doesn't start immediately or if anything else looks suspicious -- for instance, the lights don't turn on or the tags are about to expire -- then politely ask for another car.

Auto Europe says that when you contacted the car rental company, it sent its roadside assistance service to your hotel to bring the car back to the garage. It found nothing was wrong with your car.

In the event that a vehicle is towed, the rental policy you signed says you will be charged for it. I guess the real question is: Whose fault is it?

If, as you say, the car was having trouble and stopped working while you were driving it, then I agree -- the car rental company should take responsibility. But if the car worked fine and you were unfamiliar with how it worked (a common problem with Americans renting in Europe) then the company would have cause to charge you for the tow.

I can't tell which it is. When you have an intractable conflict like this, you have one last option before contacting me: You can dispute the charge with your credit card company.

But I thought I would ask Auto Europe about your case before you did that. Auto Europe credited your card for $138, the cost of the tow.

Christopher Elliott is ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog at www.elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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