Dollar’s sleight-of-hand jacks up rental bill by $414

If you’ve seen Diane Rayfield’s car rental story once, you’ve probably seen it a hundred times.

It involves an unexpected change in the rental agreement, an alleged sleight-of-hand at the rental counter and a surprise charge on the final bill.

The company in this case is Dollar, which has a long track record of doing this kind of thing, according to some.

The victim is a retired human resources director from Oracle, Ariz., who, like other victims, was expecting an uneventful rental car experience at Boston airport.

Didn’t really happen that way.

Her booking was with Thrifty, but no one was home to take her order.

“We arrived after midnight and the Thrifty counter was closed with instructions to go to the Dollar counter to pick up our car,” she recalls. Dollar and Thrifty are owned by the same parent company.

And that’s where the alleged swindle took place.

“The agent told us we needed to rent a device to be used when driving on the toll roads for almost $200,” she says. “We were so concerned by this charge, we did not notice that she also included optional loss damage waiver.”

So, to be clear, the representative added a $200 transponder but then slid an LDW policy into the agreement.

How did that happen?

“She turned the small screen towards us and instructed us to initial on several boxes before printing out a receipt that was over four feet long,” says Rayfield.

How clever.

“We have never requested optional coverage and it did not occur to us that it would be included without our specific request being made,” she says.

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Rayfield discovered a $938 charge on her credit card after she returned the rental — $414 more than she expected to pay.

“We complained to the agent, who tried to reverse the charge but said he didn’t have the authorization and we would have to submit a claim to Thrifty via their website,” she says. “After three weeks, Thrifty denied our claim based upon the agreement signed at the time we picked up our car. We also contacted the American Arbitration Association regarding our concerns and were told it would be very expensive to file a claim and even if we won the case, we might have to go to small claims court in order to collect.”

Dollar doesn’t address the refundability of its highly profitable waivers in its rental agreement. There’s probably a good reason for that.

Here’s how Dollar responded to her appeal.

Thank you for notifying us of your recent experience with Thrifty Car Rental in East Boston. We appreciate the opportunity to assist.

Review of your agreement shows that you accepted optional coverage. The costs of all optional items are listed on the electronic signature capture screens provided at the start of the rental.

The use of the electronic device has taken place of a traditional paper contract for the protection of our renters and to lower the amount of time needed to review pertinent information.

The first screen you encounter will list any optional items you have requested and the total cost for these items. Another screen is presented that lists the total cost of the rental including optional items and by accepting this screen and signing the agreement you acknowledge that you have read and understood the terms and charge breakdown.

We can certainly understand time constraints you encounter while traveling. We are dedicated to remain sensitive to the customer’s needs and present all information in a timely and efficient manner.

Your comments are appreciated and we will communicate this to the local management for consideration in training procedures and future improvement of the rental experience.

Based on the agreement you have completed we will be unable to refund the optional coverage as you have requested.

Ah, but they aren’t the only ones who have experienced this. This is a known problem with Dollar.

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And yet, she acknowledges that her husband’s initials are on the agreement. He signed it.

Oh no, I can feel another fight between the “rules-are-rules” and the “customer-is-always-right” readers. Brace yourselves, my friends.

Should I take Diane Rayfield's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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