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.

Related story:   When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

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

  • Rebecca

    I am not on either “side” here. I believe that the agent probably added the coverage either without saying a word or with barely a mention. I also believe you should read everything you sign. Both parties are at fault here.

    The problem is that these car rental employees, who don’t make much to begin with, are forced to upsell. I guarantee the rep has a quota that would put their job in jeopardy if it wasn’t filled. This leads to reps that are stuck between a rock and a hard place. No one honestly wants to upsell customers, I do believe that. But no one wants to jeopardize their job when they’re counting on that paycheck. The reality is that people filling these customer service jobs are almost all living paycheck to paycheck and losing their job would be catastrophic. I can’t find the exact statistic, but most people living paycheck to paycheck are about 2 paychecks away from being homeless, having their car repossessed, not being able to feed their children, etc. Corporations exploit this by threatening employees with their jobs if they don’t upsell things like LDW. I’ve seen this in retail.

  • RightNow9435

    At least when I recently rented with Enterprise (car repair loaner for me), they still were using paper contracts, which makes it much easier to notice if any unwanted has been snuck into one’s contract.

  • Jeff W.

    Both are at fault, but I still say advocate.

    It might help the case if the renter was part of Thrifty’s renter program. That way, in the profile it would indicate that LDW is not the default selection and the Dollar clerk slipped it in. I have a profile with Avis, doesn’t mean Budget has my preferences. Same With National and Alamo/Enterprise.

    Anyway, it seems like the clerk was successfull in upselling the toll responder. And dedicded to add the insurance as well.

  • sirwired

    I haven’t rented from Thrifty in a while, but at every other place I’ve rented a car, while the full contract is really long, all the estimated charges are ALWAYS summarized on the first page.

  • Skeptic

    I wonder if this would work? Before you leave home, write up and print out a short statement that says “I (employee name) representing (rental agency name) attest that (your name) has rejected any optional insurance on this car rental at (name of place) on (date). (Your name) will not be charged for the cost of such optional insurance if (name of company) adds it to the rental contract.”

    If they won’t sign, take your business elsewhere. (Works best when not arriving at 1 AM, as DH and I will be at LAX next week.)

  • Barthel

    What is the device they had to rent for use on toll roads? I would assume the driver would need to pay any toll when entering the toll road.

  • Barthel

    The employee would probably refuse to sign because signing the document would get them fired. People who work in those types of jobs are very restricted regarding what they can or cannot do. A clerk at my local Dollar General store told me that only the manager was allowed to call police on a shoplifter. He said that a person was observed stealing items, but the manager was not on duty, so he had to allow the shoplifter to leave.

  • MarkKelling

    Many toll roads are going all electronic. This means you have to have a transponder to get billed correctly. Or they bill off the license plate. But either way, there is no one to pay the toll to at the actual road entry.

    But renting one for $200??? Ridiculous. Most toll authorities give you the transponder for free and you set up an account you keep funded based on your use. Maybe that was a deposit if you didn’t return it with the car?

  • jmtabb

    This would be the transponder for the toll roads. In many areas now the tolls are by transponder only, and the rental agency charges a daily fee in addition to the actual tolls to be paid. It’s something like $15 per day for the rental transponder – even if you only use it on the outgoing (from the airport) and incoming (to the airport) trip.

    Last year most of the toll roads/bridges still had a single lane where you could pay with cash, so we didn’t use one when we landed in Boston a year ago. But there is one bridge that is strictly transponder only and if you have to head in that direction from the airport you either need to rent the transponder or bring your own.

  • sirwired

    Or you could just read the summary of charges on the first page and make sure it matches up with what you expected.

  • sirwired

    The fee is mostly for matching your toll charges to your rental account. That said, it’s more than a bit high, and it doesn’t make sense to charge the fee on days when you don’t use it.

  • Alan Gore

    Definitely take the case. When a new company like Allegiant starts up, people can be excused a certain period of becoming acquainted with how horrible a company can be. But Dollar has been like this for, in my own experience, over forty years. How do they keep on getting a away with it?

  • Bill___A

    The op didn’t catch the charges when renting the car and also didn’t notice the charge until it posted on her credit card. One needs to be more observant with things, and not only with car rentals. I realize the car rental company was pushing these things, but you can’t just assume everything is fine and ignore the paperwork they give you, electronic or otherwise.

  • pauletteb

    I’d like to believe that “no one honestly wants to upsell customers,” but I’ve worked with too many rabid upsellers to believe that. If you sneak in an upsell or outright lie to a customer to make one, there’s nothing honest about what you’re doing.

  • scoosdad

    The irony is that in Massachusetts and surrounding states which use the EZPass system, there is still an option to pay cold hard cash when traveling through a toll booth in almost every case. That will change in the next couple of years as the Massachusetts Turnpike converts to a no-stop toll collection system.

  • MF

    Back to voice recorders & body cameras for everyone traveling to avoid the lies & upsell?

  • RightNow9435

    $200 for an EZ-PASS transponder(this is Boston, so gotta be EZ PASS) is way out of line….especially since the renter will be paying the actual tolls on top of it. At those prices, just drive thru the cash lanes and pay cash.

  • RightNow9435

    right—-for now, MA, NH, and ME all offer a cash payment option, which, compared to that $200 transponder fee, is the way to go

  • A FOUR FOOT LONG CONTRACT?!?!? What is this? The Old Testament?!?!?

    When you have a contract longer than The Constitution, you’re bound to have problems.

    Ironically, this garbage is what has caused the new TILA (Truth In Lending) forms. Much simpler, easier to read. You shouldn’t need a lawyer to rent a car.

  • RightNow9435

    That’s the Tobin Bridge, which only collects tolls in one direction….and is easily avoided by using certain city streets, as I will often do when in the Boston area.

  • Bill,

    I agree…to a point. One expects common decency and fairness in a contract. Indeed, the law requires it. (Indeed, every contract made or performed in California is said to include an
    implied-in-law covenant of good faith and fair dealing, by which each
    party to the contract agrees to act in good faith and deal fairly with
    the other. This has been construed to mean that one party to a contract
    should not try in bad faith to cheat the other party of the benefit of
    the bargain made by the contract.)

    Though I am NOT an attorney, I understand that covenant of good faith and fair dealing is universal in American contract law. Slamming someone with a 4′ contract to read in 5 minutes is ridiculous…and unfair.

    Were I she, I would contact the FTC.

  • LonnieC

    “…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….”

    This is classic. In other words, we are hiding the terms of the contract you are signing so that you won’t have to read it, and we’re doing that for your benefit. Say what???

    As an attorney, I have never signed one of those little screens until I have been given a copy of the entire document I am being asked to sign, usually after some insistence on my part. So it is inconvenient for the renter? I don’t care. It’s my skin in the game. This is amazing. “Here, sign in this little window and I’ll let you know what you have agreed to afterwards.” Not gonna happen.

    No one should be asked to sign anything they haven’t first been given an opportunity to read. And if you are asked to do so, simply refuse. Period.

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