When Hertz tells a customer he is “too old” to rent, is age discrimination at work?

When Gerald Dackert planned his trip to Ireland, he took all reasonable measures to make sure nothing went wrong. He booked his flights and hotel on his own, but reserved his rental car through AutoEurope.

Dackert shouldn’t have had any trouble, but when he got to the Hertz rental counter in Shannon, Ireland, the company had bad news for him: At 84 years old, he was too old to rent.

While U.S. rental car agencies don’t have upper age limits, some international rental locations, including Hertz, do. Hertz’s refusal to rent a car to Dackert leaves us wondering: Was the decision fair?

Dackert did everything he could to ensure his Hertz rental would go off without a hitch. He booked it through AutoEurope, one of the specialists in European rentals, and he called the Shannon Hertz location in advance of his trip. The purpose of his call was to find out if Hertz had an upper age limit for rentals.

At the time, Hertz told him he would have to fulfill certain requirements in order to rent. At the company’s request, Dackert, 84, who retired just five years ago as an executive of a manufacturing company, obtained a letter from his physician stating that he is in good health and capable of driving a car. He also secured a letter from his auto insurance company, explaining that he has had no accidents in the last five years and is fully insured.

Those letters accompanied him on his transatlantic journey, because the Hertz agents in Shannon told him that if he produced that paperwork, they’d rent him a car.

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Only they didn’t.

When Dackert arrived at the rental counter, those same agents told him a different story: that the company has a strict maximum age cutoff of 79. And when I contacted Hertz, it told me something else: that its agents “weren’t entirely satisfied that it was safe to release the vehicle” to Dackert.

Dackert was shocked, and didn’t know what to do. Other rental companies at the airport without an upper age limit would rent to him, but none had vehicles available. Realizing he was stuck, Dackert began to make plans to return home on the next flight to the U.S. He cancelled three hotel reservations and changed his airline ticket, incurring about $200 in fees.

But Dackert didn’t actually cancel his trip. “When I went to the airport information kiosk to see about nearby hotels, taxis with long term rentals, buses, or other travel options, an agent told me of an off-site car rental firm that might rent me a car. Fortunately it did, and had a car available. I then made new hotel arrangements and returned to the States one day earlier than originally planned.”

Dackert says the situation created by Hertz’s misinformation and interpretation of its own rules absorbed his entire morning and left him frustrated and inconvenienced. He feels this entire situation could have been avoided, and he feels justified in seeking reimbursement from Hertz for his hotel and airline fees which he would not have incurred had Hertz honored his reservation, or been forthcoming about its policy.

I contacted both AutoEurope and Hertz on Dackert’s behalf. AutoEurope said it would have been able to assist if Dackert had reached out to them from Shannon. However, since his rental was canceled and his deposit to Hertz was returned, AutoEurope says it is no longer in a position to help.

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Hertz told me it would look into his case, but questioned why Dackert had incurred fees when he ultimately rented from another company. You can see where this is going — Hertz doesn’t want to compensate a customer who quickly decided canceling his trip was his only option.

I have never met Dackert, so I can’t say whether I would agree with the Hertz agent who exercised his discretion in declining to rent to him. The agent told Dackert the company has a strict maximum age policy of 79, while the company told me that a judgment call was made, resulting in its refusal to turn over the keys. Of course, had Hertz told Dackert it wouldn’t rent to an 84-year-old, he would have made other plans.

For his part, Dackert remains frustrated, and sounds perfectly capable of operating a vehicle. “I volunteered my age to the AutoEurope agent at the time of booking to avoid any problem, and furnished the requested letters from my doctor and insurance company. I happen to enjoy excellent health, playing golf usually four days a week during the season, walking, carrying my bag, sometimes playing 36 holes in a day. I retired at age 79 from a position that required frequent air travel both domestically and abroad.”

Is age just a number, which in Dackert’s case, was used against him? And was Hertz within its right to refuse to honor his reservation, despite that he went out of his way to meet the company’s conditions?

I know that when a customer does the right thing — calls ahead, volunteers information, goes out of his way to fulfill requirements, and pays a deposit — yet is turned away at the rental counter, it doesn’t feel right.

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There are no certainties in travel, but if there’s one, it’s that age matters, even when it shouldn’t.

Update: After I questioned Hertz on its age policy and the basis for refusing to rent to Dackert, the company didn’t respond. It did, however, send Dackert a check for $206.

Should car rental companies be allowed to discriminate on the basis of age?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

  • taxed2themax

    The question itself, to me at least, is a bit loaded in that I don’t think “discrimination” is acceptable at any level.. and it’s kind of like asking “yes or no. Have you stopped kicking your dog?”… either answer pits you in a negative light.. Given that discrimination is commonly a legally defined term and act under many nations national law, I am not so sure that it’s being properly or fairly used here..

    What I do think it fair is for a company to be able to decide to not rent to you IF they can make a credible, articulable case for why a denial is warranted under safety or security aspects.. I DO think they, as a business, have some rights to deny service to someone who they feel won’t be able to safely use their service or asset… but.. I am cautious about allowing this right as I see it, to overreach…

    I do think age is a factor into ones driving skill set — both on the early end and on the later end — because it does require a large physical component… but I am a bit apprehensive about forming one age where you can’t drive anymore period.

  • Patrica

    Wow. Thank you for this article… it had not occurred to me that there would possibly be an UPPER age limit.

  • AAGK

    Rental companies set an age minimum so I’m sure there is an insurance adjuster who similarly calculated the risk for older drivers. Cancelling the hotels and flight when he still pursued car rental options seems odd. Hertz should’ve provided the correct info before the booking and explained that it authorizes agents to make an independent determination on site. At least then he would’ve been prepared with a backup or just rented elsewhere.

  • Fishplate

    It would have been correct for the rental agency to say that he would be evaluated at the counter for fitness to rent, if that was truly the case (and it seems it was).

    To say that he can reserve (fully aware of his age) without any other qualifier, only to deny the rental when he showed up may not have been based on age, but some other physical manifestation of ability, is wrong without advance notice.

    On the other hand, I can produce a doctor’s letter saying just about anything you want it to say. Though in the OP’s case, I am positive that his letter was truthful and correct.

  • Sharon

    In Spain (as one more example other than Ireland), there are several rental car companies where the upper age limit is actually at 69! We just encountered this while looking for a 1-week rental in Malaga, and I had to search further until finding one accepting my husband as main driver at the age of 75.
    I wonder if Mr. Dackert was refused not only based on age, but also combined with the possibility that he “might” not have recently driven in the U.K. (right-hand side controls, left side of road driving).

  • Chris_In_NC

    They discriminate already.
    Under 25, you are assessed a surcharge
    Under 21, you’re not permitted to rent unless you are renting on a corporate code that permits such rentals.

  • The problem here is not that Hertz had an age limit, but that it lied to a customer to make a sale, then left him stranded at a foreign airport. They owe him for that.

  • AJPeabody

    But they had to refund him at the desk when they denied him a car, so no sale. Why assume malevolence when mere incompetence will explain things?

  • Michael__K

    The written policy linked in the article and posted on Hertz’s Ireland website completely supports the customer and contradicts Hertz’s rationale for refusing to rent to him:

    Age Restrictions
    Customers over 75 years are eligible to rent with the following specific conditions:

    -You must drive on a regular basis;

    -You will need to provide to the counter a letter from your insurance company to state that you have not had an accident within the last 5 years, that you hold a current policy of motor insurance with you and that you are currently driving;

    -You will need to provide a current letter from your doctor to state you have been in good health.


  • Johng

    Interestingly according to Hertz T&C’s the maximum age limit is 79. Between 76 and 79 you need to provide the details which they initially requested from him. I wonder why Hertz central said you can rent above that age

    “Customers aged between 76 and 79 years can rent with specific conditions (you must drive on a regular basis, you will need to provide to the counter a letter from your doctor to state you have been in good health for at least 12 months and a letter from your insurance company to state you have not had an accident within the last 5 years).”

  • John McDonald

    like any business, they can choose to serve or not to serve anyone, without explanation.

  • Barthel

    Why should the rental company care? If he totals the car, it’s on him. The insurance will pay, or they will charge him. They like to charge renters for every little scratch on the car anyway.

  • The original Hertz person that OP spoke with could have had a Wells Fargo-like sales quota she was hastening to meet. She could score a sale counting toward that quota and didn’t care what Hertz Ireland would have to refund later.

  • taxed2themax

    I agree… but.. I am cautious about the “anyone” or “without explanation”… as I said earlier, I think it’s appropriate for a business to be able to decline to do business with someone IF there is some credible and articuable *reason* or justification for the refusal *and* that the basis for it stems from something along the lines of safety, security or the like…
    While I am not a fan of (big) government telling business who they can and can’t or do and don’t have to do business with, I don’t think it’s right, or should be legal, to simply have it as situation where it’s legal to deny service to “anyone”… because, in my mind, that opens the door to the possibility of using other factors (like race or religion) that for me, have no place in the business-customer dynamic when it comes to accessibility of services or products.

  • John McDonald

    if you give a reason, that could possibly be deemed to be discrimination by some dodgy U.S. lawyer (why is it that USA is full of dodgy lawyers – worse still what attracts them to politics?). Anyone can become a lawyer, but we don’t need them.

  • Fishplate

    Maybe in Ireland, but I wouldn’t try that in the United States.

  • MarkKelling

    The statement by Herts that they “weren’t entirely satisfied that it was safe to release the vehicle” is interesting. Was the OP exhibiting some signs that he was incapable of operating a motor vehicle at the time of rental? Did he appear confused? Was he not able to follow instructions given by the rental agent? Did it appear he had too much to drink on the flight over? What does that statement really mean?

    A car rental company is free to refuse to allow you to have a car if they choose. It is not discrimination if you do not appear able to operate a vehicle. That determination is subjective and should be very very carefully used by the rental companies or it could be seen as discrimination. But refusing to rent to a specific age group is not discrimination if everyone in that group is not rented to.

    There are plenty of drivers over 80 or even 90 who still feel they are capable drivers who have never had an accident and are in satisfactory health. But I would never ride with them and they scare the crap out of me when they do drive. Is the OP one of those? I don’t know. I hope not.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, his insurance pays for the totaled car. But what about the damage done to other property or injury to other people? Couldn’t the rental company be held liable for damages for giving a renter a car if that person appears incapable of properly operating it in the same way that in several places in the US a bar can be held liable for serving a customer too many drinks if that customer later has an accident?

  • Lindabator

    have a client who likes to take motorcycle tours, and in the UK, he has to actually pay a surcharge, carry additional insurance, and fill out specific waiver forms to do so — but knowing his options in advance help him make a more informed decision

  • Lindabator

    its a shame he didn’t immediately contact Auto Europe — they could have assisted him by smoothing things over for him, or assigning a new company who would accept his paperwork

  • Michael Anthony

    Evaluated at the counter by whom? That’s the big question. No one without medical training can make that kind of decision.

  • EvilEmpryss

    Is anyone else uncomfortable with the idea that they put “fitness to rent based on age” decisions in the hands of individuals with no medical, statistical, or other relevant experience (i.e. the counter people at the rental agencies)? All you need is someone with a personal opinion that “all old people are bad drivers” doing the checkout, and no one over 65 will be able to rent a car. Apparently the agents can swing the age cap in any direction to justify their decision and let the customer think corporate policy is to blame.

  • Barthel

    Auto insurance covers damage to other property or persons. If he didn’t take the insurance or if his own insurance doesn’t cover it, he would be sued. It’s a judgement call as to whether or not the renter seems capable of driving.

  • wilcoxon

    I agree they can serve or not serve anyone. However by accepting his reservation (including his age), they chose to serve him. They should not be able to reverse that decision on a whim (after they already chose to serve him).

  • joycexyz

    Considering most of the agents I’ve encountered are on the lower side of thirty, I’m not surprised. They probably don’t think anyone over forty is fit to do anything!

  • LonnieC

    Oh, for goodness sake. The issue here has nothing to do with lawyers, good, bad, or dodgy. And wouldn’t you call for one to help you if you were sued, needed a will, or were buying a home?

  • C Schwartz

    Yes a driver could be sued but the issue would be enforcing any judgment from a foreign court.

  • C Schwartz

    The statistics exist on the risks of older drivers. Even the cdc recognizes the issue. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has info. It is really difficult as cars are a necessity in so many places.

  • Altosk

    My grandfather drove up until he was 98. Never had an accident in his life and he had one of the first driver’s licenses issued in his home state in the early 1930s. That man drove better at 98 than some healthy 40 year olds do. Age isn’t everything.

  • Barthel

    If he were sued in a foreign country, they probably could not collect.

  • Carrie

    If this happened in Florida, think of all the extra space on the road!

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