Budget charged an extra $1,200 for my car. Talk about blowing the Budget!

By | December 13th, 2016

When Noeleen and Eddie Newman got back home to Ireland, they were shocked to find an extra $1,200 charged to their credit card by Budget Rent A Car for their rental while visiting the U.S. After we got involved, Budget offered them a partial refund. Is it enough?

This is a tough one. In reviewing this case, the key question is: What was in the rental agreement they signed? What the couple remember about what they agreed to is not what Budget says is on the signed contract.

When the Newmans planned their August visit to the United States, they reserved a car from Budget and prepaid 650 euros, about $724, for a 24-day rental. When they picked up the car in Chicago, the rental agent told them the car came with a built-in GPS, which they believed was included in their prepayment. They say the only extra they agreed to was the toll tag option.

But they were charged an extra $40 per day, plus taxes and fees, for an upgrade the Newmans claim they never agreed to take. And that’s where it gets tricky. They initialed and signed the rental agreement using an electronic signature pad. The problem with those is that they don’t always display the entire contract in a form that’s easily readable. What makes it worse is the Newmans were not given a printed contract because the agent claimed that the printer was broken.

So they went on their way with a rental folder that had information about the vehicle but that did not contain the document they needed most – their contract.

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There are some important lessons here. Never leave the car rental desk without a printed copy of your rental agreement. Ideally, you should have the printed version to review before you sign. Then take the time to read it to be sure everything is correct. If it’s not what you agreed to, then insist it be corrected right then and there. If you don’t do that, and if it later comes to a dispute, then it will be your memory against their document.

The potential for disputes isn’t the only reason that having a hard copy of the rental agreement is important. For instance, if you are stopped at night by a police officer because the vehicle has a defective taillight, you will need to show proof that it’s a rental. That happened to me.

There are other important car rental points to keep in mind that you will find in the Frequently Asked Questions section of our website, including the risks of upgrade roulette.

The Newmans contacted Budget to get the extra $1,200 charge removed, claiming that the agent made no mention of an upgrade, that they would never have agreed to an additional $40 per day, and suggesting that the agent might have been the one who clicked the “accept” button for the upgrade.

Budget’s response was they had reviewed the rental document which showed the couple had accepted an upgrade when they signed the agreement. It was their memory versus Budget’s copy of the contract.

There is a bigger question that comes out of this case: What should you do if the printer at the car rental location really is broken and the agent cannot give you a hard copy of your rental agreement? In addition to our poll below, we’re interested in your thoughts about this question.

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As for the Newmans, the couple could have escalated the issue by using the Budget executive contacts on our website. Instead, they wrote to us. After our advocate got involved, Budget credited the Newmans for about half of the extra charge. They decided to accept the offer.

What do you think? Was that enough compensation?

View Results

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  • mbods2002

    A person could go to another car rental counter but I imagine the cost of a last minute rental would be expensive. How about videoing the rental exchange, having the agent repeat what you did or did not agree to and them saying the printer is broken?

  • deemery

    Being charged extra for a built-in GPS really bothers me.

  • Mel65

    If the printer were broken, and I’m not entirely sure that it really was in this case, I’d have demanded that they email me a copy of the contract before I sign it and then I would have stood there for as long as it took to read it. Normally I’m one of the “Hey you signed it you’re stuck with it” kind of people, but in this particular instance it sounds like the agent was taking advantage of them.

  • BubbaJoe123

    If the printer really was broken, I would have taken photos with my phone of every screen of the electronic pad, and then a video of the employee reading out what I had agreed to, what I hadn’t, and what the total charge would be.

  • polexia_rogue

    I agree 1. to know what was on the contract and 2. like Chris said, what if they needed to show it to a police officer.

  • Kerr

    If the printer was truly broken, the agent could have taken a blank contract and filled out the details by hand. Time consuming, but at least both sides would have a physical copy of the contract.

    The tourism boards of the cities/states they visited should reach out to these folks and make them whole. Tourists coming to the US to spend thousands of dollars are treated like this? So stupid…

  • LeeAnneClark

    These car rental agencies sure are getting crafty in finding new ways to scam their customers.

    I feel really bad for this couple. They got scammed bad. Yes there are things they could have done differently, but when you are just coming off an international flight, probably exhausted, in a different country, and the desk agent is telling you things that sound believable, it’s hard to know that you are about to get scammed.

    It’s absurd for Budget to think that anyone would pay literally DOUBLE what they are paying to rent the car, just for an extra that most of us already have on our smart phones. Even with the refund, they still ended up paying almost the same amount for the GPS as they paid for the entire car. But hey, Budget has already made it clear that we are not customers to them – we are marks.

    Scammy scam scam.

  • greg watson

    I voted yes, because of the signed contract & I am not entirely a ‘rules are rules’ person. If the entire contract was emailed to them, then they would have had recourse, after the fact , of the extra charge. it would only have taken a moment to do, & much simpler & time effective than audio or video recording on a cell phone. Consumers have been warned 1000’s of times to “read the contract” & initial for extras.

  • Joe Blasi

    The extra was likely Toll tag + Rental Car Insurance.

  • Lindabator

    Nav systems not usually included in pre-paid rentals, as it is an upgraded service – and always pricey, especially so for a 24 day rental — I usually have my long-term renters just buy their own loaded with that country (or countries) info

  • Bill___A

    Am I the only one who sees the irony of an Irish tourist getting car rental fee problems in another country? After being terrified of renting a car in Ireland for years because of all of the horror stories coming out of there regarding forced CDW etc. Anyway, I am sorry to see that the Newmans got charged so much.

    There should definitely be some sort of “paper trail” since the rental didn’t come out the same as the reservation. If for no other reason than that, budget should have refunded all of the extra charges. As for the toll transponder scam, I’m sure they could have told the couple that when they were reserving and not hit them up at the counter.

    Budget should give them back all the extra money and work out a better plan for what do do when their printer breaks.

  • Michael__K

    Agent’s response: “Sorry, I don’t have any way to send you an email.

    Oh, and we already have your money and your purchase is non-refundable.

  • Alan Gore

    Prepaying a car rental puts a big “Stick it to me!” sign on your back.

  • Alan Gore

    There’s a great smartphone app called JotNot that lets you do exactly that. You shoot each page of a document or displayed screens in sequence, and it creates a PDF that looks exactly as though it had been scanned with a flatbed scanner. JotNot is not only great for capturing magazine articles in a library when you can’t spare the time to hunt up a copy machine, but it can save your bacon when you have to sign documents in a scammy sales office.

  • MarkKelling

    The car with the built in GPS was an upgrade over the one they rented without the GPS.

  • Alan Gore

    I’ve always found it easier to whip out the aforementioned iPhone again and use my own, familiar nav app, the one I’ve already paid for.

  • MarkKelling

    Only issue is the rental systems like this I have seen have had orange on black ambient light reflective non backlit screens. They don’t photograph very well from a cell phone. Some might be nicer than those now because I have not seen those recently as I tend to avoid rental places which use that type of signing screen.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I use Mobile Doc Scanner (for Android), which basically does the same thing.

  • MF

    How about using a pen type audio/video recorder when talking to these car rental fraudsters? Amazon has devices for 20 something dollars that will document the conversation, to go along with the pictures of the same scratches they’ve been billing the last 10 customers for…

  • taxed2themax

    I agree.. While I don’t know intentions — and as such, I personally steer clear of making such determinations – I DO think the onus is on the business to provide a clear/legible, complete and official receipt of the contract or transaction to the customer; be that in print/physical or electronic form if the transaction is not a face-to-face event.

    To that end, I assign a fair bit of the overall “fault” if you will, to the rental agency for failing to provide this documentation.

  • RightNow9435

    Never pre-paid a rental and never will

  • RightNow9435

    right—-as I posted above, never have pre-paid and won’t pre-pay for a car rental. As for hotels, maybe 1 time out of 100 reservations.

  • jim6555

    Since they had prepaid their rental, they would have lost the non-refundable $724 if they did not rent from Budget.

  • PsyGuy

    All the what you should do’s, don’t present the alternatives, what were they supposed to do? They were in another country (the US) on a long holiday, what if they would have demanded a written contract, and were told no? Budget could have said right there on the spot “We’re sorry, we will cancel your reservation, I can help the next customer waiting.” Then what do they do? They already paid in advance, they aren’t getting that money back on the spot. They go to another rental agency and pay the walk up rate.

  • PsyGuy

    You could just as easily use your phone.

  • PsyGuy

    Yeah but you’re not going to have a choice if you want a cheaper deal.

  • PsyGuy

    I bet they saw a foreign tourist coming and then the “printer broke”.

  • PsyGuy

    If they had done that their roaming data plan would have been expensive.

  • PsyGuy

    They could have been the same car with GPS enabled or disabled.

  • Mark

    Agree 100%. When I’ve used the ‘digital signature’ service with Avis, it emails a copy to you. Would have thought the Budget system would be the same.

    The best way to guard against this would be for the customer to have to sign the document, click ‘next’, key in their email address, and press ‘send’ – that way there is no opportunity for the agent to select additional options before the contract is finalised.

  • Mark

    They have an obligation to provide you with a road-legal vehicle. Most states require you to have a copy of the vehicle’s registration in the vehicle when being driven – in the case of rental cars, this is the rental contract.

    If they can’t give this to you, they aren’t giving you a road-legal vehicle and they’ve failed to honour their side of the contract.

  • Michael__K

    Some day you may not have a choice. You could have said the same thing about hotels a decade or so ago, but these days reservations which could be canceled on the day of arrival are practically extinct at many destinations.

  • Michael__K

    I’ve never seen registration/insurance information on the rental contract. I always find it in the glove compartment, inside a clear plastic sleeve.

  • joycexyz

    I’m dubious about the “broken printer” excuse (the dog ate my homework). In any event, emailing the contract would supply the renters with a digital copy on their phone/computer/tablet that would surely be more readable than the tiny excuse for a document they were asked to sign. Who knows what they agreed to when they signed?

  • joycexyz

    Answer: Then find a way to show me a contract I can actually read before I sign it. Or, write an additional contract attesting to the fact that I don’t agree to any “extras”–that the price I agreed to initially is the price I’m being charged.

  • joycexyz

    Thanks for the info. I’ll look into it.

  • joycexyz

    Google allows you to use the app offline.

  • joycexyz

    As we’ve often seen, cheaper deals can turn out to be not so cheap. Penny wise, pound foolish.

  • Michael__K

    Answer: It was all on the electronic signature pad. We don’t have any other way at this time. And I’m not authorized to write an additional contract. Have a nice day!

  • gpx21dlr

    “The printer is broken?” This equals: I’m from the gubmint, I’m here to hep ya!

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Printer broken? Yeah right. More like the agent was trying to make their upselling numbers that week.

  • joycexyz

    Yeah, sounds like the smart answer you’d get. And I have an answer to that, but it’s unprintable.

  • PsyGuy

    Absolutely agree with you.

  • Éamon deValera

    There are Irish attorneys in the US, and even in Chicago who would have been happy to give a nudge to Budget.

    That said, who is charged for something built into the car? Do they charge extra if you use the windshield wipers?

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