Forced to buy car insurance from Avis — can I get a refund?

Not again. That’s what I thought when I saw Nancy Ferguson’s case with Avis.

Yes, again.

Another forced-to-buy-car-insurance story.

And that’s a problem, because it’s not the first — and it will almost certainly not be the last. Car rental companies are now insisting you purchase their overpriced collision damage waivers. If you don’t, you won’t be able to rent.

Worse, none of the parties involved in this transaction has responded to us. Apparently, they believe that ignoring us will make us go away.

It won’t.

Before I get to the details of her complaint, let’s sort out a few things. If insurance is required for renting a car, companies need to include that detail up front, in the initial price quote. In other words, they can’t offer a rate that doesn’t include mandatory insurance and then sock it to their customers. That would be, in the Federal Trade Commission’s words, “unfair and deceptive.”

As you’ll see in a moment, Avis technically did just that. But while it didn’t do anything legally wrong, it certainly knows that its actions are morally questionable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ferguson had reserved a car online, at, through Thrifty (owned by Hertz). Her 1 a.m. pickup in Indianapolis practically guaranteed she’d get the last car on the lot, if she got one at all. Sure enough, a weary Thrifty employee pointed her to the Avis counter and told her Thrifty would refund her for the rental.

“The Thrifty agent walked me to the Avis counter and stood with me during the entire rental transaction,” she says.

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The Avis agent insisted she take out the pricey insurance, which tripled her rate.

“I pointed out that I had full coverage with USAA, including loss-of-use fees, and primary damage coverage with my Chase Sapphire card,” she says. “He repeated that unless I took the insurance I could not get the car.

Ferguson asked the Thrifty agent if it would cover the entire cost of the rental, including insurance.

No problem, said the agent. So she took the rental.

Of course, Thrifty didn’t cover the entire rental. It paid the base rate. After a series of seemingly endless arguments with Thrifty, and Avis, she received an $87 check from Thrifty. By her accounting, she’s still owed $414.

“At this point I am frustrated, unhappy, and losing sleep over this whole incident,” she says. “I would very much appreciate any guidance and assistance you can give me.”

Well, our advocacy team reached out to all of the parties in this transaction. We were also stonewalled.

Maybe the $87 was the approved amount for insurance that Thrifty had allocated, and because Ferguson didn’t have a written promise to cover the insurance, well, there you are.

But there’s a much, much bigger problem here. This is one in a series of cases where a car rental company insisted a customer take insurance. It often happens when they believe the customer has no other choice. Maybe they’ve just arrived from an international destination or the hour is late.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say car rental companies have found a new way to make money by telling customers who can’t leave it to “take it or leave it.” You’ll triple your revenue and best of all, it’s completely legal.

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Legal, yes. But not right.

Was Thrifty's offer of $87 enough compensation?

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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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Seems like extortion to me. Want a car? Already paid? Tough…give us more or you can’t have it.

  • Annie M

    I think she should take this up the chain to the Executives at Avis. Traditionally if you don’t take the insurance, they put a hold on your credit card for a huge amount until you return the car.

    What she should have done was write on her copy of the Avis booking that she protests the insurance and state the employees required it. Then she could have taken her claim to Avis and fought and possibly to the Consumer Affairs Dept. in her state.

  • AJPeabody

    Should a person fight borderline legal and certainly extortionate behavior with similarly underhanded tactics? What if someone signed “Babar Elephant” instead of one’s own name? Who looks at the signature? Then protest the credit card bill as signature fraud? Or get the insurance as a separate credit charge charge from the rental (telling the take it or leave it guy to take it or leave it) then sign the insurance charge as “under protest” and let the thieves deal with the credit card denial.

    Just sayin’.

  • jim6555

    Despite not having noted on her paperwork that the insurance was purchased under protest, Nancy Ferguson still should file a complaint against Avis with the the consumer affairs department. Her home state does not have jurisdiction. The complaint should be filed in Indiana, where the car was rented. I did some checking and found that consumer complaints in Indiana are handled an agency within the Attorney General’s office. The phone number for more information about filing a consumer complaint in Indiana is 800-382-5516.

  • Altosk

    Call Avis Executives and ask them to “try harder.” Remember that ad campaign?

  • Rebecca

    A HUGE part of the problem here, that I don’t ever see addressed in these articles, is the ridiculous pressure coming from location and (especially) district managers to upsell customers. Do you think that if the agent the OP rented from didn’t have a quota of CDWs to sell, with fear of being fired or not getting that $50/week extra on their paycheck, they would have forced this purchase? Of course not.

    You take employees that are not even earning a living wage and tell them an extra $50-100/week can be had by pushing upsell products, this is what’s going to happen. That buys a week’s groceries or diapers or gas, and that’s how the employees justify it. They have to feed their families. In a similar position, many of us would do the same, whether we want to admit it or not. You can bet that if it was the difference between deciding on paying my electric bill or filling my pantry, I’d resort to tactics like this too. My kids need electricity at home and they need to eat. That’s the situation many of these reps are in. And that’s where we need to start fixing the problem – unrealistic sales goals.

  • Rebecca

    While I enjoyed your post, and definitely got a smirk! I should warn everyone, because I was the person that approved and physically did it, that signing someone else’s name and then disputing the charge will not only promptly get your accounts closed, but will also report you to a bank sharing network, so any new bank you go to open an account at will see you’ve done this before, and won’t let you open an account there either. Hence the proliferation of prepaid debit cards at check cashing places like Walmart you see being pushed everywhere. For someone that screwed up a bank account at 1 bank, and now can’t open 1 anywhere. The banks all share that info – it’s in their interest to do so.

  • Jeff W.

    What I see here is an Avis counter taking advantage of the situation because Thrifty was paying the bill. It was an easy mark.

    While scorn should be rightly thrown at Avis, Thrifty doesn’t get off the hook. They took her reservation and should have had a car for her, regardless of the time of pickup.

    Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode. “Anyone can take a reservation, it is the holding that is the most important part.” Followed by the upsell of insurance which Jerry takes because he is going “to beat the hell out of the car.”

  • Carrie

    As Admiral Ackbar would say “It’s a trap”.

    Purchase their insurance. If you don’t, expect them to find some dent or ding to charge you for to make up that money you would be spending on their insurance.

    It’s a big game we all are paying for and what car rental company isn’t in on it? I can’t name one.

  • Being forced to buy the company insurance is the next frontier in car rental, so soon everybody is going to be doing it. I think all rate quotations should be required to include mandatory fees.

  • NVskier

    We spend 6-7 weeks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, every winter and this has happened to us more than once. Notably with Budget and with Thrifty in 2 different years. I have become paranoid about this and arrive at every rental place in MX with paperwork about my own insurance coverage and my CHASE Presidential Plus Master Card which says if I do take extra insurance it will no longer cover me for collision, etc. Even that did not work with the local Fox office and our cost was almost triple or no car. Since we arrive around Christmas, many of the companies are out of cars so you can’t afford to shop around or you may not get a car at all. Europcar is the most reliable we have found so far in MX. This year we are giving Sixt a chance since their price was about half that of Europcar. Will let you know what happens this December.

  • mbods2002

    I just don’t understand how this is in any way “legal”. This practice needs looking into as it IS extortion, unethical and should be illegal. Why don’t we have any protections as consumers???

  • AJPeabody

    You aren’t suggesting that if you are forced to buy unwanted insurance then you should , um, sorta intentionally, er, maybe dent the car up a little bit, are you? It gives me the fantasy of driving out of the rental office lot while scraping the side of the car against a pole or two. Would serve them right if everyone forced to buy insurance unnecessarily forced them to repair their cars each time.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I rent cars almost weekly and while I rarely stop at the counter, I do sometimes. Certainly there are abusive agents that give a really hard sell or use deceptive tactics. That is wrong and must be corrected every time. Stories like the above are absolutely unacceptable. Full stop.

    However, a lot of the time, I also observe persuasive and good salespeople that get customers to agree in the moment to buying optional stuff (usually tired and eager to get going) because they see the need, even momentarily. When they regret their non-refundable decision, they cry foul or wait until the end of the rental to try and solve it (when the coverage benefit is basically given by being used or not). Coverage is not a black and white scam. If you dont have other coverage (credit card, personal insurance, etc.) it could be a nightmare to replace a $30,000 car or deal with a loss department over a few hundred dollar repair.

    The best advice is to join a loyalty program where you get counter bypass so you can avoid the question and hard sell. Separately and before your trip, decide your coverage strategy and research it to understand. If credit card – is it primary or secondary? If personal insurance – do you need a waiver for it? If CDW from the car rental company – did you budget for it. If you do engage in a discussion with a counter person, be direct, be clear, and be calm. Only when you are calm can you separate out a hard sell line from a truly false claim or firm denial of rental. You can also always ask to talk to someone else or while on line, call the reservations department to clarify what is required vs. optional.

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